By Josh Speer / December 6th, 2017
It’s not easy being a Mega Man fan. I almost wrote “being a Capcom fan”, but I haven’t had a lot of faith in that company for several years now. Being a fan of the Blue Bomber is one of those things that you either grew up with or didn’t. Us fans clearly remember when Capcom managed to turn a silly robot in blue spandex into a gaming icon, watched as the series tried to cater to fans with more balanced gameplay, and even jumped for joy (initially) when it branched out into many spin offs (some good, some bad). It was easy to take for granted that Mega Man would always be here, with a new game coming out every year or every other year. Times were good up until around 1998. Suddenly, it was as if Capcom had forgotten about their heroic robot. From that year onward, the classic Mega Man seemingly was dead, and though we got several X titles in the interim until about 2005, only the first few of those were worthwhile, and after X4 that series saw a pretty precipitous decline. It looked like things were back on track in 2008, with the release of retro styled Mega Man 9, and a year later Mega Man 10, but then once more we were faced with a whole lot of nothing, other than Capcom reselling us older Mega Man titles in various compilations. But even those weren’t much consolation for a fanbase rabidly waiting for a new title, especially after our hopes were briefly kindled by 9 and 10. It didn’t help that two highly anticipated Mega Man projects were also cancelled in development, Mega Man Universe and Legends 3.
Since 2010, we haven’t had any new Mega Man game, and I honestly thought Capcom had put the final nail in the series’ coffin. After all, if you can milk the fans with remakes instead of making something new, why bother expending unnecessary effort? And then the other day we all got a huge surprise when Capcom unveiled Mega Man 11 during a livestream. Not only is this new title coming in 2018, it’s visually closer to Mega Man 8 rather than going for the classic retro style of the most recent games. It coincides with Mega Man’s 30th anniversary, and part of me is thrilled. After all, I’ve been bitching about no new Mega Man for at least several years, and I was so convinced it wasn’t going to happen that I initially didn’t understand the headline that 11 is coming in 2018. I had a sort of double take “huh?” moment, so strong was my disbelief. The question that comes to my mind then is, why now? Sure, you can say it’s cause of the 30th anniversary, but I’m skeptical of that logic. After all, you can always say you were planning something all along when fans have been waiting for what feels like forever (cough Metroid cough). Instead, I have a theory that the only reason we’re getting Mega Man 11 is because Keiji Inafune went rogue and made a little game called Mighty No. 9.
I clearly remember the excitement when I heard that Keiji Inafune was going to be at PAX Prime back in 2013. It was actually my second PAX, as I had gone with a friend the previous year. This was before my trips to PAX became a regular thing courtesy of the fine folks at oprainfall. This meant I had more freedom to wander the halls and even catch a panel or two, as opposed to racing around like a headless chicken. So when I saw the godfather of Mega Man was going to be at a panel, I had to go. You could feel the collective excitement in a room packed to the brim with fans of the series. Not to be cliche, but it was electric, this jubilant sense of optimism and joy. Imagine how that feeling only grew when we heard that Inafune was making his own crowdfunded Mega Man-inspired game, called Mighty No. 9.
Despite how you feel about the project now, whether you enjoyed it or felt it was a disgrace, back then it was something to marvel over. Here Inafune was, fired from Capcom, and rubbing it in their faces by giving fans what they had been yearning for. I clearly remember reading interviews back when he was fired, and hearing BS arguments for his dismissal, many pooling into the sentiment “Mega Man isn’t popular anymore”. With the wildly successful funding of Mighty No. 9 in 2013, he proved that not only was the fanbase hungry for a new Mega Man game, we were starving for it. The project easily eclipsed the funding goals and made sure the game was as high profile as possible. And then we all had a long wait for about 3 years until Mighty No. 9 was actually released.
Many complain about Mighty No. 9, and I won’t delve deeply into my feelings again here, other than to say the following. Regardless of how great of a game it was or wasn’t, I believe its mere existence spurred Capcom to action. I can’t offer concrete proof, other than my observations. In the years following that 2013 PAX Prime, we saw not one but two different Legacy Collections released, one just before Mighty No. 9 and one just after. We even got delightful projects brought to life such as Azure Striker Gunvolt, which may have been inspired by Mega Man, but was thankfully its own creature. So we went from almost no mainstream releases to Capcom suddenly remembering that the Blue Bomber existed, and responding in kind.
Some of you are likely shaking your heads right now, and I can understand where you’re coming from. It’s often hard in the game industry to suss out what starts a trend. There are many sources which feed the fanbase, and with the advent of the internet it’s not easy to keep track. All we can do is pay attention. The thing that instantly caught my attention when I saw the trailer for Mega Man 11 was the stylistic change. We went from the NES stylings of Mega Man 9 and 10 back to a style more reminiscent of Mega Man 8, when the series made the transition to Sony. But there’s another game that Mega Man 11 reminds me of stylistically, and you can probably guess what it is. Yes, Mega Man 11 reminds me of Mighty No. 9. Just take a gander at the following images below, one from Mighty No. 9 and the other from newly announced Mega Man title.
Kind of similar, huh? Sure, you could make the assertion that it looks more like Mega Man 8, though I notice it’s decidedly less cartoony than that particular title. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the proportions for Mega Man’s body and Beck’s body look awful close. But even supposing you don’t buy that, there’s a reason I think this is true.
The game industry in Japan is known for many things, but something I’ve repeatedly seen is they don’t take well to being embarrassed. Whether it’s a small group guilt tripping a giant into localizing three titles or another company getting flak for how it censors a title, embarrassment is always met with a response. So I can just imagine how frustrating it must have been for Capcom to act like Mega Man was dead, only to see the wild success of a title that was essentially Mega Man in everything but name. That must have stung. Capcom could have reacted in various ways, but the one constant from that company is that they like money. So instead of lashing out, I think they bided their time, waited to see how Mighty No. 9 fared, and then found a way to capitalize on that excitement themselves. The only questions now are, how long do we have to wait for Mega Man 11 and will it be a commercial success?
Us Mega Man fans have always had it tough, but I’m optimistic things are on the upswing. I think our collective seething anger over the lack of response from Capcom has materialized in a positive way, opening the door for more Mega Man games and spin offs. Whether you agree with my reasoning or not, I think we can agree that it’s finally exciting to be fan of the Blue Bomber again. Here’s hoping 2018 is a new trend, and not just an anomaly.
CapcomComceptKeiji InafuneMega Man 11Mighty No. 9