Video Game Characters on Life Support: Mega Man
Note: Before I begin, I'd like to explain a little about the article concept. Several years ago, Rayman Origins was released to much fanfare. This, after years of the series stagnating due to a focus on party games and "rabbids", whatever those things are. Up through that point it seemed like Rayman's future was sealed to be nothing more than a forgotton memory in favor of those rabbids. However, with Origins, Rayman found its way back on the map and another new game, Rayman Legends, was recently released also to huge fanfare.
This article, and more to come, is written with hopes that the characters featured here can enjoy a similar rebirth in the near future, but in the meantime I will look back at the character's prime, and why they aren't doing so well now, plus ideas on how to get the character back on track.
Once supposed to be an Astro Boy game which was later scrapped and retooled, Mega Man first saw release in Japan in 1987. In Japan, the character was known as "Rockman", named in part because "Rock" and his robotic sister Roll make an obvious wordplay, but also because the games feature a "rock-paper-scissors" mechanic where you can acquire the abilities of the bosses you defeat, and then use them against other bosses weak to those abilities.
The first Mega Man game, for the NES, was an instant hit both in Japan and overseas. In short time, Mega Man was followed up with Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3, and so on. By 1993, six Mega Man titles had been released in Japan for the NES. Mega Man 6 wasn't released in the United States until after Mega Man X was released for the Super Nintendo.
The Glory Days
Capcom, especially in the 90s, was known for milking its franchises, and Mega Man was core to that. In addition to the six NES Mega Man games, the Super Nintendo saw the release of three Mega Man X games, as well as Mega Man 7. The Game Boy also saw five Mega Man games, which reused assets from the NES games but also featured unique levels and bosses. The Game Boy color also had two Mega Man Xtreme games, which were 8-bit versions of Mega Man X content.
The Playstation saw three more Mega Man X games as well as Mega Man 8 and two three-dimensional Mega Man games under the "Legends" moniker, each of which played more as an adventure game rather than the action-fests the original and X games were. Mega Man & Bass, which reused assets from Mega Man 8, was also released for the Super Nintendo, but not overseas.
Going into the 2000s, the series wasn't ready to slow down, especially on handhelds. Mega Man Battle Network, an action-RPG series, was released right about the time when the Game Boy Advance came out. Battle Network would see five sequels, the latter four broken up into dual versions, as well as several spinoffs. The GBA also had the Mega Man Zero series, which acted as distant sequels to the X games, and somehow that series was able to churn out four installments on the handheld. The Playstation 2 also had Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8, while the Gamecube had a Mega Man X RPG.
If you stopped here and took a look at how the series was doing, you might be thinking, gee Capcom, slow down a little why don't you? Well, sounds like they heard someone tell them that.
The Nintendo DS saw two Mega Man ZX games (which were distant sequels to the Zero games), and three Mega Man Star Force games, the first having three different versions, while the other two games had dual versions for each. Still seems like a lot, I know.
The major consoles at the time (Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3) were given Mega Man 9, the first Mega Man game with 8-bit graphics in over 10 years. It was welcomed back warmly, and soon after that the similar Mega Man 10 came out with lesser fanfare. The PSP also received full 3D remakes of the original Mega Man and the original Mega Man X.
Note that there are other Mega Man games I didn't get to here that came out for Arcades, Sega systems, and so on. There were a ton of Mega Man games from 1987 to 2007, is what I'm getting at, here.
One name: Keiji Inafune.
Inafune was with the series from the very start, starting as the game's artist and designer but eventually became a key member of the development of games in the series, lots of them anyway.
Inafune left Capcom in October of 2010. The last 'new' Mega Man game that came out before he left was Mega Man 10, earlier that year.
What has happened with Mega Man since Inafune left? Well, let's see:
- Mega Man Legends 3 was announced for the Nintendo 3DS. Then it was cancelled very early in the development process.
- Mega Man Universe, meant to be an online venture, was cancelled.
- In 2012, Rockman Xover (meant to be read as "Crossover") came out for iOS & Android in Asian-only markets. It played like a typical 2D infinite runner game, featuring callbacks from other Mega Man games. Because it was a phone game, it also contained many social features. It was met with nearly universal disdain from fans, and as of 2015 has shut down its servers.
- In 2012, Street Fighter X Mega Man was released. It was a free download, only for PC, developed by an outside team that Capcom only funded. A Mega Man game featuring Street Fighter characters as bosses, it was also meant to be a celebratory game as both series hit their 25th Anniversaries. Note that Street Fighter is still seeing releases. Meanwhile, this is the last new Mega Man game to see release.
That's right. No Mega Man games in 2013, or in 2014. Inafune, no longer with Capcom, has created his own development team and is making a spiritual successor called Mighty No. 9, but it needed to be crowdfunded and has suffered from delays and multiple controversies.
With so many Mega Man games each year, every year, the drought that Mega Man fans have dealt with these last few years must be jarring. With Inafune no longer with Capcom and Capcom uninterested in doing anything with the property, what can be done?
What kind of Mega Man game would you like to see next?
How to Revive Mega Man
First off, we're going to assume Capcom will not release, sell, loan or otherwise forfeit the property to another company. With that out of the way, here's some things Capcom can, could, maybe even should do to breathe life back into Mega Man.
1) Mega Man 11, available for EVERYTHING
It can't be that difficult or long to make a Mega Man game if you reuse the assets and graphics of the 8-bit games, can it? Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 did it just fine. Capcom was content to pay a random team money to develop Street Fighter X Mega Man, without any (or much) input from Inafune, and that went fine. How hard could it be to toss this bone to fans longing for a new Mega Man game. There's a completely new line of consoles and handhelds out there as well. Playstation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, and of course your mobile platforms. Could it really be that difficult or costly to develop a Mega Man 11 and release it for all of those platforms?
2) Make a new Mega Man series, and don't be afraid to branch it out some!
I admit that, 14 years ago, when I first saw previews of the first Mega Man Battle Network I was not happy. "Mega Man's a platformer, not whatever this nonsense is!" I thought at the time. I was also still in high school. Well, six main Battle Network games later, and, well, I'm still not a fan of Battle Network but lots of people are because either: they hadn't played a Mega Man before Battle Network or they were willing to accept the genre change and had fun with the series anyway.
Mega Man is expansive like that. Think about the untapped potential still out there for this IP. There hasn't been a first-person Mega Man game yet. There could be a real-time or turn-based strategy game based in the Mega Man universe. What about a MMO Mega Man, and I don't mean the "social experience" that supposedly was Xover.
There's a lot of things that could happen with Mega Man, Capcom just needs to get over the notion of "Inafune IS Mega Man", put a new person in charge and let that person be the one to breathe new life into the series, under the condition...
3) Avoid making the game "freemium" and avoid making it mobile only
Has Capcom learned from the disappointment, to say the least, that was Xover? Its hard to say, the backlash overseas was so much the game was never localized. What was localized was an iOS version of Mega Man X where players could pay real money to purchase energy tanks and weapons rather than, you know, acquiring these IN GAME.
No, if Capcom were to revive Mega Man, it must be on a traditional gaming console or handheld. If it's a Nintendo system, where they've been busy releasing their older games on its eShop, fine. If its on the more "mature" consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One to appeal to those audiences, fine. Most Mega Man fans still play games on consoles or handhelds. While mobile gaming is exceedingly popular, its not really the platform of choice for many Mega Man fans, I would wager.
4) Mega Man Legends 3
I think the popularity of the two Legends games is a bit overstated personally, but the people who do like the games really like them and were ecstatic when they heard a third game was coming out for the 3DS. Many people bought 3DSes, back when it was still $250, only to play that game. The game's cancellation crushed the hearts of many, and those many still harbor anger towards Capcom, towards Inafune for leaving, towards Nintendo because they don't like the 3DS otherwise. Lots of bitterness there.
If Capcom were to actually bring Mega Man back, at some point they need to develop a Legends 3, if only to make amends with the people it crushed with the game's cancellation. Also, don't release it on mobile. I know I sound rather adamant about avoid mobile releases, but the bulk of mobile's audience, at least outside of Japan, does not care for Mega Man.
Still, with Inafune gone, Capcom seems more than content with just leaving the series be, especially as the company deals with its own financial struggles after their mobile plans have not worked out like they (for some reason) thought.
Mega Man used to be known as that series that had a ton of games, but also a series that wasn't afraid to branch out like Legends and like Battle Network. It had to of been a very lucrative franchise for Capcom to pump out so many games for a time, surely if they put in the effort even without Inafune they'll find that Mega Man can be just as profitable, but they have to do it like how they did it in the 90s and early 2000s.
As it stands, though, all Mega Man can do is relish its spotlight in the new Smash Bros. game, and hope that one day Capcom can also remember that it exists.