Old News: Rebooting Forgotten Game Franchises (Part 1 — Mega Man)

Posted October 30, 2014 by Eric Gerson in Video Games

Howdy-ho, readerinos! And welcome to a new feature I’ve been cooking up in my head for quite some time. As you may have learned from my article about Destiny, I have a LOT of ideas knocking around the ol’ brain box, mostly about how my favorite games can be updated and improved. So I decided it would be fun to apply these ideas to old/defunct game franchises, focusing on how best to upgrade them for the current generation. You may have also learned from my Destiny piece that when I start writing, it is often difficult for me to stop. So instead of writing another novella for you all to “enjoy”, I will be splitting this new feature into multiple parts, and will only focus on one game franchise at a time. Today’s selection: Mega Man. As we travel back to the year 20xx, I will do my best to keep it brief. [UPDATE: I failed, but keep reading anyway. 😉 ]

No video game franchise has had as singular or as significant an influence on me as the Mega Man series. As kids, my best friend/next door neighbor and I were absolutely obsessed with everything Mega Man. We played each game in a near endless loop. We had notebooks filled with those grid-like passwords. We traded the GameBoy versions back and forth. We played imaginary Mega Man in the backyard. We would compete in “name that tune” on the school bus with songs from Mega Man (Wood Man’s theme FTW). We would even spend hours in the basement drawing our own custom levels and enemy-select stages with our own made-up robot masters. Put simply, we ate, slept, and breathed Mega Man.

That is why it is so heartbreaking for me that Mega Man has all but disappeared from the modern gaming landscape. Sure, the Blue Bomber is currently enjoying a guest cameo in the new Super Smash Bros., and has had two NES-style sequels release on the last generation of consoles, but short of some recent/upcoming “spiritual successors,” the Mega Man series has never received the modern upgrade it deserves. In fact, prior to the aforementioned NES-style sequels, there hasn’t been a new classic Mega Man game since 1997–seventeen years ago. And the last Mega Man X game came out in 2004. That was ten years ago! Heck, even those recent NES-style games are over four years old at this point. Where did my favorite robot disappear to?!

Now, some Mega Man purists may argue that all they want is more old-school sequels with the same NES graphics and gameplay we saw in Mega Man 910. And that’s fine; I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to more Mega Man, no matter the style. However, for the franchise to be truly reborn, that old school look and feel isn’t going to cut it. What I want instead are some legitimately modern takes on the classic formula that keep the games’ heart alive, but rebuild it to feel at home on the PS4, X1, and Wii U. And I think I have three ideas to make that dream a reality…

Mega Man Classic Reboot

Isn’t this what Fire Man, Heat Man, or Magma Man’s stage might look like in 3D?

When I try and imagine what a modern entry in the classic Mega Man series might look like and how it might play, I can’t help but use other successful franchises as a jumping off point. And in my mind, there is one game’s framework that would be an absolutely perfect fit for a modern Mega Man. That game is Ratchet & Clank; specifically, the Ratchet & Clank games on the PS3. I know this may sound crazy but bare with me. First of all, the aesthetics are a perfect match, with the right balance of high-tech and cartoon–exactly how I always imagined a 3D Mega Man should look. Second, R&C’s gunplay is very much in line with Mega Man‘s. Unlike other third person shooters that employ cover tactics and tight, over-the-shoulder camera angles, R&C keeps the camera wide, and is focused less on popping in and out of cover, and more on well timed jumps and dodges and having the right gun for the right enemy. The same can be said about Mega Man‘s shooting mechanics. R&C’s wacky arsenal is also a nice analogue for the many weapons earned by Mega Man as he defeats each Robot Master. Third, it’s not hard to imagine how Mega Man’s canine companion Rush could be utilized in a manner similar to Ratchet’s sidekick Clank, for both increasing Mega Man’s platforming abilities as well as solo sections where the players can take control of Rush himself. Finally, Mega Man’s emphasis on precise platforming is alive and well in the R&C games. While it could certainly stand for a kick up in difficulty, there are plenty of treacherous platforming challenges in the R&C games. Some areas even feel like 3D reimaginings of past Robot Master lairs (see image).

Of course, not everything that works in Ratchet & Clank would be a good fit for a 3D Mega Man. Primarily, there are vast differences in the central gameplay loops of Mega Man and R&C. While the R&C games do employ a quasi-open world, they have largely linear objectives. IN contrast, the cornerstone of the classic Mega Man games is the option to select one of eight Robot Masters to take on at any given time. Also, Mega Man levels are generally much shorter from start to finish than the different planets in R&C. So how do we keep the Mega Man trappings alive in a R&C world? Here’s my proposal: open the game with a prologue level that then leads into the first Robot Master level, from which Mega Man acquires a new gun. From there, the world opens up–he can select any of seven remaining Robot Master levels  to explore. However, each is much bigger and more explorable than classic Mega Man levels, with a handful of distinct areas to traverse. They also can be exited at any time, and you can pick them up at certain checkpoints along the way when you re-enter. But most importantly halfway through each level, you reach a mini-boss. By defeating the mini-boss, you will be provided with a clue as to what weapon that level’s Robot Master is vulnerable to. That way, you can have both long, big worlds AND the classic Robot Master formula, but you don’t have to waste two hours traversing a level just to reach a boss you can’t defeat. If you don’t have the right gun, you can pop back out to the world map and choose another level, only to return when you are properly equipped. And as you piece together the proper order and start taking down the bosses using the correct weapons, you also earn currency that can be spent on other incremental upgrades to your existing weapons, armor, and traversal abilities. I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like the perfect 3D Mega Man game to me, one I’d certainly be willing to shell out $60 to play on my PS4.

Mega Man X Reboot

As opposed to the classic Mega Man series, the X games are a far darker and more story-driven affair. Instead of a trite conflict centered on the scorned Dr. Wily’s quest for revenge, the storyline of the X games is higher stakes. X is Dr. Light’s last invention–the first robot with free will and the ability to think for himself. Even though Light tried to conceal his invention, recognizing its potential danger, X was later discovered and awoken by Dr. Cain. X  was used by Cain to create a whole race of self-aware robots known as Reploids. And as we learned from movies like Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey, when robots start thinking for themselves, things go south very, VERY quickly. Soon enough, some of the Reploids–know as Mavericks–began plotting the destruction of the human race. Guilt stricken, X joins up with the “Maverick Hunters” resistance group to fight alongside humans and other Reploids to defend all mankind and save the world.

This kind of high stakes plot is perfect for a modern triple-A title–so that part of the transition is not hard to envision. Gameplay, however, is a different story. Like the classic Mega Man series, the Mega Man X generally follow a standard gameplay loop–2D gameplay; eight Robot Masters, each with a weakness to another’s weapon; take them all down and move onto the final castle. In reality, the X games only make a handful of changes to this tried-and-true formula. First, the Robot Masters are based on different animals, not men. Second, due to the importance of story, there was more dialogue, and more “interlude” levels designed to moved the narrative forward. Third, X introduced several new traversal options, such as the ability to cling to walls and dash short distances, making X a much quicker and more advanced fighter than Mega Man. Focusing on these differences is key to creating an excellent modern reboot of the X series.

Not hard to imagine X rocket-sliding while shooting like this.

Not hard to imagine X rocket-sliding while shooting like the player character in Vanquish.

First, the gameplay needs to heavily emphasize the series’ unique traversal options. Don’t worry, I got that part covered, using another convenient comparison to a modern title. This time, my eyes are set on Vanquish. Never heard of Vanquish? Not surprising. Vanquish was an underrated, underplayed gem of a third-person shooter, developed by Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 1-4, Devil May CryViewtiful Joe) and Platinum Games, and published by Sega on the PS3 and Xbox 360. At first glace, Vanquish seems like a standard sci-fi cover shooter. However, Vanquish relied on two very unique gameplay hooks that make it stand out–the ability to slow down time, and the ability to rocket slide in any direction. The former is solely necessary because of crazy maneuvers you can pull off with the latter. The player can zoom forward into a firefight, pop to cover, zoom left to a flanking position, and then fall onto their back and boost backwards to safety, all at lighting speed and with immense amounts of style. The ability to slow time is just icing, letting you fire off a handful of accurate rounds in bullet-time as you rocket around the room. The game is an unbelievable adrenaline rush, and its gameplay would be a perfect fit for a 3D take on Mega Man X and its emphasis on speedy movement and shooting.

Now, let’s add back in the focus on storytelling. The Mega Man X reboot I envision would NOT follow the traditional choose-your-adventure level select format. Instead, I think a linear, mature, story-driven military sci-fi shooter can successfully be built within this universe. Focus on X first joining the Maverick Hunters. Watch him grow, upgrade and mature as he faces increasingly intense battles with crazy enemies. Play up X’s own guilt about the role he played as the catalyst for the rise of the Mavericks. Vary the mission structure–some could take place on the battlefield, with X fighting alongside human soldiers and fellow Reploids; others can be infiltration operations, and so forth. Finally, take the animal Robot Masters introduced by the series and turn them into hulking technologically-advanced end-level monstrosities, akin to the Beauty and the Beast squad from Metal Gear Solid 4. Just picturing mature reimaginings of bosses like Launch Octopus, Storm Eagle, and Armored Armadillo gets me all kinds of excited. And the result would be a modern evolution of the series that would stay true to its roots AND reinvent the formula in a manner that can stand up against the industries best triple-As.

Mega Man Universe

A game I'd imagined since I was young child, unceremoniously scrapped before seeing the light of day.

A game I’d imagined since I was young child, unceremoniously scrapped before seeing the light of day.

Okay, perhaps this is a bit of a cop out. After all, Mega Man Universe is not a product of my own imagination. For that reason I will keep this short.

If you never heard of Mega Man Universe, there are tons of screens, videos, and stories around the web from when it was first teased, later announced, and then tragically canceled. The elevator pitch is thus: a classic Mega Man game for PS3 and Xbox 360 that includes a creation studio, giving the player the tools to to build custom characters and levels from scratch in the mold of the original NES titles. Those levels could then be shared online. Basically, think LittleBigPlanet or Nintendo’s upcoming Mario Maker, but starring the Blue Bomber. For my money, it is absolutely criminal that this game never saw the light of day. As I stated in my introduction, this would have quite literally been a realization of some of my childhood fantasies. Plus, the reasons it was scrapped aren’t even clear–though art direction and unresponsive controls were rumored to play a part. Personally, I think another factor might have been that the PS3 and 360 were not ideal platforms for its level-building mechanics. However, now that the Wii U is in play, this game MUST be revisited. As demonstrated by the aforementioned Mario Maker, or the recently demoed stage builder in the upcoming Super Smash Bros., the Wii U gamepad is absolutely PERFECT for this type of game. A Wii U version of Mega Man Universe would not only be a strong addition to the console’s arguably weak library, but would also help bring Mega Man back into the video game limelight. Hey, he’s already in Smash Bros., so this can’t be THAT much of a longshot, can it? CAN IT?!

About the Author

Eric Gerson

A karaoke visionary and an avid gamer, Eric has been a Nintendo fanboy since birth, and a PlayStation owner since the PS2 era. An equal-opportunities gamer, Eric believes games are either good or bad, irrespective of their genre or setting. PSN and NN ID: GerStud101.