Why Mega Man 9 on Wiiware is a bigger deal than you think

It could be the extra Nintendo gene I was born with talking, but this morning I can’t help but think that the Mega Man 9 WiiWare news is much bigger than it initially appears.

Sure, this is a major coup for Nintendo’s infantile WiiWare service, and it’s incredible news for anyone who grew up playing Mega Man on the NES (or other, *cough* CD-ROM systems in the 1990s), but there’s something more to it than that.

On its face, the decision to go backwards in time with Mega Man 9 could be seen as a hat tip to the 8-bit generation (me, and others like me), in the same vein as Super Dodge Ball Brawlers and the entire Virtual Console collection to date. It is, but beneath those primitive pixels is a conscious decision by one of the biggest publishers in the world to buck the trends and, gulp, take a risk.

Capcom could have easily gone the 3rd person super graphics route, like they’re doing with Bionic Commando, but they didn’t. They could have continued the slick 2-D graphical updates, as they did with my copy of Mega Man anniversary Edition on the PS2, but they stayed their hand. Actually, dare I say it, Capcom is making the Mega Man series more, well, accessible, to a wider audience. I think they’ll be rewarded for it in spades. Big, piles of money-shaped spades.

In fact, Mega Man 9 hearkens back to a day when game playing people valued the challenge of a video game over the length of time it took to complete it. There were no “well, how long does it play for?” questions in the 80’s and 90’s’and that wasn’t because the graphics weren’t realistic, not at all. He’ll probably sue me for copyright infringement, for all the copy I lift from his news site, but Sean Malstrom addressed this the other day with a post on challenge versus length.

“One more turn” was mostly described to games like Civilization but “One more go” was also described for many other action type games. Games had to be ”˜addictive’. They were descendants from the arcades (and arcades tried to get a player addicted so they would keep shoveling quarters). ”˜Challenging’ also was loved back then because there were no stupid unlockables or achievements. BEATING THE GAME was considered the achievement. Gaming has become like the Little League where everyone gets a trophy just for ”˜participating’.

When people played Super Mario Bros., they didn’t care that they could beat it in X amount of hours, they cared about the various levels and the pride they felt after completing a particularly hard one (World 4, for example, resulted in me breaking off the little game flap of the first generation NES’s). The Mega Man series, too, is one of the more challenging series ever to grace a console. I don’t feel the same way about some of today’s blockbuster games, because by and large they’ve become a rather passive experience. Isn’t that right, Snake? There’s nothing “addictive” about a cutscene. A challenging game, however, will continually have me coming back for “one more try.”

But something with Nintendo and the WiiWare service caught Capcom’s eye. Instead of a 3rd person Mega Man shooter, or re-imagining the main character as a beefed up throwaway character (see: Super Joe in the “next gen” Bionic Commando), they continued the series right where it left off in 1996. They saw a greater return in a game with predictable, pattern-based enemies and bosses, than anything the world’s most powerful gaming consoles could cook up with AI algorithms. They valued challenge over the vocal minority, with its insatiable appetite for high-res art, style over substance mentality.

Sure, Mega Man 9 is probably headed to Xbox Live Arcade and PSN too, but now that the Wii is market leader, with no end in sight, I’m all but certain that WiiWare was the platform driving the game to completion. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became one of the most popular Wii digi-distro downloads to date.

Does Mega Man 9’s pending retro-related success mean the death of JRPGs, Solid Snake, or any of those types of games? Not at all. It’s merely another game on the growing pile of video games, in an industry that’s finally starting to realize that appealing to everyone is not only worth tons of money, but beneficial to everyone involved in the medium. I’m just glad Mega Man is one of the series that’s going to help the process along. It’s about time.