Mega Man hasn’t had the best birthday celebration. The twenties can be a tough time for a lot of us, and at 25 years old, things appear bleak for the Blue Bomber.
His parent, game company Capcom, canceled the very public and decade-in-the-waiting Mega Man Legends 3. Mega Man Universe, a game that looked pretty good in my eyes, got canceled previously. Mega Man Online, a South Korean MMO developed by NeoWiz, was canned later.
The games we did receive only rubbed salt in those wounds: an iOS remake of Mega Man X launched with awful graphics and a DLC shop that unlocks all items, weapons and upgrades while Mega Man Xover, another iOS game (potentially pronounced as “Mega Man’s over”), launched with even worse graphics and cash grab “gameplay”.
Between all that, a poorly timed announcement revealed a playable Mega Man in Street Fighter x Tekken, portrayed as a pudgy, washed-up version of his Bad Box Art self from the original NES Mega Man. Couple that with a barren, snowy Mega Man Legends stage (symbolism!) from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and some of the world’s worst PR — Capcom’s European Twitter account blamed the MML3 cancellation on the fans’ lack of interest — and it seemed as if Capcom was intentionally dragging its former mascot through the mud.
So, what’s left to celebrate? To borrow another Capcom title’s catchphrase, it looks as if there’s no hope left for Mega Man, a character that used to stand on equal footing with Mario and Sonic.
There was a glimmer of light on Mega Man’s 25th birthday, December 17th 2012, when Capcom-Unity.com released Street Fighter x Mega Man, a free fan-made game for PC that the U.S. branch of Capcom took under its wing. It didn’t make up for the snafus of the past couple years, but it was a tiny act of goodwill that will hopefully snowball into some greater things over the next year as hinted by Capcom USA President Christian Svensson, who announced the free game was just the beginning of Mega Man’s birthday celebration.
As part of the year-long party, the U.S. will finally receive the original six NES games on the 3DS eShop in the coming months. Mega Man Legends 1 and 2 re-releases might also happen in the distant future, though that would entail re-recording the original voice-overs, something that undoubtedly won’t go over well with many fans. But, aside from some shaky promises — we all know how well Capcom keeps its word — what else is left for its former mascot? Will we ever see an honest-to-goodness new Mega Man game again?
I think so. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. First, it’s important to remember that Mega Man has always been a very versatile brand. It’s very flexible, fitting all kinds of game molds. You can change the game completely while keeping it irrevocably Mega Man, like with Battle Network, a series made for the Pokemon generation. Or Command Mission, an RPG spin-off of the Mega Man X series, itself a spin-off. But when people think Mega Man, they often think Mega Man 1 through 10 – the “classic” series.
Ideally, Capcom would continue to comfortably iterate on that without worrying about evolving it too much, and make a new series catering to the here and now. Mega Man 9 proved that you can make something wonderful just by sticking with the basics. So yes, I’d say for the future stuff, classic Mega Man should stay the course, while new series — new stuff for the players of today — can focus on evolving. They already established this kind of framework back in the 16-bit era. Mega Man X peacefully coexisted with classic games like Mega Man 6.
I’m confident Mega Man will be okay in the long term. As long as there are people who really understand Mega Man, there will also be people who can make Mega Man as he’s meant to be. In the short term, there’ll be a lot of bumps in the road before the franchise finds its legs again. After the Mega Man Legends 3 debacle, Capcom doesn’t want to announce anything that isn’t an absolutely guaranteed release. Gradually re-establishing the trust between them and the fans will take years as it is. At least it sounds like the company’s trying.
But in the future? I think Mega Man will be okay. Think of the Batman comics. Bruce Wayne didn’t go kaput when Bob Kane … went kaput. Instead, we got so many amazing stories from so many creators. The same mythology interpreted in different ways. That’s what lies ahead for Mega Man. Heck, he’s already got a mythology like that. All the games, no matter how different they are, all share a certain Mega Man-ness. Even with new creators, new masterpieces that meet or exceed anything done before will (hopefully) have that same Mega Man-ness. Besides, if the Sonic the Hedgehog series can finally find its legs, anyone can!
Also, consider the massive response to the digital survey Capcom performed in favor of new Mega Man stuff. If the choices on that survey are any indication, we may see something on the digital download front akin to Hard Corps: Uprising or Double Dragon Neon — something more HD-flavored than the retro Mega Man 9 and 10. The guys at Inti Creates — they made Mega Man 9 and 10 as well as the Zero and ZX games — totally get Mega Man, so at least we know anything they make, should they get the chance again, will be great.
Video games haven’t been around for very long relative to other mediums, but new champions for beloved characters and franchises is just a thing that happens organically. Look at J.J. Abrams and Star Wars. Look at Capcom’s own Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series. It’s not something you can rush, which obviously runs counter to the ridiculously fast pace of evolution in the industry. But it’s a thing that’ll happen just the same. Capcom should take all they learned from DmC, Resident Evil 6 and the recent survey and apply that knowledge to keeping Mega Man alive in some form other than toys, comic books and soundtracks. It’ll happen one way or another.
It’s only a matter of when.