1987 was a banner year for Capcom, one of the most popular video game publishers and developers in the industry. This was the year the Japanese based company laid the groundwork that would eventually lead to a solid handful of multi-million dollar franchises. It all started with Street Fighter, one of their most popular and profitable. With the still exciting news that Street Fighter V is coming in the near future, it’s clear that this franchise is notorious amongst fans. The games have always been successful and there’s no reason to expect that this brand new installment will be anything less than spectacular.
Yet Street Fighter is only one half of the formula that put Capcom on the radar for gamers everywhere. The other half of the formula was Mega Man, or Rockman in Japan. While the very first entry on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) wasn’t a huge commercial success, it received a ton of praise for its creative design. Later on it become a massive franchise sprawling centuries across a single timeline. The official Japanese release of Mega Man was December 17th, meaning the Blue Bomber’s 27th birthday was only a few days ago.
There really was nothing like Mega Man when it first came out. Following the adventure of a tiny blue robot trying to defeat an evil mastermind named Dr. Wily, Mega Man was a hyper futuristic romp that many remember as being exceedingly difficult. The platforming element was not easy to manage and the bosses you fought, despite having distinct weaknesses, were no joke. Many people attribute the game’s poor sales to the high difficulty, though the notoriously terrible box art didn’t help out either. Still, Mega Man changed the classic game formula of linearity by letting you pick which level you wanted to play and when. It wasn’t until Mega Man 2 in 1988, with its reduced difficulty, better gameplay, improved graphics, and unbelievable soundtrack, that the franchise officially became iconic. Many people still consider Mega Man 2 to be one of the finest games in history. This is where Street Fighter and Mega Man share a common story. Both massive franchises didn’t become mainstream until their second installments.
Mega Man’s longevity directly stems from the franchise’s ability to continuously evolve. Since the overall timeline takes place in the far future, the structure has regularly changed with each jump into more futuristic territory. Everything began with what is known as the Classic series, which is now the first Mega Man to 2010’s Mega Man 10. That story still isn’t over, but that didn’t stop Capcom from producing spin-offs as early as 1993. Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo kicked off the second series and changed the friendly seeming Mega Man into an aggressive Maverick hunter. The X franchise has developed a massive fan base of its own by taking the classic Mega Man formula and completely revamping it for a more modern age. Yet the changes hardly stop there. The timeline continued on unabated with even more disparate entries like Mega Man Legends (PlayStation, 1997), Mega Man Zero (Game Boy Advance, 2002), and Mega Man ZX (Nintendo DS, 2006). As if this wasn’t enough, there’s even the computer technology focused timeline that begins with Mega Man Battle Network (GBA, 2001) and has since stopped at Mega Man Star Force (DS, 2006). A new Mega Man, a new story, and new gameplay changes with each series.
It’s clear that Capcom has always wanted Mega Man to stay relevant. Each individual series I mentioned above was primarily used to bring Mega Man to a new console. There has been a lot of overlap over the years, obviously, but as the gaming generations changed, so did the consumer reach. The brand flourished outside of consoles too with several cartoons, comic books, and officially released soundtracks. But as of late, Capcom hasn’t provided much love to Mega Man and his gang. Two highly anticipated games, Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3, were cancelled back to back in 2011. The latest release was the PC only Street Fighter X Mega Man in 2012, which was both free and not that great. Out of all the franchises out there that desperately needs a new, top of the line title, it’s this one.
I am a longtime fan of the entire Mega Man brand. This included the cartoons, with the original television series standing as a true classic. The first game I played was 1994’s Mega Man 6 and it absolutely blew me away. I remember playing it as much as I could in one sitting and then starting over because I never saved the password. The game was really freaking difficult, but I remember loving it nonetheless. From then on, I’ve played as many of the games as I could. My personal favorite is easily Mega Man Legends. Not only were those games so much easier, the cartoony style, goofy story, and awesome gameplay made this briefly lived series stand out to me. I hold both Legends and Legends 2 in very high regard, and I am still upset that Legends 3 is not coming in the immediate future.
The unfortunate truth is that the Mega Man franchise is currently in a plateaued state. 2010’s Mega Man 10, which continued the trend of bringing the 8-bit style back, was the last major console release. The cancellations I mentioned earlier mean that nothing else is coming. Yet clearly Capcom and Nintendo haven’t forgotten about the fighting robot because there’s a MegaManniversary happening right now on the Nintendo eShop. There is a lot to be discussed about each individual series as well. The changes they brought to the franchise all contributed to making the Mega Man brand as iconic as it is today. I hope that Capcom has something up their sleeves that we don’t know about. Bringing the old games back and putting Mega in Super Smash Bros. is great and all, but eventually there needs to be a brand new adventure. 27 years is only the beginning.