I’ve got to say, out of all the series I’ve written on Retronaissance, Armchair Dev is clearly the least uniform when it comes to format. I’ve only written two so far, but they were both so wildly different from one another. And now that we’ve come to number three, I’ve got an even more radical departure in mind. It makes me wonder why I’d even consider a trio of such disjointed articles to be a series in the first place. In the end, I guess the topic at hand is far more important than adhering to some silly format.
While my certainty that an X9 announcement would surface near the 25th anniversary of the original MegaMan X’s release date was clearly misplaced, I still believe that will be Capcom’s next move – so long as MM11 did as well as I predict it did. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up near the bottom of Capcom’s Platinum Titles list after its next update, if only because it’s a brand-new game that launched on all major titles at a budget price with both physical and digital editions. But listen to me talking about the past: we haven’t had a new MegaMan game since last year! Today’s topic will delve back into the Classic series with a “MegaMan 12”.
Why go straight to MM12, you ask? Well, there aren’t too many remaining avenues for other existing sub-series for Capcom to explore. I’ve already stated that I expect Capcom to revitalize the X franchise next. Battle Network, Zero and Star Force have all come to at least some form of a conclusion – though honestly, I did end up coming up with a plot for a potential MMSF4… that Capcom would probably never use, because it might be a bit too bleak or edgy for the series. On that note, the less said about XOver, the better: even though some members of the fanbase have come around to the game’s world-building, the gameplay would clearly need to be reworked and I’d say chances are that would leave us with yet another 2D platformer.
That leaves us with two other sub-series I’d consider ripe for the picking, but both have their issues. All things considered, I just don’t see Legends 3 happening any time soon: Capcom’s faith in the series is shaky at best and the wounds left among the die-hard Legends fans after Capcom’s failure to greenlight it are still as raw today as they were seven-and-a-half years ago – has it really been that long? And if I were to be honest, my advice for a potential ZX3 can be boiled down to a single sentence: “Hire Inti Creates again.” Like, I would write that article right now and just leave that sentence, but I already gave away the gag, so there’s no point. Of course, that also means that you’re technically getting two pitches in a single article – lucky you! Besides, Advent outsold the original ZX and that still wasn’t enough to convince Capcom to greenlight a conclusion back in the day.
But before I put forth my pitch for another title in the MegaMan Classic line, let’s set our sights back to the far-flung year of 20XX 2018. For the first time since I’ve started writing Armchair Dev, I’ve been presented with a rare opportunity: the latest game in the classic MegaMan series is contemporary. As such, I’ll be doing a short mini-review to show off exactly where my mindset is when it comes to a future title. I won’t be going too in-depth – at this point, I’m hoping we get enough MM games overall to justify a “post-Inafune era” retrospective by the time I’m done with the other sub-lines – but exploring how I reacted to 11 would provide crucial insight into the choices I’ll make when discussing a potential sequel.
MegaMan 11 Mini-Review
Obviously, it’s best to start with what MegaMan 11 did right. For starters, Capcom did an excellent job of recreating the classic 2D platforming gameplay with the use of 3D models. Though, honestly, considering how well they did with Powered Up and even Maverick Hunter X over a decade ago, I was expecting that from the get-go. More impressive is the level design: Capcom clearly wanted to find a way to give players more game without discarding MegaMan’s NES-era conventions. By making the stages longer, they gave long-time players like me a proper challenge, while the easier difficulty settings allowed less-confident players the ability to play with extra lives that seemed properly balanced against the longer stages (in Casual mode) or even infinite lives (in Newcomer difficulty) for those new to the series, as well as additional checkpoints and other perks. The Double Gear mechanic was also interesting, though I generally found my use of both the Speed and Power Gears to be split between the stage and boss fights, respectively. I did pretty much outright ignore the Double Gear power-up itself, just because it had too much risk for far too little reward.
Honestly, 11 could’ve been the game that unseated MegaMan 10 as my favorite of the Classic MegaMan series… if not for one major issue. While most of the complaints I’ve seen about the game have focused on things like the Blue Bomber’s wonky animation or the game’s “bad soundtrack” – which is actually a problem with the composition’s instrumentation, but I’ve gone off-topic again – my major issue was structural. MM11 starts out well, with eight amazing stages, leading into the clear apex of the game’s platforming difficulty: the first Gear Fortress stage. Unfortunately, likely due to either budgetary or development time issues, Capcom didn’t stick the landing. Sure, the second Gear Fortress stage was good, but it was all downhill from there. The third stage was just a short hallway that leads straight to the room with the boss rush teleporters. Somehow, even the fourth stage – which consisted mostly of riding a platform to the final fight with Wily – offered more challenge. In fact, I’d say the final Wily stage did its job fairly well, it just came across as unfulfilling following the complete and utter disappointment that was stage 3.
So, before we move on and look ahead to the future, I’m going to just come through and say how Capcom could’ve fixed this past issue, so that it no longer hangs over my head like a storm cloud of despair. Of course, it’s easy enough to keep in mind that Capcom was clearly making a budget title with MM11 and most of the budget was clearly spent on building the game’s engine and rendering art assets. However, even SNES Master KI has acknowledged that the Dr. Light’s Trial challenge had enough content to make up at least two more stages. In other words, there was clearly enough material to build one more stage: a proper third Gear Fortress stage, that would shunt the third and fourth stages in the finished product into the fourth and fifth respectively. As for dealing with the budgetary issues of another boss for said stage, the answer is simple. Just bring back our old friend Copy Robot: all it would take is a clear palette swap to differentiate him from MegaMan. Better yet, do two of them – one equipped with the Speed Gear, the other with Power – to keep up the in-game explanation that Wily’s own in-universe lack of a budget, tricking MegaMan into thinking he equipped the full Double Gear system into his own copy, but rather using two cheaper robots to achieve the same effect. As for the road to the boss rush, I was surprised that they didn’t use a gauntlet of rematches with the game’s various mid-bosses, leading up to the teleport room. It would’ve been a low-effort way to expand on that stage’s theming in a meaningful way.
Regardless of what few issues I had with MM11, I’d have to say that it’s a sign that the MegaMan franchise is still in good hands, despite the departure of its long-time steward, Keiji Inafune. This is particularly good considering the last time the MegaMan franchise was wrested from his control, we ended up with the sixth and seventh MegaMan X games. Either way, I feel much more confident in the series future. So, without further ado, let’s delve into my own pitch for a MegaMan 12.
Explaining the core concept behind pitch feels so obvious, it’s almost like talking down to my audience. Still, considering this is one of the few elements that remained constant throughout this short series, I might as well continue the trend. MegaMan 12 doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel: it should just be a traditional “level pack” sequel that recycles everything that worked in 11 and refines everything that didn’t, leading to a similar but clearly improved successor. MM11 was clearly built at a budget price – the physical version costed a mere $30 – and as such, it lacked both the resources that many of Capcom’s recent and upcoming AAA releases have had and the proper existing framework that their compilations and HD remasters have had. Fortunately, the existence of 11 itself provides Capcom with a proper (but slightly rough) framework and focus should be put on improving and adding to the existing assets instead of tossing out the new engine and even many of the art assets that were built from the ground-up for the game.
Put simply, I want MegaMan 12 to be the MM10 to 11’s 9. I fully believe that what led to the MegaMan series’ decline wasn’t simply the formula growing stale, but rather exhaustion due to the lack of time between releases for the most part. Likewise, the more recent revival of the Classic series was eventually met with disdain because both games predated the retro trend. MegaMan 9 was considered original for bucking modern trends and opting to return to the Blue Bomber’s iconic 8-bit roots. MegaMan 10, on the other hand, was unfairly maligned because it was considered lazy, despite attempting to take the style in a new direction. Hopefully, the shift to a much more contemporary visual style will prevent a similar backlash against a twelfth MegaMan Classic game, forcing them to completely scrap their existing material and start from scratch yet again. Recycling assets is what allowed the MegaMan series to reach new heights of quality in the first place.
Doing a gameplay section for a new game in any extant MegaMan franchise is pointless. After all, I’ve written so much about the series as a whole, it’s safe to assume that what I’d want from the game (and honestly, what they should be going for) is more of the same – the traditional “jump and shoot” 2D gameplay at its finest. Hell, I’m even honestly fine either way if the Double Gear Mechanic returns in later games or not. If Capcom wants to branch out and experiment with the Blue Bomber, it would probably work best if they just went back to the old ways and spin off yet another series.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any suggestions about how a new game should be built. Indeed, perhaps the only real input I can provide would be the way that the game itself should be structured. That is, my opinion on how many levels the next MegaMan Classic game should contain and exactly how they should be situated. After all, even from the very first sequel, the MegaMan series underwent some extreme formatting shifts: going from six Robot Masters to a heftier eight from the second game on, the revamped Doc Robot levels in MegaMan 3 gave rise to the fake villain fortresses found in the latter half of the NES games and the 16 and 32-bit era mainline Classic games incorporated both the introduction stages from the X series and the intermission stages from the later Game Boy games to expand their offerings. Alas, by the time MM9 decided to revive the series, Capcom decided to scale back to MM2’s formula and they haven’t looked back since. Hopefully, if MM12 leads to any reinvention for the franchise, it will first and foremost involve ditching this disappointing format.
For starters, I would love to see the return of the intro stage. While typically associated with the X series, other sub-series like the Zero and ZX games started players off by dropping them straight into the action. In fact, the very first MegaMan game to include an intro stage was the 1990 DOS game, published by Hi-Tech Expressions and developed by Rozner Labs – probably the only worthwhile thing about it. Conversely, MM11 started with a brief, optional tutorial sandbox area to help players new and old to adjust to the controls. Now while that’s probably a good idea in the long run, an introduction stage could’ve done a lot more to familiarize new players with exactly what a MegaMan game entails, rather than just teaching them which buttons shoot and jump. I’d suggest taking a page from MM8’s intro stage, which introduced players to the changed underwater physics – 8 opted to let Rock do a breaststroke instead of giving him his traditional moon-jump – and the new Mega Ball weapon.
On that note, I’d also stick to the traditional 8 Robot Masters format that the series has stuck to since 1988. When I was younger, I’d always wanted to see a game that would expand the number of bosses that would reward us with new weapons, but after reflecting on what that would mean, eight is enough. Balancing 8 weapons is already a Herculean feat – one I’d argue that Capcom struggles with even after more than 30 years of experience – adding more would just increase the chances of some weapons being completely useless. Worse yet, it might even lead to the re-retirement of the chargeable Mega Buster, something I definitely want to avoid.
However, a new MegaMan game should definitely have more than the traditional 12 stages. While the false fortresses we saw in 4-6 are kind of played out, I would love to see a return of the Doc Robot concept: that is, remixing the existing Robot Master stage assets with brand-new challenging layouts and bosses. It was an amazing concept back in MM3 and I always thought it was a shame that Capcom never revisited it in future titles. It just seemed like a cost-effective way of extending the game’s length. On the other hand, while I’m a fan of the Game Boy games’ intermission stage concept, the only way it would work would be if they split the bosses into two groups of four – an unpopular design choice among the majority of fans. Still, using additional stages to separate the 8 main bosses from the final fortress levels would be a perfect way to extend the game.
Finally, try to exceed the traditional four-stage layout for the final fortress. I know it’s not that uncommon, but even MM2 had a fifth Wily stage! Honestly, having at least 5 final levels seems like a good way to make sure that having a single weak stage would bring the quality of the entire fortress far less. Ideally, 12 would have roughly 6 levels with at least 4 full-length stages and 2 shorter ones, with the latter leading to the boss rush and final fight with Wily. Better yet, just repeat another one of MM8’s unique concepts and group the two of them together – it might even make for a more satisfying conclusion to the game.
Now, MegaMan 11 didn’t skimp on extra content, but there was at least one notable omission that people harped on after the game had launched. A mysterious DLC listing on Steam that appeared not long after the game’s launch only served to fuel the fire with regards to one specific category: additional playable characters. While not specifically a series tradition, players have grown accustomed to having alternative playstyles represented in games such as MegaMan & Bass, MegaMan Powered Up and even the ninth and tenth mainline installments. That being said, let’s go over the obvious picks and just how they could differentiate from the Blue Bomber.
For me, the most obvious pick would be MegaMan’s evil counterpart and self-proclaimed rival, Mr. Special Wily Number 001 himself, Bass! With MegaMan boasting his full suite of abilities in MM11, Bass would be a perfect foil to Rock’s traditional playstyle: his aimable rapid fire shot, his X-style dash and even the double jump all feel like they would have been well-suited to 11’s platforming gauntlet. However, if Bass does return, please lock the Treble Boost behind the same criteria MM needs to unlock the Rush Jet – at least on higher difficulties. That thing could be completely broken if it gets the same kind of tweaks the Rush power-ups did in the latest game.
Next comes ProtoMan, perhaps the most highly requested secondary character. Unfortunately, Blues’s main draw in his previous appearances was that he had MM3’s slide and MM4’s Charge Shot – which MegaMan had eschewed in favor of his simplified moveset from MM2 – at the expense taking double damage (and recoil). Granted, he also had his traditional shield, which could be used to block projectiles while airborne, but this tended to be way less useful than one might expect in practice. In MegaMan 11, the Blue Bomber regained these abilities and since every fiber of my being is against dumbing him back down to his previous incarnation, the current playstyle would essentially just leave Protoman as a sort of bland “hard mode” character. And frankly, I think Dr. Light’s first numbered creation deserves far better than that.
Fortunately, we have other incarnations of the character to draw from. MM7 allowed players to use the Proto Shield as MegaMan, essentially allow him to block any shots from the front while standing still. MegaMan Powered Up, on the other hand, had a widely different playstyle from other incarnations. He has a ludicrously high jump and is equipped with the Proto Strike, which is essentially a fully-charged shot on demand, though only one can be on-screen at a time – as opposed to the standard 3 bullets the standard Mega Buster allows for or ProtoMan’s own two shots in MM9 and 10. The Proto Shield also returned and much like MM7, it protected Blues from front-facing projectiles while standing still. It did have some slight mechanical differences though: powerful attacks would knock the shield away, forcing ProtoMan to recover it to continue using it. Of course, Blues also lacked the ability to slide and equip boss weapons in Powered Up. So perhaps finding a happy medium between his playstyles in MMPU and 9/10 would make DLN-000 a worthwhile addition to future games.
Better yet, maybe they could give ProtoMan another of his little brother’s discarded toys: my beloved Mega Arm from MegaMan (World) V. Couple that with variants on his Proto Coil and Jet that resemble the delightfully broken Rush Jet from MM3 and the controversial Neo Rush Coil from MM5 to add even more distinctive features from Rock.
Of course, when it comes to MegaMan’s siblings, I’d much rather see Roll return as a playable character in future games. While she’s more commonly associated with crossover fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Roll was also playable in Powered Up. Wielding her trusty broom, she almost came across as a Classic series interpretation of Zero – her broom did a significant amount of damage to make up for its lack of range. Maybe give her the standard buster she had in MvC2, as well as the ability to learn new “cleaning techniques” (like Zero in the X games) or even obtain new cleaning utensils by defeating bosses and Roll could be an interesting addition to future games. Though honestly, if they decide to include any additional characters, it would probably be a good idea to remix the stage layouts to accentuate each characters’ unique abilities in a satisfying way.
Personally, I’d also love to see the Endless Mode from MM9 & 10 make a return in future games. The upshot to 11 forgoing this mode is that Capcom could easily recycle stage segments from both 11 and 12 in a new Endless Mode, allowing for even more segments or even bosses to draw from when (and if) the mode finally makes a return.
I mean, I’ve covered this in the previous Armchair Devs, so it only seems fair to go back to it again. Frankly, I think MM11 did a good job of updating the Blue Bomber’s look while keeping things faithful to the original concepts overall. Sure, there were a few minor issues, but things could’ve ended up significantly worse all things considered. The various problems 11 had regarding its presentation could easily be tightened up in a sequel. As such, when it comes to discussing the aesthetics of a potential MegaMan 12, I hope they keep what worked from the last game but also fix its issues, most of which I’ll detail below.
The 2.5D artstyle worked better than they had any right to… for the most part. From the very beginning, the Blue Bomber himself was ironically the major source of concern from the game’s debut, specifically his animations. While the final product certainly improved upon the janky motions seen in the first trailer, there’s still a noticeable difference in quality between Rock and some of the other major recurring characters (who generally only appear in cutscenes) compared to the Robot Masters, fortress bosses and even the standard enemies. Honestly, I think Dan Root’s video on the subject showcases the entire topic better than I could, so give it a watch if you have 15 minutes to spare. Granted, this is a pretty common trend in MegaMan games – even back in 1987, MegaMan’s graphics seemed a bit primitive compared to everything else in his debut – but considering that the model looked otherwise great, Capcom should definitely invest some time and energy into tightening up some of his animations.
Granted, I’m not asking for a direct 1:1 recreation of his poses and posture from the NES games. In fact, I think that would be the worst possible design choice for Capcom to make: people may have gushed over that in the latest Smash Bros. games, but frankly, I think it only works when you remember that every aspect of that incarnation is meant to completely ape the classic 8-bit style. When divorced from that context, MegaMan’s movement and posture doesn’t look so much robotic as uncomfortable. Now I’m not suggesting that Capcom goes back to the wild limb movement from 8’s walk cycle. But going for a more dynamic and bouncier animation style would be nice. More important is that Capcom needs to bring back the ability to jump through the boss gates. Now I know that the development staff has cited technical limitations on that front but come on. That’s MegaMan 101 right there. Make sure that works properly next time, guys. Aside from that, keep up the good work: I love the redesigns for the main cast, especially the fact that MegaMan alters his form when he equips boss weapons.
Of course, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room: the vocal contingent who want Classic MegaMan to return to his 8-bit roots yet again, even though an even louder group shrieked that it was a lazy choice when Capcom did it in the tenth game – yet was lauded as a brilliant throwback in MM9. All things considered, the backlash against 11 was far smaller than its predecessor, so I think the silent majority is fine with the direction the series has taken. If I were a little more foolish, I’d suggest offering multiple graphical options there, ala Dotemu’s remaster of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, but I think we all know trying to shift between 2D and 3D is a lot more complex than just swapping between hand-drawn and pixelated 2D graphics. I guess the only legitimate suggestion would be to farm out an 8-bit spinoff to another company – mayhaps christen it as “MegaMan World VI”?
…what? You should know by now that I’ll be begging for that one for the rest of my days. And if it ever does, then I’ll start campaigning for MegaMan World VII and so on.
Next, we come to the sound design. Personally, I think Marika Suzuki did a good job when it came to MM11’s compositions. The major failing point was the instrumentation of the soundtrack itself. Everything just sounds a bit… cheap and lifeless. It’s not quite as bad as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, but if you understood that reference, then you should understand what I’m getting at. And that’s a damned shame: both the Wily Numbers Instrumental tracks that came with preorders of the game and the arranged versions of said themes from the Original Soundtrack prove that the actual compositions themselves definitely live up to the series’ musical history. As far as I can tell, people really liked the Stage Select and Gear Fortress Stage themes and they didn’t receive any official remixes or rearrangements. Just come up with a more vibrant set of instruments the next time around – maybe draw inspiration from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Street Fighter V’s soundtracks – and that should fix all the issues people had with MegaMan 11’s music.
Just as a quick aside, I really enjoyed the Wily Numbers Instrumental tracks and would love to see future games in the series attempt something similar. Maybe include some 8-bit NES-style demakes of MegaMan 12’s entire soundtrack or even aping the musical trademarks of MegaMan 7 or especially 8. Recreating the awesome sounds of the Complete Works rearrangements or the arrange albums from 9 and 10 would also be great. Even just attempting to recontextualize the MegaMan music into various musical genres like rock, techno or jazz would be appreciated. Just so long as Capcom includes a digital soundtrack with any of them if they decide to sell them as DLC, I’d totally buy them! Honestly, I’m still a bit sore that those preorder bonus tracks weren’t included on MM11’s soundtrack, but including new arrangements was a nice consolation prize.
The sound effects were good and personally, I liked the English dub. Sure, there was a vocal contingent against it, but at least Capcom decided to implement dual audio to keep them at bay. Even more baffling were the people who just hated the game having voice acting in general. I mean, it is possible to just turn down the volume on the voices all the way and remove them from the game, but I guess that involved pressing the D-Pad too many times for the truly hardcore. Maybe Capcom should just include three voice options next time: English, Japanese and None. In fact, circling back to my 8-bit arranged soundtrack idea, maybe a full-on 8-bit audio option – with its music composed on NES hardware, old sounds ripped straight from the first 6 games (and 9/10) and no voice acting whatsoever – would better suit this hardcore audience. Though if this audio setting were included in a new game, it should probably just be one of many presets. If that many options are present in a new game, I’d love to experiment with them and mix-and-match various audio outputs to see what works best for me.
As for the game’s presentation, it was a little on the cheap side, but I liked it. MegaMan 11 paid homage to its 8-bit roots, shifting between the pantomimed cutscenes that used the in-game graphics and static images. Though this time around, instead of 8-bit sprites, they had 3D models (with full voice acting!) and hand-drawn 2D images. Of course, it would’ve been nice if Capcom had used the 3D nature of MM11’s new graphics to their advantage, producing more dynamic poses and camera angles for the in-game segments. I’m sure most people would want fully-animated cutscenes in a future game, but unless Capcom decides to partner with an anime studio to produce an OVA or even an animated short, I don’t see that happening. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who bashed MegaMan 8’s presentation are also the ones demanding that the next game have hours of cutscenes attached to it.
There’s really little else to say at this point. I think Capcom already has a pretty good framework to base future games in the series on. In the end, it all comes down to how well MegaMan 11 did in the first place. I’m holding out hope that it did exceptionally well, especially considering the fact that MM11 producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya has hinted that a new game in the series may enter pre-production this year. I’m just glad that the Blue Bomber – easily Capcom’s true mascot – is finally back in a big way.
But what do you think? Would you like to see a level pack sequel to MegaMan 11 or go back to his roots yet again with another 8-bit outing? Is there a benefit to Capcom constantly ping-ponging back and forth between retro and contemporary styles with every new game? Did you also dream last night that you held a sixth MegaMan World game in your arms? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.