Podcast #5: More Mega Man

Continuing the new podcast series, coming back for this week for a 30m discussion on The State of Mega Man, as we have both the Worlds Unite crossover now and the news about the 2017 animated series in development from Dentsu/Man of Action.

I plan to ultimately go to a bi-weekly regular schedule from this point, because I have production and planning elements to juggle- episode commentaries need about three watches a piece if I want to start scripting out the episode to kill the dead air that happened in my pilot episodes. And I need to schedule time in the professional studio if I don’t want to sound like even more of a goober. ;D So I’m shooting for releasing #6 (Transformers G1 ep 4 episode commentary) on the 17th of June.

Hope you enjoy this week’s podcast, and let me know if you agree or disagree about comic crossovers – and what your level of anticipation for the new Mega Man cartoon is!

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Plastic Memories 1: Not Worth Remembering

So, I wanted Plastic Memories to be good. Because robots. I really did. But my hopes weren’t high after the first couple of trailers I saw – it looked like it was going to be slow paced and stuffed full of dating-sim-style cliches.

As it turns out, I was mostly right. Plastic Memories presents a really weird tonal mix that just doesn’t mesh.

The series takes assorted Appealing To A Specific Fetish Cliche chars – The Quiet One With Glasses, The Little Kid, The Ayanami, The Newb Everyman, The Inexplicably Pissy Kouhai –  and forces them to jiggle around through awkward and lame ‘office humor’ scenes. Meanwhile the obviously ‘underage’ Ayanami bootleg, Isla, is fetishized and objectified with multiple wiggling ass shots. And just when you think, okay, I’ve had enough of this, it’s just going to be mindless wank material – suddenly the show stabs you in the chest during the scenes where they actually go to collect the robots from their humans. Those scenes are emotional, infuriating and yet underdeveloped.

So our lackluster cast is given the ass-end job of going to retrieve robots (“Giftias”, in this universe) about to cross their arbitrary nine-year lifespan. This involves ‘negotiating’ with their owners and the Giftias themselves. Our Everyman’s job is basically to stand there and let his Giftia partner do all the work. Where the show actually has some kind of impact is during these collection scenes. They play out as savage and almost cruel – these are clearly families getting torn apart for no other reason than corporate malfeasance and poor design. An elderly couple gives up their ‘son’, who is promptly erased on the spot while they stand there and bravely smile through the tears so nice and compliant. Significantly, the show pulls away in the second retrieval, glossing over a potentially interesting situation where a young man tries to escape out the backdoor with his robot girlfriend. Isla wiggles her ass at the camera some more, goes off after them, and suddenly! We’re back at the office, where the couple has been literally vanished with a single throwaway line of dialogue about them being arrested in order to cram in more tedious ‘office humor’ bullying. The last retrieval is the very small child Giftia belonging to a sour old woman who has no intention of returning the robot, as she is emotionally attached.

The awkward tonal inbalance of the show shows the ‘experienced’ Giftia retrieval character, Isla (the Ayanami Rei clone) bringing more and more elaborate tea services to the door as ‘humor’, then lingers on another wiggling ass shot as she jumps the fence and gets into the backyard. And the recalcitrant grandma kind of just rolls over at that point, letting the characters into the house because… her granddaughter Giftia wanted her to be nice? This is followed by a random scene of Isla taking a shower inside the old lady’s house while our Everyman bumbles through offering the grandmother some upgrade options on the model she has – guess you don’t want the 30% recycling credit – oh, but if she wants to keep the body, the OS will (for some reason) completely destroy the memories and personality of the existing little girl. You just want to ask: what idiot designed these things?

This is one of those universes where everyone has to be kind of inhuman for it to work correctly – and the show just seems to want to make you Very Sad and Angry without actually providing genuine catharsis. Its sentimentality seems to come from a cynical place, as we are subjected to one scene after another of the robots going to their erasure and being locked away, personalities completely erased, with tears but compliance. You think to yourself, this is really a universe that needs Mavericks. Or a Dr. Wily. This ‘recovery team’ doesn’t show up armed (lol Japan no guns there) – what would happen if a Giftia actually tried to fight back? Would we just get another cutaway to some limp dialogue after the situation was magically resolved off screen? Does anyone want to watch 12 episodes of this string-yanking? How much variety can there be in a setup that requires you to ‘go knock on a door and hope nobody throws things at your head’?

And then! After this intensely sad scene where the childish Giftia is bawling her eyes out trying to remember everything she wants to say to her owner before she gets shut down, after we watch her being erased, after our lead character is clearly gloomy about having done nothing of use having spent the day watching several familes having been stripped apart… Isla is depicted under the episode’s end credits as needing to pee while driving and can’t hold it. Embarrassing, stupid and degrading material that strips the show of any attempt at authority for its characters, clearly playing to another fetish beat.

Emotional whiplash, to say the least.

I can’t recommend this and I don’t plan to watch any more, because the tonal shifts are just too weird and I really don’t like the overt fetishization at work. It’s obvious the show is capable of being more, wants to be more, but it’s as if it really doesn’t want to face the issues it raises even as it raises them – it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It runs away from its own dark side, substituting flat-falling “jokes” and overt fanservice to try and balance the tone. The show implies that Isla has some kind of secret power or dramatic past or is older than 9 years old and wasn’t erased, or whatever, but it’s impossible to care about that given the design and presentation of the character and the show’s desire to undermine her in every scene.

This series is better off forgotten.

Mega Man 2: The One Everyone Knows

Queen of Robots concludes Mega Man December by ending where it all began: the original Japanese release of Mega Man 2 on this date, December 24, 1988.

Mega Man 2: The One Everyone Knows

mm2

What Happens?

The evil Dr. Wily has created 8 new robots to take over the city! Mega Man sets off to defeat Wily’s schemes for a second time. Wily hadn’t learned anything from his previous defeat, but Capcom had; the game designers worked hard after hours to put together a game that was truer to the original vision of the series.

Today, Mega Man 2 seems spartan and almost aggressively minimalist – perhaps a reason for its lasting appeal and replayability. It features no conversations with the bosses before you fight them, no cutscenes, no sliding, no super jump, no Rush Adapters, no gimmicky special weapons moves, no Bass or Treble, no Bolts, no Proto Man. It’s just you and 8 evil robots in the dark windy passages of Wily’s fortresses. Simple mechanics, easy to learn but hard to master – you jump, you shoot. But everything about Mega Man 2 is a massive improvement over its predecessor, and it’s for that reason that this game rather than Mega Man 1 is the one that become the iconic mental image of the series for most fans.

What Was New Or Different About This Game?

Visual upgrades: Mega Man 2 is the one that really transformed the Mega Man series from a sleepy too-hard and stiff-feeling platformer to a cultural icon. Visually, the game bypasses its predecessor in the first 10 seconds. Mega Man 2 opens with a stunning and evocative vertical scroll up a high building to reveal its protagonist on the roof, wind ruffling in the breeze. The game gives a terse running exposition as the camera climbs up the building, creating an invocation of rising energy; a sense that the game is “going somewhere” and taking you the player along for the ride. The previous game leapt straight from start logo to boss selection, with no explanation; nothing was presented to the player to ground them.

Improved controls and game balance
: Control-wise, the game is a massive improvement as well; gameplay elements remain tough and uncompromising, but the toughness feels fairer – unlike in, say, Mega Man 1 with Gut Man’s level leaving you throwing controllers at your screen over the flappy platforms or Ice Man’s infuriating combo of disappearing blocks and slippery ice elements. MM2 has its gotcha moments (much of Quick Man’s level, argh! The disappearing blocks! argh!) but feels less ‘cheap’ about it, overall. Much of the series’s overall playability derives directly from the crazy math Capcom did for MM2 to figure out how to just piss off the player enough to keep them playing when they die. Whatever black magic they did, MM2 works for the player in a way MM1 doesn’t.

Additionally, choose-your-own-path play really only came into platforming because Mega Man 1 had introduced it in the previous year – this continued to be a phenomenal innovation that would have long-term consequences for the industry’s approach to game play staging as a whole. Mega Man 2‘s popularity further drove the concept home – give players more control over what they do in a game.

Stunning Special Weapons – The weapons are as iconic as the Robot Masters in this game. The murderously overpowered and glorious 8-direction capable Metal Blade, the seemingly silly Leaf Shield; the screen freezing Time Stopper; every weapon in this game basically spawned a huge number of knockoffs along the course of Mega Man’s adventures.

Sound and Music: Mega Man 2 put a lot of thought into its sound design as well – even extended down to rethinking the sound of picking up health items and powerups. No more of that warbly watery noise when you collect health pellets – a much cheerier and brighter blip sounds instead. The music, less atonal and hardedged than Mega Man 1‘s, became instantly iconic – especially tracks from the Wily Stages, which have gained long post-game lives of their own as remixes, fan parodies and homage projects.

While it’s true the game has to some extent become a victim of its own success – the game’s winning formula quickly became a straitjacket for its own designers, leaving future installments to make small tweaks to the core rather than take giant leaps forward equal to those between MM1 and 2 – there’s no denying that Mega Man 2 was an important game then and still holds up strong now.

Even in a world of hyperrealistic 3d graphics and cutscene-driven gameplay storytelling, there will always be a place for a little blue robot jumpin’ and shootin’.

Thanks for dropping by for Mega Man December! Join the Queen of Robots Facebook Page or post to QoR on Twitter  and let us know your favorite game, series or memory of Mega Man!

The Mega Man Series – Is It Still Worth Chewing These Bones?

MM25

Is It Still Worth Being a Fan of Mega Man?

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Japanese release of Mega Man X1, and the 27th anniversary of the release of Mega Man 1.

What does it mean to be a fan of a moribund franchise? We have this conversation inside our ever-shrinking community every so often, especially around anniversaries that end in a 0 or a 5. Usually the conclusion we come to is that what matters is that fans still create – and make no mistake, we are still creating. With nothing to work from, we chew old bones and pick apart the scraps to dig out fanfics, fan art, and crazy theories. We’ve sucked the marrow out of every last cutscene, commercial, 5 second dialogue tree, postcard, Nintendo Power article and napkin scribble we can get our hands on. We’re at the point where we’ve pretty much seen it all, thought it all, said it all. Most of what I say in this article is probably just going to get a resigned sigh from fan vets.

I can tell you that it often feels really lonely. Fans are fans because they want to share what they love, but when there’s almost nobody to talk to, it’s hard to keep up any kind of enthusiasm.

Barriers to Access

Part of the problem is just that the material is just plain old. Part of the problem is that the Mega Man series is incompletely available on modern systems due to its age. Capcom has been very complacent in bringing out the games as the console wars broil on. The anniversary collections are both incomplete as releases and expensive on the second-hand market, expensive to find in their original SNES forms without paying a lot of money to second-hand dealers (hm, the drugs analogy for fandom is hard to put out of mind in this context); it’s become a monstrous collector scam.

Having to pay craploads of money to get into a fandom sight unseen is a barrier to access.

Right now, the games simply aren’t moving between platforms with any speed, and as the console wars continue, key entries are often getting left behind for technical reasons. We only got Mega Man X4 and X5 onto modern systems this year, and the games have been sitting around for almost 15 years.

Part of the problem is straight up that the Mega Man series are videogames and not something more easily accessible like a movie or a book. And part of the problem is that in general, the series is actually kind of hard to play except for the dedicated twitch gamer who likes punishing challenges.

Of course, there are plenty of Let’s Plays, walkthroughs, game guides, transcribed scripts and resources like that for those who care, but who’s going to bother looking at them if they don’t already know where to look, or haven’t been intrigued into trying? Who’s going to get into a story when they can’t get past that Ride Chaser level where you slam into a wall four seconds into the level if you don’t hit the button at just the right nanosecond? Who’s going to play the 5th, 7th, or 10th game in a series that doesn’t change at all except to toss a few new character beats into a cutscene?

These are huge barriers to access for this particular fandom that we don’t talk about enough.

So what’s the point in going on? Isn’t it about time we just admitted defeat (Capcom clearly has) and moved on to the next big Corporate Entertainment Product? It’s not as if nerds have a scarcity of choices available to amuse themselves these days, right? We can always go read the Mega Man Archie Comics? In fact the Archie comics are probably the easiest way for new people to access the material so why aren’t we talking about it more than we are?

Maybe the most important problem is that, because the fandom is so old, we’ve stopped talking about it to “outsiders”. Because everything’s been seen, said and thought already. We’re our own worst barrier.

We Don’t Want to Move On

Here’s the thing. For all its flaws, lumps and plot holes, the Mega Man series and the Mega Man X series scratch a very specialized itch that isn’t being well-served by anything else on the market. In general, although it’s getting better and 2015 looks incredibly promising with Age of Ultron and Chappie coming soon, it’s a hard time being a fan of robots – robots just aren’t big cultural business (yet). Stories about robots that aren’t dominated by tokenized talking-head humans AND aren’t also about robot apocalypses are also very niche – you basically have Mega Man, Transformers, Astro Boy, recently Futurama and … ? Not much else. But these franchises are all particularly storied.

So if you like robots with their own culture, politics, and internal development, you have a shocking scarcity of stories out there to scratch the itch. That’s why we stick to these franchises.

Right now, Mighty no. 9 is vaporware until it’s actually out of eternal-Kickstarter-fundraising-hell, it’s already tainted with a lot of offputting and divisive controversy, and for all the talk about it being the next iteration of Mega Man – well, sure, if you want to play the exact same game you’ve already played 25 other times before. It’s hard to get excited about a photocopy of a photocopy. Mega Man began as a nod to Astro Boy and 70’s Tatsunoko Productions shows; by the time you get to Mn9, we’re talking about a copy twice removed from its core origins- three times removed if you count Mega Man Zero as part of its DNA. That’s some extremely watery blood.

So for some of us, Mighty no. 9 isn’t an option. For X fans particularly, it doesn’t appear to be offering anything substantial or exciting. We want our damn cliffhangers resolved instead! It’s been ten years! While I genuinely hope that everyone who backed Mighty no. 9 gets a fun and enjoyable game in the end, it doesn’t answer what the hell happened to Axl and it doesn’t get Volnutt down from the moon, you know?

Capcom isn’t interested in answering those questions, which is why Mighty no. 9 exists in the first place – but they’re the only ones who can. So the only choice we have is to sit here and chew on these same old bones, or have nothing left to eat at all. Sure, we could walk away; we can and should also be starting our own franchises (with blackjack! and hookers!). But nothing we create will have the exact same characters we fell in love with except the original game lines.

Mostly, it’s just really sad that things have come to this point. The good will and love that’s been squandered on the Mega Man series for no reward is kind of shocking, and it’s both inspiring and tragic. So while we faithfully celebrate the anniversaries it starts to feel a little bit more and more like going to visit a grave each year. Sooner or later it becomes a token gesture; sooner or later, we’ll stop feeling guilty if we don’t come to visit.

And that seems like a damn shame.

Mega Man X2: Into the Underworld

Mega Man December continues: Mega Man X2 was released in Japan on this date, December 16, 1994. Today is the 20th Anniversary of X2!

X2

Mega Man X2: Into The Underworld

Coming off the heels of the very well received Mega Man X, X2 deepens the franchise story by creating an urgent quest for players and making it personal for X, the series main character. The game is significantly darker than its predecessor, with X struggling through an array of gritty factories, caves and dangerous facilities littered with hanging Reploid bodies to reach his goal. Mega Man X6 has the most depressing plot elements and dialogues, but Mega Man X2 looks and feels low, airless, grimy and gloomy, like a hard slog through Hades, in every way matching its morbid theme of gathering body parts from scavengers.

What Happens?

Zero, X’s partner and best friend, died near the end of Mega Man X1, killed during the uprising by blowing himself up to defeat a greater enemy. In Mega Man X2, Mavericks have stolen his body and you, as X, have to get it back. X faces off against a new set of vicious Mavericks to rescue his best friend from death and keep Zero’s power from falling into Maverick lord Sigma’s clutches.

What Was New Or Different About This Game?

The X-Hunters – a group of three powerful Mavericks who each take a piece of Zero’s body and run off with it. This isn’t the first time in the Mega Man series that sub bosses and boss characters appear, but this is the first time that they’re elevated to positions of plot significance. Each of the X-Hunters has a separate stage to fight X in, and they move around the map each time the player enters a stage. Each stage has a special hidden area that only is accessible when the X-Hunter in question is present. Because of this, and to properly collect the many available Ride Armors and upgrades, players often have to enter levels several times.

Wireframe graphicsMega Man X2 and its sequel Mega Man X3 are programmed to take advantage of a rarely chip in the Super Nintendo called a Cx4 or C4. This allows low-res vector graphics to be created, and in X2 and X3 the chip is used to create mini bosses and sub characters, as well as occasional graphical effects. It wasn’t really used to its full capacity, so this is more of an advertising gimmick, but it still marks out X2 as an interesting oddity in the SNES world.

Green Biker Dude – In the opening scrawl X leads a small group of Hunters toward a Reploid factory taken over by Mavericks. One of the nameless background characters pops a wheelie on his bike and is promptly blown to bits. The fandom adopted this nameless character as “Green Biker Dude” and he’s been an Internet meme ever since.

Where Can I Find It?

The original game was released for the SNES and can be found occasionally on eBay or in other resellers. Mega Man X2 can also be found included on the Mega Man X Collection for PS2 or Gamecube and, for modern systems, can be purchased through the Virtual Console for Wii.

Mega Man December is an ongoing celebration all month of the Mega Man series. You can contribute too! Join the Queen of Robots Facebook Page or post to QoR on Twitter and let us know your favorite game, series or memory of Mega Man!

Maverick Hunter X

Maverick Hunter X was released in Japan on this date, December 15, 2005. It’s 9 years old today!

MHXMaverick Hunter X: Incomplete Series Reboot

The release of Maverick Hunter X in 2005 was series creator Capcom’s initial attempt to reboot and restart the Mega Man X series on modern era consoles. As a result, the 16-bit game play of X1 was upgraded into 3D platforming on the Playstation Portable. Apart from the locations of the capsules being swapped around, there’s very little loss of fidelity in regards to actual game play, stage mapping or player control, making Maverick Hunter X a very strong contender and much more fun to play than either Mega Man X7 or X8, the other 3D X games. Of course, the fact that it was only available on the PSP for a number of years crippled broad adoption, and the game underperformed on sales. The reboot of the series was cancelled, and no further remakes were slotted.

This is particularly frustrating as Maverick Hunter X made major adjustments to the series canon, including killing off an important support character three games early, which makes the game incongruous with later entries. Maverick Hunter X also appears to have begun a process of severely retconning or at least significantly altering the back story between Zero, Sigma, and the Maverick Virus- only further releases would have clarified Capcom’s intentions.

What Happens?

As in Mega Man X1, Maverick Hunter X concerns itself with the events of the rebellion of former Maverick Hunter commander Sigma, and his squadron of 8 “Mavericks”. Rookie Hunter X must deal with the betrayal of his former commander, and work together with his partner, the more experienced Hunter Zero, to take down the Maverick rebellion. Anyone familiar with the game-play of X1 will have no trouble picking up Maverick Hunter X.

What Was New Or Different About This Game?

Day of Sigma – The most significant addition to the X series canon is this 24 minute unlockable OAV embedded in the game – you can access it after beating the game once as X. While it plays fast and loose with the previous history of the series, including major alterations to support characters and the motivations of primary characters like Sigma, it’s also really well animated, and voice-acted by the same troupe that did X8 and Command Mission – Blue Water at Ocean. You can watch this online on Youtube in a number of versions including a subtitled Japanese original and the full English dub.

Vile Mode – Play as a fan favorite X series villain by finishing X’s game and unlocking Vile Mode. Levels don’t change, but the cutscenes are significantly altered, the game flow leads to a very different (and fun!) boss encounter with a paired X and Zero as your final obstacle, and Vile has his own storyline and reactions throughout, including custom animated cutscenes that appear to have been snipped from the larger whole of Day of Sigma, and his own unique ending.

New Dialogue and Story Elements – In keeping with the late entries in the X series, Maverick Hunter X now allows dialogue trees between Vile, X, and the Mavericks before battles. The original X1 was very sparse on this material in-game, so each of the Mavericks have now been given additional character depth and motivation. It does however mean that game play does slow down before each boss fight. There are actually three sets of Maverick dialogues – what you get on X’s first run, a new set of altered dialogues if you replay a finished game, and conversations with Vile. Sigma’s ultimate motivations for his rebellion now mirror those of Lumine from Mega Man X8 (released in the same year).

Additionally, all the animated cutscenes and talking heads for all the characters look great, with clean, optimized linework and updated designs.

Where Can I Find It?

The original PSP version of the game can be found on eBay and sometimes in second-hand stores. A port of MHX has been released on PSN and can be downloaded for play on a PS Vita or PSP. You can not play it directly on the Playstation 3, unfortunately.

Mega Man December is an ongoing celebration all month of the Mega Man series. You can contribute too! Join the Queen of Robots Facebook Page or post to QoR on Twitter and let us know your favorite game, series or memory of Mega Man!