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!

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!

Mega Man X8: The Light At The End of the Tunnel is a Train(Wreck)

Mega Man X8 was released in Japan on this date, December 7, 2004. Happy 10th anniversary!

X8Mega Man X8: Paradise Lost

MMX8 was Capcom’s attempt to steer the ailing X franchise back into some new waters after the poor reception of both the confused Mega Man X6 and nerfed, clunky-feeling 3d conversion of Mega Man X7. X8 is a return to tighter controls and better modeling, with the characters redesigned to be sleeker and more compact. However, the game¬†suffers from having no less than four on-rails stages while the remaining levels are kind of gimmicky. Mega Man X8 gives the Hunter characters some progression, even setting up new characters and relationships, but their dialogue scenes don’t really hold up to close examination. X8 ends on a cliffhanger that remains unresolved to this day, similar to the fate of Mega Man Legends 2.

What Happens?

After investigating a crash at a work site of an orbital elevator, intended to allow humans to get the heck off Earth and away from the constant Reploid infighting, X discovers a white Reploid with the same shape-shifting powers as Axl. This Reploid calls itself Lumine. Lumine is promptly kidnapped by Vile, and the rest of the game is spent chasing down various Mavericks, trying to find Lumine and stop the latest rebellion. Of course, as is common in the latter half of the X series, nothing turns out to be quite that simple.

What Was New Or Different About This Game?

New enemies – for the first time the series tried something different, introducing a new villain intended to replace or at least complement Sigma. As Sigma had suffered severe villain degeneration and characterization decay over the course of the series, having a new enemy with a different objective was a real breath of fresh air. At least temporarily, the series seemed committed to a new direction of finally retiring Sigma as the final boss.

Currency system – the series continues its slight fusion with RPG elements established in the earlier release of Command Mission by incorporating a new prize system based around monetary objects called “Metals”. Although the Light Capsules remain in play, and X gets no less than three seperate sets of armor (Zero and Axl both get a set through completing the game or cheat coding), all other upgrades to the characters are done through collecting metals and spending them in the Hunter Base R&D Lab. Health-ups and weapon refill items can still be found on the field occasionally.

Voice Acting – X8 was localized by Blue Water and the Ocean Group, better known for anime dubbing, and as a result the voice performances are pretty much the best in the series, being the same actors that also did the voices for Command Mission, Maverick Hunter X and Day of Sigma. Finally, the characters sound like they’re supposed to, and with a few exceptions are pretty easy on the ears – if a little bit Canadian.

Playable and Updated Navis – Alia has been a series regular since X5, but in X8 we get two new Navigators to complement her – Layer, Zero’s counterpart and boss specialist, and Palette – Axl’s counterpart and weapons designer. You can actually play as the three girls in this game after completing it in Normal or Hard. They perform the same attacks and movesets as the guys they are meant to shadow, though Alia is unable to access X’s armor functions, and they get no special cutscenes. The final boss cutscenes and conversations are also eliminated. The game disc holds unused Japanese voice samples of the guys playing Navigator, but the final version elected not to include this.

Removed was the extremely frustrating ‘rescue the Reploids’ functionalities of Mega Man X6 and X7. You can also amuse yourself digging up treasures with Earthrock Trilobyte’s weapon as X, Zero has a boatload of new weapons beyond just the Saber to try out, and there are a couple of levels where Axl’s Copy Shot ability is strategically useful for reaching rare powerups.

Where Can I Find It?

Mega Man X8 was released for the PS2 and for PC. Copies can be found on eBay, Amazon, or sometimes in second-hand resellers.


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!