I've written about Mega Man quite a bit here on the site, probably because with the sheer amount of games in the series there is bound to be some overlooked gems and some bad games. I am quite fond of the series, so that is probably why I have mostly focused on the stuff that I like, so I guess that makes this article something of a turning point. Now, Mega Man & Bass isn't really a bad Mega Man game, but it isn't a great one either. Don't be surprised if I ever write about another game in the franchise that I like, considering I haven't written about Maverick Hunter X or the Zero series yet, but with this game it feels like things are probably trending down into the inevitability of things like Mega Man X7, Mega Man Network Transmission, and Mega Man Soccer.
Anyway, Mega Man & Bass has a rather bizarre history. It was originally released in 1998 on the Super Famicom under the title using the characters' Japanese names Rockman & Forte. Not only is 1998 a really late time to release a game for the system, but was also released after the series had already moved on to more newer systems like the Playstation and Saturn with Mega Man 8. The regression in system is probably why it was a spin off instead of being called Mega Man 9, though that didn't stop people from mislabeling the rom because it was some strange Japan-only Mega Man game that came out after 8.
That rom was the way I initially played the game, considering it wasn't initially released over here on account of the SNES being basically dead at that point making a localization financially stupid, but when the game was ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2002 an international release made more sense. It was probably a disappointment for most people that waited four years for it, but it is a solid, if mostly by-the-book, Mega Man game. Considering that Mega Man Zero came out a bit before, I can only imagine that Mega Man & Bass felt incredibly dated upon the time it was released on GBA.
Instead of focusing on anything that is within the usual Mega Man game formula, I'll explain what is different. The first and most obvious thing is the ability to play as not just Mega Man, but Bass. Thankfully, Bass isn't just a sprite swap, but actually has a unique play style that is somewhat closer to that of characters from the X series, though he can't wall jump. Instead of a slide he has dash that is executed by double-tapping forward, which combined with his ability to double jump allows him to jump further and higher than the Blue Bomber, but keeps him from getting under low walls and attacks. Similarly, instead of charge shots, Bass shoots a series of rapidfire shots. Holding down the button fires continuously and locks Bass into place, allowing him to fire in various directions.
The differences in playable characters is reflected in the strategies need to defeat enemies and the level designs, such that instead of one route there are sometimes branching paths or secret areas that can only be reached by a specific character. It's not very extensive, but it does make the levels a bit more interesting. Also meant to spice things up is the way levels are unlocked in a branching pattern and the shop system, similar to the one from Mega Man 8, that allows the player to purchase upgrades and extra lives.
Even though the game is largely derivative, reusing art assets and even a couple of bosses, from 8, it is still a new game with new levels, and the addition of a playable Bass makes it feel pretty fresh. And at least the reused bosses have completely new attacks and patterns, so even when it is familiar it is challenging. On the subject of challenging, the game is pretty difficult. It's not the hardest game in the franchise, but it is considerably less lenient than other Mega Man games of the late 90's. For me, being able to unlock the ability to combine Bass and his dog Treble and fly around makes the game charming enough for me to put up with it. Mega Man & Bass isn't a great, oft-forgotten Mega Man title, but it is an adequate one with enough gimmicks to keep it entertaining.