Dear Capcom, What Were You Thinking? — A Response to the FPS Mega Man

Poor Mega Man, he can’t seem to catch a break, and despite generating some heat a few years back with the excellent retro love letter of “Mega Man 9″ (and 10), Capcom has done nothing to appease diehard fans of the Blue Bomber. Cancellation after cancellation of future projects such as “Mega Man Legends 3″ and “Mega Man Online” provided a bleak outlook and hopes were dashed when Keiji Inafune, the IRL Dr. Light, departed Capcom. In another twist, Polygon has uncovered one more shuttered project to reignite the flailing franchise.

Their in-depth article about Armature Studios’ Mega Man X reboot codenamed “Maverick Hunter” is a virtual window into something that could have been. As a developer that spawned from Retro Studios, there are more than a few connections to the fantastic “Metroid Prime” – a game which proved that you could convert a traditional side-scrolling platformer into a first person shooter. Similarly, Armature would take the classic jump-n-shoot gameplay of the X series and update it for “Doom”-space. In a clear effort to appeal to the elusive Western market, Capcom was willing to dismantle my favorite robot and reassemble him into something wholly different. The full story is worth a read as you’ll learn a little about what the devs were hoping would launch a new Mega Man game as well as see some shaky pre-alpha proof-of-concept video.

I’m here to tell you why an FPS Mega Man would have been a terrible mistake… while also performing a little armchair game deving.Let’s quickly touch on the franchise as a whole. Mega Man is Capcom’s Mario. The robotic powerhouse has been in dozens and dozens of games since his 1987 NES debut. Beyond the core platformers he’s also been in RPGs, kart racers, fighters, and has even been known to kick around a soccerball. There are over 100 games total! That’s basically four games a year for 25 years! Complete global saturation has more or less been achieved and it’s clear that Capcom is willing to experiment with the franchise. And when you have a dynamite product you keep pumping them out. The problem stems from the aforementioned oversaturation.

Ripping apart Armature for taking a fresh look at an aging classic won’t get us anyway. They at least tried push Mega Man X into the FPS soaked next-gen. However, while it’s important to be able to look at something that was once popular and try to make a new thing, you often alienate your core audience in the process. I’m all for risk taking, but I’m not quite sold on this idea of a dark, “more mature” X with deep plot threads. I’m definitely not sold on this idea that “mature” equates to FPS. Mega Man X doesn’t need a dark reimagining as much as it needs a solid core title to reintroduce the character. Capcom could even introduce a revised or updated story without much incidence. At the heart of Mega Man games is pure old school arcade shooting fun — a cool story on top of that is just icing.

Let’s also talk a little about the FPS genre — the go to darling of gritty reboots sold and packaged for the fratboy overmind that is the western market. I can see the appeal and, in some ways, even sympathize with developers who need (or are forced) to make an FPS. It’s a well-tread formula that can be simple in execution but next to impossible to master. Publishers seem to love showing off pretty graphics while getting that “so real/you’re in the game” that comes from the genre. Now, I like shooters (they make up probably 30% of my library) but I get this feeling– not dread exactly– that bums me out. It just seems like an out of touch executive that doesn’t really “get it” pulled out his cigar and exclaimed that a first-person shooter is the wave of the future for Mega Man. Another FPS‽ C’mon!

Furthermore, wedging into the FPS market could be a costly misstep. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo — these are the three robot master you must defeat to make any headway in the market. Sure, brand recognition would provide some selling power but tapping into a younger market (who never grew up with Mega Man) would be a coin flip. Personally, I look at that header image and can only shake my head wondering what happened. Despite the limited dev time, it looks painfully generic. The gameplay also reeks of out of place melee attacks and stilted platforming. If you presented a test audience with the video from “Maverick Hunters,” expect a lot of groaning by long time veterans and complete boredom from fresh players.

I’ll play Devil’s advocate for a moment. Adapting Mega Man into an FPS does make sense. It’s not the worst idea and fits weirdly enough; there’s even a Doom mod that adds MM characters. It’s still Doom, though. Shooting is just one part of the whole MM experience, the other being platforming — and if you’ve ever played the latest “Duke Nuken” or any of the “Turok” series you’ll learn why jumping is one of the seven deadly sins of FPSs. Retro made a name for themselves with the Prime series but when you really look at those games, the platforming took a massive backseat to either simple traversal segments ot special jump-pads. While that was a mostly elegant solution, I prefer to have more control.

There’s also the matter of playing in the gamespace. Mega Man relies on the player having a complete view of the playable area. You’re challenged in navigating around obstacles and enemy placement. The X series plays with this more than classic MM by adding larger arenas and more verticality. With an FPS, you lose something by constricting your vision down the barrel of a gun. You could draw some parallels with “Mirror’s Edge,” but I felt that game fell apart when shooting is involved. You can have shooting or platforming, but not both in an FPS. Hoping around and playing with the environment obviously works for some FPS games, but the frantic and arcadey action of Mega Man would need to be restrained. What it ultimately comes down is that I don’t want to play another sluggish, ungainly shooter with a Mega Man coat of paint. Would you?

Changing gears, it’s time for some backseat game development. We all do this so I won’t pretend that these are anything beyond saying “hey, would it be cool if” but seriously, wouldn’t it be cool if Capcom did one of these?

The Mega Man formula could fit perfectly in this genre. Mega Man is practically Samus and the core gameplay of jumpin’ and shootin’ coupled with permanent power ups would make a nice mix. There’s already some precedent with Mega Man X as you could revisit levels and, depending on which bosses had been bested, the levels would change and new paths would open. Metroidvania’s also scratch the “gotta find everything” itch that so many of us have. Keeping it as a sidescroller would probably be best as the classic level design and platforming would feel right at home. It’s a “no duh” thought from many gamers.

Mega Man X Roguelike
I owe this to Charles as we were casually chewing the fat about Maverick hunter when this idea came up. So hear me out — what about a Mega Man in the style of something like “Spelunky” or “The Binding of Isaac?” Would that be so bad? While this genre is typically reserved for RPGs (and we’re not ruling those out, either) there is a level of difficulty that could tickle the hardcore sensibilities of the older games. If you’ve played Mega Man 9’s Endless Attack mode, then you already have an idea of what to expect. Basically EA randomly creates levels, sometimes referencing a classic sequence, with bosses showing up every 30 screens. Building on the RPG elements of other roguelikes, you could have shops, item drops, light leveling and brutal difficulty to keep you on your toes. Every adventure would be unique and would add a fun twist for older fans and upcoming ones alike.

Mega Man Of War
OK time for some real talk. Mega Man Legends isn’t the best Mega Man game. It’s a little clunky and sluggish  and the story is… lacking. Still, there’s a strong fanbase for it and I was looking forward to an updated entry. While an FPS might push Mega Man into an awkward position a third-person shooter might be a better fit. It’s been over a decade since “Legends” and the TPS genre has made lightyears in advancements. A great example of this working would be “Maximo: Ghosts to Glory” a reinvention of anther Capcom classic series, “Ghosts’n Goblins.” Though Maximo wasn’t the gangbuster hit of a generation, it set a positive bar with many gamers. You can also look to “Ratchet and Clank”, “Gears of War”, even “SOCOM” as possible skeletons for an updated X entry.

“New” Mega Man X Bros.
This is self-explanatory. Nintendo has been fairly successful milking Mario; that’s not a slight, but when it works, it works! While, the “New” the NSMB series is a bit of stretch Capcom could take a cue from Mario. The structure could follow the tried and true Mega Man layout add some nice bight HD sprites coupled with Capcom’s pedigree for smooth animations and frames and you’d have a beautiful game to pay homage to the old SNES series. I know I’m still waiting for an MM9 treatment for X and this would be the best palce to start. A New Mega Man X wouldn’t push the franchise forward with innovation but it would keep the blue guy in the limelight until the devs could figure out a new step. Win/win I say.

I know this whole thing reads like another annoying fanboy cry, but in the end, I hope Capcom can figure out what future Mega Man and X will have. The above ideas are just a few broad suggestions about possible ways to improve or at the very least promote more development. Who knows, maybe the Blue Bomber and his big brother will find new life sometime down the road; just not as a bandwagon boarding grab onto the CoD train.

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