Capcom selling Mega Man 9 with minimal effort and maximum fanfare

Infendo

With each day and subsequent disappointment, I am getting less and less excited for Mega Man 9.

To clear vernacular discrepancies, I feel there is a distinction between “excitement” and “anticipation.” For example, I was excited when I first saw Super Mario Galaxy. I felt the same way about the original Metroid Prime. These games brought classic franchises back to life in a relevant, natural and genuine way. Instead of attempting to duplicate former glories, they nodded to the past and made organic progressions.

For gamers, geeks and otaku, they were worth being excited about.

Conversely, I anticipate things like my morning bagel and recent WiiWare release lists. These are things I look forward to, certainly, but there is nothing exciting about their lackluster ordinariness.

Mega Man 9 falls into that category, and it breaks my heart.

I don’t mean to fart in the glee-flavored Kool-Aid the Internet has been chugging since Nintendo Power revealed Mega Man 9. For years, I have been a celebrated admiral in the “Hey Capcom, stop ruining the Mega Man legacy and bring back the Blue Bomber” brigade.

Many of my childhood weekends were spent with rented copies of Mega Man games. I have always been entranced by the perfect mixture of charm and difficulty the Mega Man series provides, and I have even applauded Capcom for the creation of the character himself; Mega Man is one of the most well-designed, endearing and memorable characters in gaming history.

But like most fans, I have since sat by and watched Capcom piss all over Mega Man’s shiny blue helmet, clinging to hopes the company would one day zip its fly and bring him back to the masses.

And finally, it has. As we’ve been raving about on Infendo for days, Mega Man 9 is coming to WiiWare this fall with a modest price tag of $10.00, and IGN posted this exclusive trailer yesterday:

There is no denying it; the trailer is fantastic. It is the kind of video that makes gamers’ arm hairs stand tall and pulses quicken. It ruthlessly and wholly plays the nostalgia angle by reminding viewers of the past only to present something that calls itself “new,” but you know, that is precisely the issue I’ve taken with Mega Man 9.

The game’s mere announcement made waiting through more than ten years’ worth of criminally inferior spin-off series worth it, and for a while, I was ecstatic. I felt like a little kid again, and it was an exhilarating, genuine kind of feeling. But once that logic-numbing shot of nostalgia wore off, I realized the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the return of one of gaming’s biggest icons.

For starters, Mega Man 9 is ugly.

Save your rhetoric-heavy defenses. It may be “attractive” for an 8-bit game, but the Super NES and subsequent game consoles improved upon the graphics capabilities of the NES for a reason. I still play and adore my library of NES classics, but there is simply no denying their characters, environments and presentations lack the color, life and expression afforded by more powerful modern consoles.

They were good for their time, but so were telegraphs and horse-drawn wagons, and no one drives down the highway in those anymore except the Amish folk. Do you want to be Amish?

Conversely, the above clip showcases gameplay from the most recent Mega Man game, the eleven-year-old Mega Man 8. The difference between this footage and the Mega Man 9 trailer is simply too obvious to ignore. Mega Man 8’s colorful and vibrant graphics not only make the game more visually appealing, but they also bring the inherently charming Mega Man character to life. From his movements to his animations, this visual aesthetic is a much better fit for the series and its larger-than-life characters than Mega Man 9’s purposefully pixelated mess of 8-bit retroness for the sake of retroness.

I know Nintendo has been slipping mickeys for quite some time convincing people of the contrary, but graphics are important. They are extremely important, in fact, and single-shade backgrounds, big pixels and flat colors should be relics of the cartridge-era. It is a pity that Capcom has resurrected them for the purpose of nostalgia.

And the graphics are not the only cause of my skepticism regarding the wave of Mega Man 9 enthusiasm that has swept us off our feet. Capcom has also reportedly stripped Mega Man’s move set, removing his famous charge shot and sliding abilities for Mega Man 9. In an interview with GamesRadar, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune called these gameplay mechanics “fancy moves that are unnecessary.”

When did stripping a character’s abilities for the sake of nostalgia and simplicity become something to praise? In fact, isn’t Nintendo being overtly criticized for simplifying gameplay mechanics? Inafune’s points are appreciated, but the underlying fact is as simple as the retrofit controls he has aimed for:

Drain away the nostalgia keeping Mega Man 9 afloat, and you’re left with a shriveled game that would, if it featured any other mascot or title, almost certainly be panned as shallow and featureless.

I have been shocked at how easily Capcom has been given a free pass from gamers on their design decisions for Mega Man 9. Maybe I’m a jaded pessimist, but when I read statements like this from Capcom’s Seth Killian, I can’t help but call blatant PR shenanigans:

“Rather than looking for specific thoughts from fans, I’d have to say this game ITSELF is basically fan-driven. It’s pretty clear that without the kind of deep fan love for Mega Man, and Capcom’s respect for those feelings, an idea this crazy would have just been laughed out of the room.”

It would have been laughed out of the room because it is a stupid idea, and because of that, it should have been. Only for Capcom, crapping out a quick Mega Man NES game isn’t a stupid idea at all.

Let’s be honest about the business model at work here. Capcom is spending next to nothing on the short development of Mega Man 9, yet massive sales and profits are practically inevitable. Teary-eyed rhetoric aside, the reality is simple: one of the most proven and financially capable developers on the planet has decided to further cash-in on one of its biggest franchises by committing minimal financial and development assets. With all due respect to readers who do, those who believe Capcom’s decision to make a cheap NES game in 2008 was based on genuine fan interest are being taken for a ride.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. The game will likely be fun, after all, and it will probably be one of WiiWare’s marquee titles. At the very least, it provides hope for the future and suggests Capcom understands what fans have been pleading for for years.

But that is not good enough. Not for me. We have been waiting eleven years for something more. Mega Man deserves more, and I refuse to praise Capcom for taking what I feel is a lazy approach to one of the most exciting games of the year. There are thousands of dudes who could say it is their choice to sleep until noon, do nothing all day and fill their bank accounts with unemployment compensation, but no one praises them. Instead, we make Lifetime movies about how worthless they are.

Why should Capcom be any different?

For years, Mega Man 9 has played out in my dreams, but in a vastly different form. I expected it to be breathtaking. I envisioned a gorgeous 2D shooter/platformer with beautiful visuals, two-player cooperative play, points scoring, online leaderboards and more. I thought it would be something worthy of the pedigree, something new, something that made Mega Man relevant again. After all, Mega Man has enormous potential to be brought back to the peak of gaming prominence as something more than just a relic.

But I never expected a new Mega Man game to be a mere carbon copy of Mega Man 2 with new enemies and levels. We have waited too long to receive so little. I didn’t want that, and I’m starting to realize…nostalgia be damned, I don’t think I do want that.

This is no revival. Capcom is merely throwing fans a bone, and after we have chased our tails in excitement, barked Capcom’s praises and chewed on it for a while, I fear we’ll wonder where the meat is.