We've already brought you our first part of a feature looking at the confusing world of Mega Man spin-offs, and now we're diving into some lesser known adventures from the Blue Bomber's universe. If you've played all of these then we can say one thing with confidence — you're a big fan of the franchise.
Without further ado, let's get on with it.
Consisting of only two games, the Mega Man ZX series feels like a footnote in the franchise's history, but both of those games are unique enough that they're unquestionably worth playing.
Taking place long after both X and Zero have fallen, Mega Man ZX finds the human race rebuilding after centuries of endless war. As such, there's a greater sense of civilisation here than has ever been felt in a Mega Man game. In Mega Man X we watched it fall, and in Mega Man Zero we helped small pockets of humanity rebuild. But here we see society back — more or less — in full force. In order to reflect this, we play for the first time ever as a human being.
In each of the games we have a choice between a male and female character, each of which plays slightly differently and faces unique story elements and side quests. Playing as a human, however, wouldn't be much fun, so ZX introduces the concept of Biometals. By defeating bosses you earn these Biometals that allow you to take on additional abilities. These abilities mirror those of the characters from the previous two series, essentially allowing you to play as past bosses. The second game, ZX Advent, takes this even further by allowing you to transform into the bosses you defeat in that game. Needless to say, it's a lot of fun, and different characters react in different ways to you depending upon which Biometal you have equipped, leading to lots of secret dialogues, bonus items, and side quests that encourage experimentation.
The most interesting thing about ZX is its environment. Whereas the first Zero game toyed with the idea of an open world, ZX offers a Metroid-like experience in which the abilities you gain from Biometals allow you to gradually explore the map and its secrets. What's more, when you accept a mission you don't — and can't — teleport there directly...you'll need to find your own way to the boss, and depending upon where you are at the time that can make for an interesting trek.
This open world, however, was the cause of much criticism of Mega Man ZX, with objectives being hidden so well that players had a difficult time finding them, even after hours of wandering. Mega Man ZX Advent refined the system in a way that made objectives easier to find — and the map easier to read — but it also sacrificed the impressive openness of the first game's world. Together they form a flawed little series, but they're also so much unlike anything that came before that they're worth a look.
And — do we really have to say it at this point? — the music is absolutely incredible.
Believe us, readers, we also wish we could have written 2012 instead of 2000 there, and the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 hit us as hard as it hit anyone. However, that doesn't change the fact that we still have two great main games (and one spin-off title) under the Legends banner, so let's try to be grateful for what we have, and not let our rage consume us totally.
Set several thousands of years after the Mega Man ZX series (Mega Man sure covers a lot of ground, doesn't it?), Mega Man Legends finds us on an Earth full of water and Wind Waker-like islands, and the world we explore is a three-dimensional one that works far better here than it ever did in Mega Man X7.
Upgrades are accomplished through an in-game shop, with Refractor Shards serving as the currency here, as opposed to the bolts of the classic series and the energy chips of Mega Man Zero. There's also a more complicated set of interactions that the player can have with NPCs, as behaving rudely towards them will actually cause them to treat you differently and charge more for items.
Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the Legends series, however, is the Servbot, a Lego-like robot that can be programmed to do a multitude of tasks. Its versatility has served it well — pun intended — as the Servbot has had cameos in many non-Mega Man games since, including Dead Rising and Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.
We'd like to talk a bit about the potential future of the Legends franchise but, frankly, the wounds still haven't healed...
For the first time ever, a Mega Man series embraced a full-on RPG approach...in an alternate universe. The main character is a human being living in a very human — though technologically advanced — society, and the robot fighting action we're used to enjoying is played out online. Your avatars are referred to as NetNavis, and the equivalent of a super fighting robot is no longer Mega Man, but MegaMan.EXE.
With turn-based combat and random encounters sprinkled throughout the series, Mega Man Battle Network met with mixed reviews. For many, it was a welcome evolution for a favourite franchise. For others, it was a needless and dull misstep. Regardless, Battle Network (and its successor) has its fans, and was able to coast on a sense of joyful nostalgia due to its inventive reimagining of Classic series bosses.
While many of the opponents you'd battle with your NetNavi were unique to these games, others such as CutMan.EXE, ShadowMan.EXE and SlashMan.EXE saw old faces in a unique and interesting context. It may have used the Classic series as a starting point, but it absolutely found its own identity. So much so that it even spawned its own sister series...
Building upon the alternate universe framework set by the Battle Network series, Mega Man Star Force otherwise stepped away from the nostalgic pulse of its predecessor. While its battle mechanics and overworld were similar enough that fans of the previous series would quickly learn their way around this one as well, there was a deliberate attempt on Capcom's part to distance Star Force from any other series.
As a result, there are relatively few references to any of the previous games. It's perhaps due to this fact that Star Force found notably less popularity among Mega Man fans. Whereas Battle Network was able to retain gamers who loved previous titles in the franchise, Mega Man Star Force disavowed almost all relation to them, and decided to build its own world for the characters to inhabit.
The results are mixed, to be sure, but it's certainly the bravest side series Mega Man has ever had, working overtime to forge its own name and not become beholden to the promises and mythologies of the multiple series that came before.
It's enjoyable in its own right, but perhaps only in its own right. It feels more like a relatively simple RPG than it does anything to do with Mega Man, so depending upon your perspective that's either a great boon, or an enormous liability.
Phew, so much Mega Man. We hope you've enjoyed our series of features on the Blue Bomber, and by all means sound off on all-things based on the series below!