With every passing day, I can’t help but get increasingly worried about Mega Man. You remember Mega Man, right? He was one of Capcom’s most bankable and prolific mascots, putting out too many unique and sprawling franchises to count. And, unlike other wayward mascots such as Sonic or Bubsy, Mega Man continued to push out quality games all the way until the day that Capcom unceremoniously decided to dump the poor robot. Back in 2010, it seemed like the franchise was going strong with the classic series being restored to glory and some really unique and exciting games on the way. Then Capcom decided to say ‘no more’. Within an instant, Mega Man disappeared, and we haven’t seen much of him in the last five years. Today, I’d like to look at this poor fate and try to suss out what the future of Mega Man might hold.
Mega Man is one of the core classic series. I’m not talking about pretenders that came at the SNES generation like the aforementioned Sonic. I’m talking about those series that started on the NES and remained powerful through multiple console transitions during the NES-N64/PS1 generation, which is where some of the biggest fundamental changes to game development occurred. Like Mario, Metroid, and Castlevania, Mega Man was a major franchise, but, unlike them, it was one of the earliest examples of a yearly release franchise, a model that would later be adopted by the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty series. The trick was that the original series followed a very strict and easily repeatable formula and used the same graphical engine.
What was exciting about the Mega Man series was the many, many spin offs that managed to obtain just as much, and in some cases more, acclaim than the original series. Mega Man X and Mega Man Legends of the SNES and PS1 respectively are games series held in the utmost esteem. On handhelds, the Mega Man Battle Network series allowed the blue bomber (a nickname I’ve never fully understood) to hit just about every platform without relying on ports. Another interesting development is that Mega Man was at the forefront of the retro gaming explosion that led to the massive popularization of indie games. In 2008, Capcom brought back the original series with Mega Man 9, a direct homage and continuation of the original 8-bit series. It hit a cord with old fans and new ones as well. This was followed up in 2010 with an equally successful Mega Man 10.
Before the fall, Capcom continued not to rest on its laurels with respect of the Mega Man series. They were developing a followup to the Mega Man Legends series on the Nintendo 3DS, as well as a game called Mega Man Universe. Universe in particular was very interesting. It was set to combine elements from across the entire Mega Man franchise into a single game, which is something similar to what Nintendo is doing with the upcoming Super Mario Maker. Of course, this was back in 2010, long before Nintendo even thought of the idea of a franchise-spanning creation game.
With all of the success and history of Mega Man, it seems strange that Capcom would drop its successful mascot like a bag of cats. What happened was that the creator of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune, left the company in 2010. From all reports, his departure from Capcom was not amicable. At first, it didn’t seem to affect anything, but slowly people began noticing that there wasn’t any more information out there about Legends or Universe. In 2011, Capcom confirmed that both games were cancelled. They gave a corporate reason, which some may have believed at the time, but now? Now, we know that Mega Man died back then. The once prolific franchise was relegated to e-shop ports and collections that somehow don’t include very many games.
An interesting note is that Keiji Inafune is not a particularly versatile developer. Three years after he left Capcom, he pitched a successful Kickstarter for a game called the Mighty No. 9. For those not aware of this game, it is a carbon copy of Mega Man, but with a different coat of paint. That’s the good news for Mega Man fans. Though Capcom may have let the franchise disappear, its very creator still clings to the bare concept as something that can create viable games. The Mighty No. 9 is slated for a September 2015 release, and, at that time, we’ll be able to definitively tell is Keiji Inafune remembers what Mega Man is actually all about, or if we’ll be singing the blues.
But the real question is what will happen to Mega Man. Capcom doesn’t seem to be willing to develop games with him. Sure they’ll include him in some fighting games or release collections, but as far as new games go, they don’t seem willing. What’s even more worrisome is that Capcom itself is retreating from game development. This was a company that never shied away from releasing new IPs, even last generation (Dragon’s Dogma). Now, they have publicly stated that they are focusing on remasters rather than making new games. Like Konami with its slow crawl from game development, it seems like all Capcom franchises are in danger of development hell.
When Capcom is phasing out heavy-hitters like Resident Evil, what chance does their disowned oldest child have? It’s sad to say, but the best chance for the blue bomber’s return is if Capcom begins farming out its franchises in order to grab a few bucks. It’s not unheard of. Konami did the same thing with Silent Hill until they also unceremoniously dumped that series with Kojima. Nintendo, too, has decided to farm out its franchises in order to maximize production. Though their process is still restricted with Hyrule Warriors being the most recent example, it is hope that Japanese developers won’t sit on their hands while the Japanese market continues to contract.
Unfortunately, no matter how you cut it, the future of Mega Man seems bleak. The franchise never stopped being profitable, which means that even the success of the Mighty No. 9 is going to jumpstart the series. It seems like the execution of the franchise flowed from a vendetta, one that does not seem to be letting up. Its a shame. With the classic franchise hitting the Virtual Console on the Wii U and 3DS, there is a whole new batch of gamers experiencing the excellence for the first time. Despite this, it seems like something will need to change to bring Mega Man back. It’s been five years, and Capcom is a stubborn mule.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer