Friday, July 22, 2011

The Advent of Mega Man's Recent Fall

With the recent cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, the last known Mega Man game to currently be in production, a lot of people have realized that the Mega Man franchise isn't doing too well. While it seems a bit alarmist to declare that Mega Man is dead, it is plain to see that he isn't doing as well as it was twenty, ten, or even five years ago. While this is a great blow against the prospects of charming games everywhere, and undoubtedly a dick move on Capcom's part, I'm sure we'll see more blue bomber some day.

Warning, the DS screenshots will make this article appear longer than it is.  Though it is quite long compared to my usual.
The announcement of the cancellation came as a surprise, but, for those that have been paying attention, there have been signs that Mega Man hasn't been doing so well. I'm not referring to series creator Keiji Inafune leaving Capcom, which I'm sure didn't help, but to the sales of the various incarnations of the series. At the end of the day, Capcom is a company, and if there isn't profit in creating a new Mega Man game, then they won't do it. Long before Legends 3 was even announced, the other Mega Man series have dried up and went away. The once very successful Battle Network/Star Force brand was driven so far into the ground the final game, which was a crossover of the two wasn't even localized. The planned series of remakes of the original and the X games for PSP never even got past their first titles.

This brings me to the sad fate of Mega Man ZX Advent. While the limited print runs have made ZX and ZX Advent relatively valuable, I feel like I should write about them anyway because of their obscurity and my general fondness for them. The ZX series, if it's worth calling two games a series, has direct lineage from the original 2D platformers everyone loves, as the order goes: original, X, Zero, ZX. There is a natural progression through all of them, and much like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia was the logical sum of its series history, so is Advent.

In the Zero series, it focused heavily on the use of different weapons, creative level design, and a difficulty level best described as rapey. With ZX games, Inti Creates decided to take a much lighter route. I don't mean this in the sense of difficulty, but literally, in that the color palette is much brighter and marks the return of a lighthearted tone that is the source of much charm that had been missing. Don't get me wrong, I love the X and Zero games, but they were very dark and series, and after the depressing end of Zero 4, it was nice to have a balance between the old charm and new seriousness. Both ZX and Advent walked this line well, similar to the Legends games, though not quite as well.

The major schtick of ZX series is the ability to transform into different forms. While the original series was all about taking the powers of defeated bosses, X added the wrinkle of armors, and Zero was about weapons, cyber elves, and EX skills, ZX is about transforming into different forms on the fly. In ZX, you have the choice between four different models besides the basic Zero-like main one. All of these look similar to the base model, they have vastly different play styles, and that is what makes it interesting. Though there are times when you have to use the different models to progress, a lot of times you can choose whichever suits your play style.

One odd unique bit about the ZX games is the choice between two different characters. While the later X games did this, it was done in a way that your selection of character played out more like seeing the different sides of the same story. In ZX, you get essentially the same story, but you can choose your gender. That's not that interesting, though a nice bit of equal rights. In Advent you are given the choice between two completely different characters with two very different stories, though they play it out in mostly the same levels. The neat thing is that which character from the first game that shows up in the sequel is determined by which of the two completely new characters you pick there.

In Advent, the main model is not based off of Zero, and is actually based around ranged attacks, which makes for a vastly different default play style that is more akin to the pre-beam saber games. Of course, the game does include all of the other models from the previous game (with the exception of a secret one), including the four elemental based models, and the Zero-like model ZX. In a move to make sure the game surpasses the previous, you are also capable of transforming into the game's eight “pseudoroids,” which are essentially the game's robot masters. While the other models all play similar to how you might expect a Mega Man character to control, the bosses all look and play in completely different ways. Some are massive or are only controllable underwater, and all have unique controls for different types of movement and attack.

The depths of this system as well as the well designed and absolutely gorgeous world and amazing music make Mega Man ZX Advent a joy to play. While ZX had issues that made grappling with the map frustrating, it has been greatly remedied with Advent's map design and compartmentalized levels. The Zero games were known for punishing the player for anything less than perfection, and that could be annoying if you aren't a perfectionist to begin with, but with the ZX games perfection is encouraged with incentives, but you aren't punished for doing less-than-perfect. It makes the games a lot more accessible, and the presence of an easy mode doesn't hurt either.

If you haven't been able to tell, I have a lot of love for the ZX series. This is because Mega Man ZX got me back into Mega Man games after a long hiatus. I played ZX on a friends DS piracy SD card thingy, and I liked it so much I bought it. Then, after doing absolutely everything in the game, I went back and bought up the Zero series, which I enjoyed thoroughly. After I was done with those, with an A grade in each if I might brag, I was eagerly awaiting Mega Man ZX Advent.

It was around this time, after it was released in Japan but not in the US, that I heard about Capcom's plans for a sequel. Basically, they said that if it sold over some amount in Japan, then they would move on to a third ZX game, and word on the internet was that Advent wasn't selling every well over there. And so, that is when I saw the death of Mega Man. It seemed to me, that the line of succession had been broken, and Advent would be the last hurrah. This wasn't strictly true, as Inti Creates when on to make Mega Man 9, but 9 always struck me as short-sighted on Capcom's part.

Mega Man 9 was a last ditch effort to create a Mega Man game and continue the Mega Man name without having to invest a whole lot of money, under the guise of being retro. I'm sure it's a fine game, but I never bought it because it felt like a betrayal to every game in the series that came out after 2. It was like they wanted a second chance at making Mega Man 3, never mind all the fun games that have come out since, and never mind that I kind of like Mega Man 3.

So, Mega Man 9 came out and was a success, the exact degree of which I don't really know, but it did well enough for them to make Mega Man 10. And here was there problem with going back to the 8-bit style, it was sustainable. 10 must not have done as well as Capcom wanted, because we haven't heard of any plans for an 11. The last Mega Man games that Capcom has left us with may have been some of the brightest and cheeriest, but it is hard to think of the fall of the franchise as anything but depressing like X 5 and Zero 4. Still, even those games didn't go out completely negatively, and it is Mega Man's worldly optimism that fans need right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment