Happy 25th Birthday, Mega Man!
Today is a huge day, folks, and not only for me, but for the game industry as a whole. One of gaming’s biggest icons, Mega Man, turns 25 years old today! Of course, seeing as this is my #1 favorite franchise of all-time, I simply had to post about it. Mega Man hasn’t been seeing a lot of the spotlight in the past couple years, particularly since the “Father of Mega Man”, Keiji Inafune, left the company, with two Mega Man titles, Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3, consequently being cancelled last year. I could go on about what the Blue Bomber has been going through, but this day shouldn’t be about the unfortunate circumstances of the franchise. It’s a day of celebration, where we have to come to terms with the past and realize that what’s done is done. Hopefully, today will be a turning point, as Capcom has released the fan-made Street Fighter X Mega Man on their official site for free. That’s right; it costs nothing. All you need is a PC. I think it’s a great way to not only celebrate both the Mega Man and Street Fighter franchises, the latter of which also celebrated it’s 25th anniversary this year, but it’s also a step in the right direction for Capcom to start supporting the franchise that put them on the map in the first place back in the 80’s on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact, Capcom will be announcing future plans today and in the coming year about how they plan on celebrating Mega Man’s 25th, so while he hasn’t really seen much support from them this year until now, we should have much to look forward to.
With this momentous occasion only coming around once, I wanted to take the time to look back and reflect on what the Mega Man franchise has been to me, how I initially got involved with it, and what I hope to see in the future. Believe it or not, my Mega Man origins did not begin with the classic 8-bit titles. See, Mega Man started for me with the original Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo, as well as one of it’s rare sequels, Mega Man X3, and Mega Man 7, which was not an 8-bit title, but was also on the SNES. They were each rented a few times when I was young, both from an old “ma and pa” rental store around where I was born and from Movie King, which was later relabeled Movie Gallery and is now closed, near where I currently reside. This would probably explain my affinity for the X series, as it was my starting point and, to this day, the original Mega Man X still stands as one of my favorite games ever. It’s the pinnacle of platforming excellence, superior game design, and sports one hell of a soundtrack.
However, Mega Man was an on and off thing then, as I only ever played the games as rentals. I would later rent Mega Man 64, a port of Mega Man Legends that came out on the Nintendo 64. In fact, Mega Man Legends was the very first Mega Man game I ever purchased, and it was from Costco at a ridiculously low price. It was a black label copy, no less, and I would later purchase its now-rare sequel, Mega Man Legends 2, for the same price at the same place. That game easily fetches $100+ on eBay, which is ludicrous thinking I found it so easily about a decade ago. The Legends series is absolutely one I wanted to see revived, and when Legends 3 was announced, I was on Cloud 9. Seeing it cancelled was a crippling blow for me, as well as many others, but we can only look forward from here and still hold out hope that maybe it will someday get picked up again.
Now, I owned Legends and played the hell out of it, but that wasn’t really the true kick-off point, for me. A copy of Mega Man X4 at Circuit City, however, was. I remembered seeing it on several visits with a $14.99 price tag donning the cover. At the time, I really didn’t make much in allowance and was also a very poor saver of money (a complete one-eighty of how I am now), but I did eventually save enough to buy the last copy they had. I remember that evening distinctly, as the cashier said himself that it was the last copy. Little did I know that picking this up based on my previous experience with the Super Nintendo titles I had played in the past would truly cement my love for the franchise. After playing through Mega Man X4 many, many times, the rest is history, and X4 also stands as another all-time favorite of mine, alongside its sequel, Mega Man X5, which my oldest brother would give to me on my next birthday.
From that point forward, I would feverishly collect every Mega Man game I could and play them all. I just loved the character, the design and simplicity of the games, and how every Mega Man series was unique. I remember pre-ordering Mega Man X7 and being very impatient about its release, which looking back, I now see as the worst game in the X series. New Mega Man titles were always a cause for celebration, and back in high school, new Mega Man game releases were commonplace, a sharp contrast to the way things are today.
You’re probably wondering when it is that I did finally play the original 8-bit Mega Man titles. The truth is, I didn’t get to play a single one until the Anniversary Collection came out for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube back in 2004. It sounds insane, given how much I love the franchise, but I never owned a single one for the NES, and at the time, the only two classic Mega Man titles I had played were Mega Man 7, as I mentioned earlier, and the PlayStation version of Mega Man 8, which was another Costco purchase. Imagine how amazing it was to finally play what started it all. They’re far more difficult titles than the X series, plus there’s no wall kicking, dashing, or even charge shots in the first three entries. This was also when I received my first Mega Man t-shirt, which I still wear to this day and wore many, many times in high school. You can take a gawk at that here.
So, what do I think of the rest of the series? I love the Zero series. It’s a brilliant evolution of the X formula starring X’s sidekick with a hardcore difficulty, a great plot, and impeccable level design. The Battle Network franchise was good, if not a bit hit or miss. Fun fact: I’ve never played Battle Network 1 and 2. I have copies, but the first game is still sealed as I bought it really cheap off of Amazon from a third party seller, which I’m not even sure it was legit as it was way less than it goes for eBay. The box and shrink wrap look legit, though. One day, I might just say “Screw it” and open it. As for Battle Network 2, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I know: for shame. Battle Network 5 stands as one of my favorite games on the Nintendo DS and my favorite in the series. The Liberation missions were a ton of fun and the soundtrack had some memorable tunes, including the final boss music, in particular. The StarForce franchise was a good spiritual successor to the Battle Network franchise, if a bit too familiar. I would’ve liked to have seen an end to the plot, though, but it was put to rest around the beginning of the decline of Mega Man as a whole. The ZX franchise is one I like to ignore. I’ve never even beaten the second one, ZX Advent. Don’t get me wrong; the Mega Man Zero-like gameplay is great, but an open-world that’s a chore to find your way around, awful voice acting, and two characters in each one that aren’t even Mega Man X nor Zero and only play dress-up to look like them just killed it for me. Not a fan, and I’m glad it was only limited to two entries.
So, where does Mega Man go from here? Well, the free title coming out today is a good start, but there needs to be new, proper entries. There’s no doubt a return for Mega Man Legends 3 would be an amazing way to revitalize it, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Perhaps if support for Mega Man keeps up, maybe, but that’s a big maybe. Capcom revisited the classic series this console generation with Mega Man 9 and 10, so they could do an 11. The Zero series is over, as it received a proper ending after four stellar entries on the Game Boy Advance, Battle Network ended nicely, and StarForce and ZX had their plugs pulled with little hope of them being revisited due to waning interest. What’s left? Mega Man X. There hasn’t been a new X title since 2004, in the form of the excellent Mega Man X8. What we need is Mega Man X9. X8 left plot holes galore, and the series is the old-school platforming we’ve all come to know and love. It could be in 16-bit style like the Super Nintendo and be a PlayStation Network/Xbox Live Arcade release. What would be better than a new entry after all of these years? If such an announcement were made, I think I’d run out on my deck and start yelling towards the heavens with joy, pumping my fists in the air. It’s my favorite Mega Man series and one that I’ve been patiently waiting to see get the ending it deserves. Otherwise, what else do you do with the Mega Man franchise? A new series. Again, they need to stick to the platforming elements, as that’s where Mega Man’s roots lie. Getting too ambitious and making a new series more along the lines of Battle Network or StarForce may alienate fans. All we want is more platforming Mega Man. Once the franchise is back in the swing of things, then you can start experimenting and thinking outside the box.
There’s a year full of excitement that awaits, potentially. I hope there’s a ton of merchandise being planned, but what I really want are new games, and only time will tell whether Capcom takes that step or not. In the meantime, I’m going to be immersed in Street Fighter X Mega Man and, upon completing that, I’m going to pull a Mega-Marathon to celebrate the franchise from now until Christmas next Tuesday. The goal is to play all 10 classic Mega Man titles and all 8 Mega Man X titles. Will I pull it off? I’m certainly going to try, but I know that, regardless of the outcome, I’m going to love playing them all over again. So, happy birthday once again to my favorite gaming franchise, Mega Man, and lets hope for another 25 years of greatness!