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If you love it, change it: Mega Man

12:11 AM on 05.21.2008 // Tubatic

[Editor's note: Tubatic takes a look at the Mega Man series and tells us how he would improve it as part of May's Monthly Musings theme. Adding Ikaruga to just about anything would make it ten times more awesome. -- CTZ] 

I love the Mega Man games, for pretty much all the reasons anyone could love Mega Man. The flow of gameplay, the higher difficulty, the style of it, the ridiculous and sometimes even heartfelt stories (see: Mega Man X). 

That said, lets talk about changing some things, using the core Mega Man series as a base model. Hit the jump to see how I would change this series. 

Weapon Combos

I'd say that Mega Man definitely has weapon stealing down to a science. Regardless of the enemy, and with apparently very little retro fitting, Mega Man
can adapt the special move of any boss that he's defeated. So,
lets just take that up a notch. For my first change, I want Mega Man to start combining his stolen abilities.

The result: awesome. What if this happened in Mega Man 2? Wood Man's Leaf
Shield, crossed with Air Man's Tornadoes? Maybe that's a vortex of sharp leaves
that sucks in enemies to get torn up in your shield! Metal Blade mixed with Crash Bombs? Eight directions of line-of-site Metal Blade Bombs! The possibilities are crazy, and numerous. 8 x 7 comes up to 56 different combos, given your usual eight robot master game scheme.

This wouldn't be without its unfortunate bad combinations. Flashman's weapon plus almost anything offensive might result in a barrage of hurt that Mega Man,
unfortunately, has to endure for the duration of the weapon. Or maybe Airman plus Bubble Shield would just result in a completely ineffective squirt of tiny bubbles. It's a trial and error process.

So resulting from that, Mega Man gets a mild shot of sci-fi stuck in his action
platforming. Levels could be retooled around making these combinations, or,
maybe there could be a "Danger Room" for Mega Man to go to and test out his new toys. You'd still have the old school platforming, but the act of using weapons
in combination becomes an exciting new game mechanic.

Weapon Switching

If we take that change into account, then we instantly have an amplification of an ever present, though fairly minor problem: the traditional methods of switching weapons is kind of broken. Mega Man's flow of gameplay has always been stilted by weapon selection.

This was especially glaring in end boss fights. Wily's phases would each rely on a different key weapon to hit his weak spot. As thrilling as that action is, it was somewhat disrupted by the need to either pull up the weapon menu, or use your shoulder buttons to cycle through until you found the weapon you need. While shoulder scrolling isn't too bad, it's still bound by being a linear list. And, throwing combinations into the mix, its going to be tricky cycling through and getting what you want.

The solution: analog sticks. All modern consoles have dual analog sticks, including the Wii's classic controller. (And frankly, why would you play a Mega Man game with anything less?) Analog sticks, unlike the D-pad, can hit the eight compass points fairly easily. We assign each robot master's weapon to a compass direction, and allow the player to press or flick in the direction that they want. For simplicity, maybe we make a shoulder or face button quick reset to default to the Buster Cannon, since pressing in on analog sticks can be tricky. This is important, since you won't be resting your thumbs on the sticks during gameplay.

For purists, lets keep the menu system in. That menu system will still be useful
under the new system too. Perhaps for a map screen, or configuring the weapon
selections for the analog sticks. But now, if you really don't want to tear away from the action to switch guns, you don't have to, and you can keep the action going!

Ready your Shield and unleash Hell

Now that we're mixing weapons and switching on the fly, what else is there? Lets
really press the genre and install a few new gameplay and level mechanics.

Since the very first game, our Blue Bomber has had to contend with some iteration of the shield-wielding opponent. Whether its been those guys on Flash Man's level, those skull-rocket things in 6 and 7, or his brother from a different lab table, Proto-Man, Mega Man has had the constant displeasure of having his regular attacks blocked and thwarted by guys with super amazing shield capability.

Why can't he steal that? Its precedented as an easter egg/special item of Mega Man 7, but the implementation there was very static. What I'm proposing is an
all new shielding mechanic for the Mega Man series. Sure Mega Man dodges fine
enough, but if he has a versatile shield, it can open the way to a complete level-up from current Mega Man gameplay. An implementation of mentality that's
had amazing results in another genre, and could be revolutionary in the side
scrolling platformer genre.

I'm talking about Bullet Hell. Ikaruga meets Mega Man. Rokuman no Danmaku, bitches. I'm running this train off the rails, so stick with me.

Wielding the shield completely overhauls the control scheme. Activating the shield will be a single button toggle (L trigger/shoulder). D-Pad is your movement as usual and there's no shooting while the shield's up. Since were not shooting here, we're going to take the right analog stick: no combos right out of shielding. With the shield up, you're controlling in eight directions and R trigger becomes your jump button. That's your basics.

From here, you're the target of a thousand guns. Bullets rain from above and from the side. Your shield deflects some bullets, and absorbs others. You don't get much chance to get aggressive in this mode: its all survival. While amped up difficulty is good, managing a simultaneous offensive while going into this defensive mode, there just aren't enough hands to really cover that! But what you end up with is sections of the normal Mega Man game, which is traditionally about dodging fire, wherein you go into tank mode.

Yeah, kinda like that.

And depending on smart level design, there'll still be advantage to going shieldless. You'll be able to cause massive damage out of shield-mode, and your
combo weapons are not readily available directly coming out of shields. If you're going to take on a boss, you've best off going without shield, for quickest win/highest rank/righteous bragging rights. Mega Man, at its heart, is really about finding ways to avoid damage. But it sets up the task of surviving a situation that, by all initial estimation, there's no way you think you'll be able to accomplish. Once you do, using the tools at your disposal, you'll frankly feel pretty badass. It's that sense of self accomplishment that retro gamers rave about when they talk about the good old days of hard games and limited lives. Its hard, its scary, but it's also a great experience that you'll likely remember well into the age of your children's next-gen gaming.

And taking the idea further, lets put some flight functionality on that shield! I love Rush as much as the next guy, but what if Mega Man just had something on the quick that he could jump onto and start flying with? Lets then take that down analog stick (because really, who blocks straight down?) as a mounting position of the shield. Hit the activation button, and you get full directional hover/fly, with a recharging "fuel" limit. Lets make that an advanced upgrade for the shield, and it would not necessarily have a role in the entire game. When needed, Mega Man would have this extra boost of mobility that at least a few people really enjoyed from the RushJet version in Mega Man 3.

Our Mega Mans, let me show you them

I'll admit, I've gone crazy. A lot of this doesn't make good sense and is far flung from the roots of our favorite robot hero. Would the purists accept this? Would the Battle Network kids become completely intimidated by the ramped up difficulty, let alone the fact that it's a side scroller? Can any normal human being aside from the Zentastic Topher Cantler even bring their mind in line with the Defender-esque controller dance I've laid out? I must concede, I'm asking a lot of a broad audience that definitely loves its franchise.

But what if it worked? The end result would be intensely gratifying. Imagine the satisfaction of pulling off the wild combo required to dodge, charge Buster, slide, then fire, flick into combo weapon, fire, slide, change weapons, fire more, activate shield, run the gauntlet, and end it all off with jumping our blue dude off of a cliff where we subsequently shield down, hit the jets, and blast off as the level starts to crumble in on itself.

Hell yeah.

Mega Man. I love it. Lets change it.

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