In The Year 20XX: Celebrating Mega Man's 25th Anniversary

by Tim Turi on Mar 01, 2013 at 08:00 AM

In issue #238 of Game Informer, we celebrated Mega Man's Anniversary, which turned 25 last December. Here is a full reprinting of that article.

Fresh-faced Capcom employee Keiji Inafune was just finishing up his work on character art for the company’s fledgling fighter, Street Fighter, when he was asked to help create something new. The game would combine a radical weapon-stealing system, rock-paper-scissors strategy, and challenging-yet-rewarding platforming. It just needed a hero to bring the whole thing to life. Inafune and the rest of his team at Capcom didn’t know it at the time, but their hard work on the 1987 Nintendo title, Mega Man, would begin one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.

Born to Rock

Originally released as Rock Man in Japan, Mega Man is about a little blue robot’s quest to stop the evil doings of a mad scientist named Dr. Wily. Saving mankind involves destroying six Robot Masters that possess powers varying from fireballs to metal-sheering scissors. In a clever twist, Mega Man could steal his fallen foes’ powers to turn the tables. Fighting Fire Man armed with only your Mega Buster is a difficult task, which makes figuring out that he’s weak against Ice Man’s ability all the more satisfying. Cracking the ideal boss battle order is a unique experience to the Mega Man series, and something Capcom nailed right out of the gate.

Despite its progressive game design, the first Mega Man was met with lukewarm sales. Keiji Inafune attributes the poor reception to the game’s notoriously awful box art. The game did earn enough money for Capcom to release Mega Man 2. The sequel released one year later, and improved the winning formula on multiple fronts. Stage tunes are catchier, enemies are larger and more colorful, and the levels are even more varied. In one stage Mega Man plummets through a sci-fi fortress while dodging instant-death lasers, and in another he battles robotic apes in forest treetops. Mega Man 2 establishes the classic series’ charming Saturday morning cartoon vibe, something that entranced gamers of the time. 

Mega Man 2’s success paved the way for four more NES sequels, three of which released after the Super Nintendo’s 1991 launch. The Mega Man series was still profitable enough for Capcom to keep making new adventures for the Blue Bomber on a last-gen console. While the core formula and visuals remained largely the same, the successive titles introduced game-changing features like a charged Mega Buster shot, slide ability, and a transforming robo-pooch named Rush. Five more classic-style Mega Man games hit the original Game Boy. These portable entries nearly matched the quality of their NES brethren, despite the monochromatic color scheme and zoomed-in camera. 

Like any ‘80s video game worth its salt, the demand for more Mega Man prompted brand expansion. Mega Man joined the ranks of Simon Belmont and Pit on Captain N the Game Master, and eventually earned his own cartoon series. Fearing the heroic robot’s Japanese anime-style design would be too cutesy to gain traction in America, Mega Man made the characters taller, meaner, and pumped them up with muscles. Bandai also released a line of action figures for kids to dream up their own battles between Mega and Wily.

While the official war against Dr. Wily raged on via the NES and Game Boy in the early ‘90s, one of Dr. Light’s other creations was fighting a new battle. Mega Man X released on the SNES in 1993 and became a hit. The series reboot set a high water mark for 8-bit franchises making the move onto 16-bit consoles. The game evolved the series’ power-stealing gameplay with upgradeable armor, a slick wall jump, and a darker story. Years after the collapse of civilization due to an uprising of renegade robots called Mavericks, Mega Man X is activated to clean up the mess. A mysterious red robot with long blonde hair and an energy sword eventually teams up with X. Zero became an instant fan-favorite, and eventually becomes playable in later SNES and PlayStation sequels.

Next, read about Mega Man's post 16-bit adventures

The Legend Continues

The PlayStation became Mega Man’s home during the fifth console generation. Three deep, fast-paced Mega Man X sequels arrived on the PSone, complete with gorgeous Japanese anime cutscenes and the ability to save your game to a memory card. The titles sold well, but were met with mixed reviews. The new console also ushered in an eighth entry in the traditional Mega Man series, but the cutesy visuals and childish voice acting clashed with the established X series and didn’t scratch fans’ nostalgic itch. 

Like the SNES before it, the PlayStation also fostered a new direction for the franchise. Like many other established series, Capcom’s mascot made the leap into 3D with 1998’s Mega Man Legends. New protagonist MegaMan Volnutt, his best friend Roll, and her grandpa Barrell are a group of treasure hunters eager to dig into mysterious ruins infested with evil robots. The game was filled with RPG elements like talkative NPCs, upgradeable weapon stats, and plenty of side quests. Some gamers struggled with Legends’ clunky control scheme while gunning down Reaverbots – an issue mostly rectified by the solid sequel. Despite the critical praise and a rabid fan following, the game suffered poor sales. 

Capcom’s intrepid robot practically disappeared from consoles at the turn of the century with the release of the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. Aside from two mediocre sequels in the X franchise, fans had to turn to handhelds for their fix. A flood of Pokémon-inspired, collection-driven games released on the Game Boy Advance in the form of the Mega Man Battle Network series. Mega Man X fans who loved slashing apart Mavericks as Zero had the Mega Man Zero series for some of the hardest side-scrolling games around. Like Castlevania and other time-tested series that planted their roots in 2D, Mega Man Zero’s handheld adventures were some of the series’ best. 

Unfortunately, the following Nintendo DS and PSP generation of Mega Man titles didn’t share the same level of quality. The Mega Man Star Force series shifted the Battle Network’s -grid-based combat into the third-dimension, but the series didn’t gain the same praise or momentum as its predecessor. Mega Man ZX and its sequel ZX Advent tried to inject an open world into the Mega Man Zero formula, but the games didn’t match the same level of excellence as the GBA’s line of side-scrollers. PSP owners received two solid remakes with improved visuals and other enhanced features, but neither provided a true new experience.

The Blue Bomber’s abrupt departure from console games and unexciting portable entries marked the first low point in the series’ largely consistent track record.  Despite this, his status as a game icon remained intact. Like Sonic the Hedgehog and Contra, Mega Man’s golden 8- and 16-bit years cemented his legacy despite recent missteps. Gamers still salivated over the thought of Capcom’s fighting robot guest starring in a Super Smash Bros. game, wore his t-shirts, and repurchased collections of classic titles. The following console generation would jostle fans with more ups and downs than anything the series had seen up to that point.

Coming next, a look at some stunted Mega Man projects and a hopeful future

Pixels, Promises, and the Unknown

Before the downloadable boom of the current console generation, publishers rarely released true 2D games on consoles. Asking gamers to dish out $60 for a retro-looking game isn’t viable in today’s market. XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare allowed companies like Capcom to experiment. Mega Man 9 released in 2008, and is a love letter to the classic-era games. The game pretends development never stopped for the NES, plopping gamers into a genuine 8-bit Mega Man. The retro sequel could’ve passed as a forgotten gem salvaged from Capcom’s cutting room floor, but it was built from the ground up. A new generation was introduced to the unrelenting difficulty of the classic series. Mega Man 10, a downloadable sequel in the same vein as Mega Man 9, offered overwhelmed gamers an easy mode to grind down the sharp edges.

These old-school tributes were great trips down nostalgia lane, but in 2010, two Mega Man announcements got fans excited for something new. Mega Man Universe was a 2.5D downloadable title with an emphasis on user-created content. Players would be able to control other Capcom heroes like Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ghosts ‘n’ Goblin’s Arthur. Another game, Mega Man Legends 3, was announced shortly after for the 3DS. Keiji Inafune revealed that fans had been clamoring for a Mega Man Legends sequel for years, and that Capcom would be allowing the community to get involved in the game’s development. Fans contributed NPC character designs, item ideas, and even helped decide the look of a new female protagonist via -Internet -forums. 

However, before the end of the year, Inafune announced that he would be ending his 23-year span at Capcom to take on new challenges. Despite the positive buzz for the games and the fans’ dedicated involvement with Mega Man Legends 3, the projects were canceled after Inafune’s departure.

The games’ cancellation stung fans enough, but the discontinuation of Mega Man Legends 3 rubbed salt in the wounds of contributors.  Capcom had managed to alienate its most loyal followers. They expressed their dissatisfaction with angry Internet posts and an online petition for the game’s release that garnered over 100,000 signatures.

Capcom is aware that Mega Man’s missing-in-action status upsets fans, and the company has continued to make vague hints towards something new coming down -the -pipe. 

 “Right now Mega Man fans might be unhappy, but I still appreciate the continued support and am also looking forward to seeing more Mega Man in the future,“ says Mega Man 9 and 10 director -Hayato Tsuru.

Hironobu Takeshita, producer of Mega Man 9 and 10, echoes those thoughts. “I’m sorry that there hasn’t been any Mega Man news for quite some time, but rest assured that we’re very grateful for the support of all you Mega-fans out there.”

Capcom did recently announce one exciting bit of Mega Man news with Street Fighter X Mega Man. The game features the same retro style as Mega Man 9 and 10, but instead of Robot Masters Mega Man battles and acquires the powers of legendary Street Fighter characters like Ryu and Dhalsim. As if the downloadable PC game isn’t already enough of a love letter to Capcom fans, it’s also free. Whether this quirky crossover is enough to calm fans’ disquiet about the series is yet to be seen.

With nearly 100 unique Mega Man games under its belt, Capcom has released a lifetime’s worth in just 25 years. Despite the series’ recent struggles, few gaming icons outside Nintendo’s walls have enjoyed the same level of immortality as the Blue Bomber. Capcom has proven it can focus on -supporting successful franchises like Resident Evil and Street Fighter while taking chances on new IPs like Dragon’s Dogma and Asura’s Wrath. Given the series’ long history, fans’ hunger for more, and a new game, we’re confident Capcom will never abandon its little blue robot.

The article doesn't stop there, keep reading to see what Mega Man's creators think about the franchise's legacy and quirks

The Mega Men

We were fortunate enough to talk with several of the men responsible for Mega Man's greatest exploits. Keiji Inafune, co-creater of Mega Man, former Capcom employee, and current CEO of Comcept, speaks to the early days of the series. We also spoke to two men who helped introduce old school Mega Man to a new generation with Mega Man 9 and 10: director Hayato Tsuru and producer Hironobu Takeshita,

Why Does Mega Man Explode?

Keiji Inafune: The inspiration or the theme for the effect was “resonance” or ­“afterglow.” When you challenge a hardship, and when you end up facing death, you are given this resonance or afterglow moment to look back on what you had done wrong, or what you need to fix in your next run. And in doing so, you are more motivated to keep going and take on the challenge again.

Bringing Mega Man to Life

Keiji Inafune: We tried hard to make Mega Man come to life. We wanted to make him look alive, so that the users could really feel attached to the character and see Mega Man as a friend. Back in the day, there was limited game capacity, and we had to really be creative to squeeze everything into the cartridge. 

So we fought to be creative and made it to show the bullets shoot from the arm, the eyes blinking, and the body ducking before each run. 

Favorite Robot Master:

Inafune: Zero (Mega Man X Series)

Tsuru: Toad Man (Mega Man 4)

Takeshita: Star Man (Mega Man 5)

Favorite Mega Man game:

Inafune: Mega Man 2

Tsuru: Mega Man & Bass

Takeshita: Mega Man 5

Easiest Mega Man:

Inafune: Mega Man

Tsuru: Mega Man 5

Takeshita: Mega Man 5 or 6

Hardest Mega Man:

Inafune: Mega Man 8

Tsuru: Mega Man

Takeshita: Mega Man

What’s in an E-Tank?

Inafune: You can say that the E-Tank is the heart of Mega Man.

Tsuru: It’s a drink that gives one hope. I like beer better, though.

Takeshita: Is it a drink? Is it a battery? I’ll leave it up to your imagination!

How do you enter boss doorways?

Inafune: Oh, I just run away

Tsuru: It might be an occupational syndrome of mine, but it varies. Because I was always checking for bugs at the same time, I’d go through doors in various different ways.

Takeshita: I’m the kind of player who just has to keep running forward! Although that has led me into my fair share of game-over screens (laughs).

What is your fondest Mega Man memory?

Inafune: It is really difficult to come up with one simple answer to this question.  Even after leaving Capcom, so many people from all around the world ask me about Mega Man and tell me how much they adore the game. They all tell me that they want me to create a new Mega Man. But I would say that the fact that I still get these comments from the fans around the world is probably the fondest memory. I am truly lucky, and I am proud and grateful that I got to create Mega Man.

Tsuru: A while back we asked the fans to send in their own original boss designs, and seeing the postcards pour in is my most fond memory. Bosses that looked cool, ones that made you laugh; there was a mountain of wonderful ideas and it was very fun to go through them all. At that time I realized again how popular the Mega Man series really was, and I felt a great deal of responsibility in working on the series.

Takeshita: That would be when I first joined Capcom and was able to play an unfinished version of Mega Man X on the SNES. I was still in awe of being able to play unreleased games. The new wall jump move was so cool, and there was a great battle with a huge enemy in the first stage. I remember thinking how much players were going to enjoy it when they saw it.

For downloadable wallpapers of our huge collage of every classic robot master, visit the next page

We received a lot of love for our huge collage of all the classic Mega Man robot masters (Mega Man 1 to Mega Man 10, including Mega Man & Bass). All of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily's creations are available for you to download in wallpaper form, below.

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Watch us play through the entirety of Mega Man Legends 2 with Capcom's Greg Moore on Super Replay