In the early 2000s, an ancient and long-forgotten era when Capcom regularly released new Mega Man games, the company decided to produce not one, but two mainline Mega Man series on the popular Game Boy Advance. Mega Man Zero would continue the gameplay and storyline that the previous action platforming franchises were famous for, while another series—Mega Man Battle Network—would be set in its own world and follow an all-new RPG template. It was an unconventional idea, but Capcom quickly showed the value of its vision for these games, and now they’ve been brought back in their finest form yet under the Mega Man Battle Network Collection.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Available split across two volumes on the Switch eShop or on a physical cart with all 10 games, the collection includes the original GBA game and its sequel, and then each pair of subsequent sequels. So, 3 Blue and White, 4 Red Sun and Blue Moon, 5 Team Protoman and Team Colonel, and 6 Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar.

Mega Man Battle Network is set in the distant future in a parallel world to the main Mega Man timeline; here network technology flourished instead of robotics. Everyone carries around an advanced device in their pocket called a PET, which can handle various tasks such as sending emails and making phone calls, but most importantly houses that person’s Net Navi. A Net Navi is an artificial intelligence that acts as a person’s representative in the digital world of the internet, which here is realized as a navigable, physical space. Viruses on the internet take the shape of a bottomless onslaught of monsters that must be kept at bay by human/Navi pairs of Netbattlers.

Each game follows the adventures of Lan Hikari, a spunky Netbattling kid, and his Navi, Mega Man.EXE, as they get caught up in various plots to save the world. Narratives are typically broken up into a series of small arcs that somehow tie into Lan’s school life, each of which culminates in a fight against another powerful Net Navi and advance the overall story a bit further. Though the games tend to rely a little too heavily on tired shonen tropes and overcoming all odds through the ‘power of friendship’, there’s nonetheless a lot of heart at the core of the writing here.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Lan and Mega Man’s relationship is especially well fleshed out through all six games, and his core cast of supporting friends and allies adds some nice texture to the storytelling as it evolves. Whether it be the somewhat adversarial friendship between Lan and his best friend, Dex, or the will-they-won’t-they subtle romance between him and Mayl, there are a lot of great character-driven moments here to humanize the narrative.

Battle Network gameplay follows an RPG-esque structure where you explore isometric worlds as either Lan or Mega Man. Just about anything that uses technology can be jacked into, and many devices are directly connected to the internet itself, which acts as a big super dungeon that you slowly uncover more of as you progress the story. Echoing the design philosophies of the classic Mega Man games, the villain of each plot arc is given their own themed dungeon, too, usually featuring puzzles and environmental hazards in line with their main gimmick. Blast Man, for example, rules over a domain where firestorms can come from any direction at any time. There are steel cubes placed throughout that you can hide behind when you see one coming, and you take damage if you can’t dive for cover in time.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Every now and then, you’ll also come across sections of the dungeon that require some information or action on Lan’s part in the real world. For example, Flash Man’s dungeon is initially too dark for Mega Man to see anything in, requiring Lan to occasionally run to a nearby room to turn on a light switch. While giving Lan something to do, it can sometimes feel a little forced, although we appreciated how the dungeons usually make a point to highlight how the duo is acting as a team, rather than just Mega Man doing all the heavy lifting.

Combat in Mega Man Battle Network employs an innovative take on action and deckbuilding that, with the exception of One Step From Eden, hasn't really been seen in another game or series since. Battles are randomly triggered and see you whisked away to a grid-based 6x3 battlefield; the right half of it can be traversed by viruses while the left half is reserved for Mega Man. Before battle begins, five battle chips—representing attacks or support actions you can take—are randomly selected from your chip folder and are presented to you for selection, though the odds are quite good you’ll only be able to select two or three at a time. Every chip has an alphabetic code attached to it, and you can only select chips that are either duplicates of each other or share an alphabetic code.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Once you’ve made your selection, you then shift to the action phase of battle where you can nimbly move between tiles on the grid to avoid enemy attacks and line yourself up for effective shots on your enemies. Mega Man has his trusty Megabuster for chipping away at foes, which can be charged to do a more damaging shot, though chips will always be your main damage source. As the action phase goes on, a bar at the top of the screen fills up over the course of a few seconds; once full, you can then call up the menu to select more chips and repeat the cycle.

In practice, this combat system remains a brilliant and dynamic means of engagement, especially given its relatively high skill ceiling. For example, later games allow you a window to counterattack enemies if you manage to damage them during the windup animation for their attack, both freezing them in place and doubling your next attack’s damage. And while it’s difficult to build a chip folder that outright doesn’t work, a lot goes into efficiently building decks that utilize synergies among chip codes and elemental types alongside more technical considerations like animation timing. Building a proper chip folder is thus an interesting exercise, one that keeps renewing itself, too, as you slowly amass a larger collection of hundreds of chips.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

And while the average virus encounter doesn’t push your skills too hard, there are still plenty of interesting ways that your foes play around with the mechanics. One enemy, for example, attacks by placing a time bomb somewhere randomly on your side of the battlefield, requiring that Mega Man peel off and destroy it before it nukes his whole side. Another enemy can create holes on your side of the field, limiting your ability to evade other enemy attacks. Every boss will have their own distinct gimmicks and elemental attacks, too, such as requiring that you hide behind barriers placed on the battlefield to avoid a directional super-attack.

Depending on the game you’re playing, there are also additional mechanics to expand the combat system even further. Battle Network 5, introduces Liberation Missions, which add an SRPG-esque mode for retaking certain areas of the internet from terrorists. Battle Network 6, on the other hand, lets you “Beast Out” in battle and turn Mega Man into a half-beast version of himself that does way more damage, though you do so while running the risk of losing control and using chips and attacks randomly. We appreciated how the developers iterated on this combat system with each successive entry; it never lost its core appeal, but every game brings in some interesting new ideas that really build it out.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The only real drawback to this combat system is that it feels like the random encounter rate can be a little too high. You’ll often find yourself attempting to solve a puzzle in a dungeon, only to be interrupted every few seconds by yet another group of easily defeated viruses. Battles typically take no longer than 30 seconds and usually less than 10 to complete, but it can still be a recurring irritation. Capcom didn’t include any means of dialing down the encounter rate for this re-release, but it did see fit to include a “Buster MAX” mode that sees your Megabuster doing a hundred times its normal damage per uncharged shot. You can toggle this on or off at will at any time, and it trivializes just about any enemy or boss encounter, which can be a good solution for those who want to get through battles as painlessly as possible.

Every Mega Man collection up till now has had some new additional mode to round out the package and Capcom has kept that going here by including a full-fledged online mode for trading chips and Netbattling. For battles, you can play either casual or ranked modes and determine rules such as whether Patch Cards are allowed or whether the loser will have to pony up a battle chip to the winner. We didn’t get to give this mode a try as other players weren’t available during the review period, but it seems that this will be a great way of adding more playtime to the overall package — in case the mountain of content being offered in single-player somehow wasn’t enough.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

As for presentation, these games have stood the test of time reasonably well and still look good today. Though the overworld and exploration portions took a noticeable downgrade to a simpler art style from the fourth game on, the futuristic environments and digital landscapes nonetheless have a distinctive and evocative look, while the virus designs are both memorable and creative. Whether you’re running through the busy streets of Den Town or rooting around in the seedy depths of the Undernet, there’s something quite charming about seeing such a bright and optimistic take on a futuristic society, not to mention it’s rather cute to get a sense of how some people in the early 2000s predicted the internet might look in the future. There are also various options you can select for changing the screen size, choosing various themed borders, or adding a (gross) smoothing filter if the jagged pixel edges bother you, which gives you a decent level of control over how you want these games to look as you play.

The soundtrack hasn’t held up nearly as well as the visuals, but there are still plenty of memorable themes here. Even though the tinny quality of the Game Boy Advance sound chip is on full display here, Capcom managed to make the most of the hardware to produce some solid chiptunes, whether it be the peaceful theme of Lan’s home, ACDC Town, or the intense battle themes that play across the countless battles and boss fights. It feels like some of these tracks can get just a little bit too repetitive, especially the ones that will play in multiple scenarios, but most of them don’t grate too harshly.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

As for supplementary content, Capcom has included an extensive gallery of promotional and concept art for each game, alongside a music gallery for listening to original tracks and some remixes. Additionally, the Japanese exclusive Patch Cards (like an old version of amiibo) can now be ‘scanned in’ from a menu in each game to give you some helpful goodies, and even the side content tied to Konami’s Boktai series has been included here. None of this is game-changing, sure, but it shows that Capcom went the extra mile to ensure that this would present the old games in the most feature-complete way possible.

There’s quite a bit of content to explore for those who really get hooked. Each game can be beaten in 20-ish hours, but you can easily triple that number or more if you want to see all the content and attain full completion in each entry. Sometimes this can be a bit of a grind—Battle Network 4 requires that you play through the whole game three times before you can unlock everything—but most of the post-game content is quite compelling. Hunting down all the secret chips to fill out your library, solving esoteric puzzles, and taking on brutal superboss fights are par for the course here, offering up plenty of additional challenge for those who found the story too easy.

Conclusion

It's clear that a lot of effort and love went into Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection; this is a worthwhile re-release that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. While everyone will have their favorite, the Mega Man Battle Network series remained remarkably consistent throughout its whole run, due in no small part to the innovative battle system and charming storylines present in each entry. If you’re a fan of Mega Man and haven’t given these games a shot yet, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up immediately. Even if you’re not a Rockman enthusiast, these games each offer up some inventive RPG experiences that are certainly worth your time.