Mega Manvania: Symphony of the Blue Bomber

Confused by the title of the article? You shouldn’t be. There is rhyme and reason to be found here, and I’m going to explain myself. Obviously the title hints towards a connection between Mega Man and Castlevania, but why? It’s simple, I feel that I’ve thought of how Capcom could make Mega Man marketable and hugely successful once again.

First, before I get into the specifics of my idea, why has Mega Man become boring and/or stale to the public? Why are his games not selling as well as they used to? There are a few reasons for this.

1. Oversaturation
Capcom made a huge mistake between 2000 and 2006. They simply made too many Mega Man games! Here are all of the Mega Man games released between 2000 and 2006, at least as far as I am aware.

Mega Man Anniversary Collection
Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge
Mega Man Battle Network
Mega Man Battle Network 2
Mega Man Battle Network 3
Mega Man Battle Network 4
Mega Man Battle Network 5
Mega Man Battle Network 6
Mega Man Legends 2
Mega Man Maverick Hunter X
Mega Man Network Transmission
Mega Man Powered Up
Mega Man Star Force
Mega Man X5
Mega Man X6
Mega Man X7
Mega Man X8
Mega Man X Collection
Mega Man X Command Mission
Mega Man Xtreme
Mega Man Xtreme 2
Mega Man Zero
Mega Man Zero 2
Mega Man Zero 3
Mega Man Zero 4

Remember these games? Yeah, there were eight of them in six years. Can you say overkill?

Wow, right? That’s twenty five Mega Man games. That’s almost five Mega Man gamer per year. It’s honestly no surprise that the general public grew a little tired of Mega Man, especially considering how Capcom tried to balance three different Mega Man series at once (Battle Network, X, and Zero) while also tossing around a bunch of minor remakes and spin-offs. A quick look at the above list makes it easy to understand how Capcom seemed to have lost sense of what Mega Man was, and how the Blue Bomber seemed to have no identity anymore. Gamers didn’t know what the heck to do with all of these Mega Man games and, thanks to the relentless onslaught of Battle Network and Zero games over a few years, pretty much everyone reached a point where they would say, whenever a new Mega Man game was released, “Oh boy, another Mega Man game?”

Too many games in too little time, Capcom. It’s no wonder the Blue Bomber has been struggling to garner attention and sales throughout the past five years. It’s simply because the market became oversaturated with Mega Man games and pretty much all of us lost interest, or…

2. Fan Abandonment
… Capcom betrayed their loyal fans. I know, that sounds a little crazy but hear me out. I’m not a disgruntled fan who is calling Capcom out or anything, it just doesn’t take much thought to realize that Capcom lost focus of Mega Man’s identity and who/what he was. The rehashing of different formulas was evidence of this. How many fans of classic Mega Man or the X series felt alienated by the non-stop Battle Network games? They didn’t feel right at all, at least not to me. They just weren’t Mega Man. The Zero series seemed alright, but I had trouble getting into them. There seemed to be clashing art styles and the overall presentation didn’t satisfy me very much. I guess portable Mega Man titles just couldn’t meet my expectations. Capcom perhaps demonstrated fan abandonment the most when they decided to make a Mega Man X RPG called Command Mission. This was a VERY peculiar game to say the least. Command Mission came out during a period when the RPG genre was incredibly profitable, and Capcom wanted a piece of the pie. I don’t think Command Mission sold well, and reviews were pretty mixed all across the board. IGN was one of the very few professional gaming websites that scored the game highly. As an RPG nut, I actually really enjoyed Command Mission although it did indeed have a lot of boring or dull moments. It was an interesting experiment to thrust Axl, X, and Zero into a Final Fantasy style RPG. It may not have been the best thing for the Mega Man franchise since most fans of the franchise are primarily fans of platformers rather than RPGs. It was an extremely bold and risky move and, despite being enjoyed by some, Command Mission wasn’t much of a success. It was simply far too different. Capcom didn’t know how to market Mega Man effectively anymore and it was definitely showing.

Mega Man X Command Mission was a very risky move by Capcom which, ultimately, didn't work out.

3. Been There, Done That
Eight stages, eight bosses, eight powerups. How many times have we done this? For over twenty years, this was Capcom’s design plan for Mega Man games. Heck, it still is to this day. While it is hard to say anything bad about the older Mega Man games that use this generic design, I have trouble forgiving the newer games that still use the 8-8-8 formula. In 2011, Capcom should be able to do a lot more than this. Eight linear levels and then three or four following levels that lead up to the final boss were a lot of fun until around Mega Man X2 or X3. After that point, the 8-8-8 just grew really stagnant. It was still fun to experience the different locales of each level since there were always the mandatory fire, ice, and water levels along with a few unexpected level themes such as the futuristic junkyard stage in X6. Still, level themes weren’t enough to carry the games anymore, nor were the stage boss designs. Mega Man game design was simply becoming archaic and stagnant.

Fond memories, but times have changed since the 1980s.

And that all brings us to my idea.

What Mega Man needs is a bold new reinvention, similar to the jump from Classic Mega Man to Mega Man X. The Blue Bomber needs a new look, a new armor. It needs to be “cool” in the year 2011 or 2012. It needs to grab gamers’ attention and appeal to them. There has not been a terribly interesting look for the Blue Bomber since his first two versions, Classic and X. Both are designs from the late 1980s and early 1990s. So, Mega Man has not had a bold new look in nearly twenty years. Wow.

What is the game plan? I say take the original Mega Man look and simply give him “edgier” looking armor. Don’t cute him up like the Battle Network or Star Force designs. A new Mega Man needs to look “hip” to have mass appeal across the entire age spectrum. Classic and X are beloved designs by young and old, but I don’t know a single person over the age of twenty who thinks that the Star Force design looks cool. Capcom’s habit of making Mega Man games look cute has to go NOW for the series to have any kind of significant future again. The safe method of doing this would be to stick with the Classic or X look (no other iterations have mass appeal) or go with an entirely new Mega Man design.

These are not appealing designs for the Blue Bomber.

So we’ve got appearance out of the way. Mega Man needs a cool look for mass appeal. Where do we go from there? It’s pretty simple – design. As I said, the fundamental flaw that ruins Mega Man these days is the fact that Capcom has been using the 8-8-8 formula since 1987. This needs to change entirely, and this is where the title of the article really comes into play. Mega Man needs a huge change, and I think it is such a huge change that I’m going to put it on its very own line.

Mega Man needs to become Castlevania.

After reading that line, it doesn’t sound too crazy, does it? Think about it for a moment. Imagine a huge, sprawling 2D world with tons of different landscapes and environments. Take Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and simply replace the gigantic castle with tons of connected outdoor areas, as well as a few indoor locations as well. Would this not be a good idea or what? A free roaming 2D Mega Man platformer that takes a page out of Castlevania’s book would be an exciting idea while not seeming too “scary” for the long time and devoted fans of the franchise. It would also get rid of the 8-8-8 formula. No longer would players have to select from the same ol’ eight stages on a select screen. They would now have an open world to explore, and they would have to discover the location of bosses rather than follow a linear path to them. There would be tons of seemingly dead ends or unreachable areas, at least until players would find necessary armor upgrades to reach new locations. Mega Man could be upgraded to have long jumps, double jumps, increased run speed, temporary flight/hovering, magnetism (sticking to ceilings in areas), as well as buster upgrades to break through various walls and such throughout the game world.

Capcom needs to rip off Konami if the Blue Bomber is to have any further success.

Essentially what is brewing in my head is Mega Man Legends, only 2D and playing like classic Mega Man or Mega Man X with a huge helping of Castlevania influence on the side. This would also allow Capcom to throw in a lot more than just eight robot masters. Since the game would probably be considered an RPG, Mega Man could easily amass between ten and twenty powers from various maverick/robot master bosses. Would that not be awesome?

Due to the game likely being considered an RPG, this would also mean Mega Man would be able to level up. Rather than gaining life bar extensions from beating bosses, the Blue Bomber could accomplish this by leveling up instead. He could also gain power bar extensions as well, allowing him more frequent use of his powers as he levels up. The higher levels could also grant him cool passive abilities, like being able to restore lost energy over time. This could result in some really fun cat and mouse encounters with bosses where, after depleting your energy for a weapon, you could hop around for a bit and let the bar regenerate enough to dish out more attacks while avoiding the opponent’s onslaught.

An example of how Capcom could incorporate leveling up.

Non-linear games have become the norm over the past years, and Capcom has embraced it with many of their other series… so where’s non-linear Mega Man at? It seems like the only logical step to take with the Blue Bomber. With all of the gameplay elements that would come with making Mega Man into something resembling modern Castlevania games, there would be enough familiarity mixed with new ideas to please old fans and probably attract new gamers to the franchise.

And what would make the game even more interesting? Make it into something that bridges the gap between Mega Man and Mega Man X. Perhaps it could showcase the rise of mavericks and reploids while still retaining Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, Mega Man, Roll, and Rush. Heck, it could even lead to the downfall of the original Mega Man after suffering a temporary defeat at the hands of an early Zero prototype, which prompts Dr. Light to start working on Mega Man X in secrecy.

Come on Capcom, there’s a gold mine here. I just threw two great ideas out there! A Castlevania style Mega Man title that bridges the storyline gap between Classic and X (which a lot of fans have been curious about) would be really interesting. It sounds like a bold and exciting move while not being at all risky. Going freeroaming and RPG-esque has helped out a lot of series thus far, so why can’t Mega Man join the fun?

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Rocket Knight (Review)

“One of the best platformers available on the market today, and one that all fans of the genre must play.”

I can vaguely recall back in the Genesis days when I first played the original Rocket Knight Adventures. The game was lots of fun and very impressive back in the day, and it’s a shame that they game didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserved. Climax Studios and Konami look to change this though with Rocket Knight, a remake/sequel that serves as a potential revival of the Rocket Knight series. So is this Rocket Knight reboot a successful reimagining of the Genesis classic? Read on.

Rocket Knight opens with the game’s protagonist, Sparkster, witnessing an army of wolves invading his home nation of Zephyrus, which is where the possums live. The pigs team up with the possums to combat the wolf threat, but really… The story doesn’t matter at all. This is a platformer after all, and does anybody really play platformers for exciting stories? Not really. They are nice additions, but they’re not vital. Thankfully Rocket Knight keeps the story telling to an absolute minimum, just like the good old 16 bit days.

The gameplay in Rocket Knight is quite good, and playing this game immediately brought back slight memories from the original Genesis incarnation. The player controls Sparkster who is equipped with a sword and jetpack. The sword is used to, predictably, slash down foes. The jetpack enables Sparkster to speed across the screen in any direction, plowing through whatever unforunate enemies are in his path. The jetpack can also be used to ricochet off of walls, allowing Sparkster to reach ledges that would be impossible to reach without using the ricochet ability. The jetpack and sword can be combined together to create devastating spin attacks, as well as a “drill attack” which is capable of destroying obstacles later in the game.

Levels are, for the most part, your standard platformer obstacle courses. Keep going left or right, and occasionally up or down. There are many pitfalls and hazards (lava, electric currents, etc.) to avoid, and the everlasting presence of your wolf foes makes some obstacles slightly challenging to get past. Unfortunately, I found that most of Rocket Knight to be overwhelmingly easy. It wasn’t until the final two or three stages that the difficulty decided to spike incredibly, which I found a little bizarre as there was absolutely no difficulty curve in the game at all.

For the sake of variety, there are a few flying stages thrown in as well. These levels play a lot like standard space shooters such as Gradius or R-Type. Players can shoot rapid shots or charge up one powerful shot instead which typically destroys anything in front of Sparkster. These levels are fairly fun, but aren’t nearly as enjoyable as the ground levels.

There are a few boss fights, but they are nothing we haven’t seen before. Run in for an attack when the boss is temporarily unable to attack, bounce explosives back at them, and so forth. Like I said, the boss battles in Rocket Knight are the same battles we’ve gone through many times before. They’re still quite fun in this game though, even if they’re far too predictable and easy to figure out.

The graphics are pretty nice for a budget title. Rocket Knight is not available in physical form, only as a downloadable title off of the Playstation Store, Steam, or XBox Live. There doesn’t seem to be a Wii release, which is unfortunate because I’m sure that Nintendo’s console could easily handle this game. The graphics aren’t very detailed or extravagant, and could very nearly be last generation. Everything as a whole looks very average in Rocket Knight, but the game has a very charming graphical style that makes it easy to forgive the game for having mediocre visuals.

Equally as charming as the graphical style is the game’s music and sound effects. From the very first opening you are treated to a very epic sounding background tune that really sets the scene for an engaging cartoon-like adventure. The sound effects really aren’t anything amazing, but they still somewhat above average and sound decent. I can’t recall being annoyed or turned off by any sound effects, which is certainly a good thing.

So for about half the price of a full retail game, you probably can’t go wrong with Rocket Knight. It emulates Rocket Knight Adventures’ gameplay brilliantly and is a blast to play. The only other platformer I have enjoyed quite as much as this game over the past several years would be New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Yes, I even enjoyed this game more than LittleBigPlanet for the simple fact that this game nails the old school platforming formula far better than anything else on the market today. If you’re a platformer fanatic, then this is definitely a must try for you!

Final Score

8.3/10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES, 1992)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

Welcome to the first article of the Retro Vault section. In these articles, I take the time to look back on a real classic from the earlier consoles I grew up with, the NES and SNES, and the Genesis from time to time as well. What better game to start with than one that should be very close to the heart of many 90s kids, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.

During the early 1990s, the Ninja Turtles were at the height of their popularity. In recent years they have made a comeback, but as someone who has witnessed the Turtles craze of the early 90s and now the one of the 21st century, I can safely say that the revived interest in the Ninja Turtles does not even come close to matching the love that they received two decades ago.

Everywhere you would look until about 1996 when the original show ended were the four Ninja Turtles. Their infinite popularity spawned countless games, a live action movie trilogy, a frighteningly vast army of action figures, and even bed sheets and pajamas. If you grew up during this period of time, your life was the Ninja Turtles.

Now I could go on about how awkward the Turtles’ debut was on the NES, or I could heap praise upon the movies (which were actually not that bad at all), or I could even comment on the Turtles’ attempt to rip off Street Fighter, but I will do none of these. Instead, I am focusing on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. The reason for this is because when anyone is asked to stop and think of Ninja Turtles video games, nine times out of ten this will be the one that they think of immediately. There are several reasons for this, and I will gladly go over them.

For starters, this game is a very high quality beat ’em up platformer that forces the player to use skill and not be careless. Button mashing will work to an extent, but will not carry you through the game. There were a lot of interesting mechanics in the game and I remember that when the game first came out, it was breathtaking to look at. The Mode 7 levels in particular were really impressive at the time. Every level was oozing with heaps of detail. The dinosaur and train levels in particular were fantastic to look at with their heat haze and moving panorama effects. The dinosaur level actually made me feel hot, and the train level gave me the impression that I was actually going somewhere.

The reason why this game is so beloved to the old school Ninja Turtle fans is because it represents the series so well, or at least the SNES version does. While the arcade release was a very faithful version, fighting Tokka and Rahzar on a pirate ship was certainly a little unusual. It lacked a few major villain characters and the Technodrome was mysteriously absent. When the game was ported to the SNES, several new bosses were added including Rat King, Slash, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Super Shredder. It also added a Technodrome level with a fun stand-off against Shredder. The new bosses and Technodrome stage helped define the SNES port as the ultimate Ninja Turtles video game experience, a title that I feel the game still proudly wears even to this day, eighteen years after it’s release. I can hardly believe it has been that long!

Playing this game with friends was always a blast. Gathering a few friends in the arcade and playing as all of the turtles simultaneously was nothing short of being just plain awesome. The SNES port only allowed two players at a time, but being able to play in the comfort of your own home made up for the loss of players 3 and 4. I’ve played the original arcade and SNES versions with family and friends, and I also played through the Reshelled remake one day with two friends. Every experience was extremely positive and very enjoyable. Every single time I play this game, there is fun to be had. This still applies today.

Speaking of the remake, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time Reshelled was released fairly recently for the Playstation 3 and XBox 360. The game is fully 3D and uses slightly different gameplay mechanics, and the music was also replaced with what sounds like generic stock tunes. It doesn’t capture the same amazing atmosphere that the original did, but it’s still fun to play through once or twice for a rush of nostalgia.

Turtles in Time was truly special for it’s time. The gameplay, the graphics, the music, and everything else came together perfectly to create the best Ninja Turtles experience we will likely ever see. Truly a timeless classic.