Mega Man is celebrating his 15th Anniversary, and Capcom is delivering a couple new games to Nintendo platforms. Here’s Rick’s review of the first Mega Man title for GameCube!
Mega Man Network Transmission is the first game in the series for GameCube, borrowing themes from the Battle Network games on GBA and adding cel-shaded graphics and a ridiculously tough learning curve. Fans of the typical Mega Man platformers might be thrown for a bit of a loop, as Network Transmission plays quite a bit differently than other games in the series, but followers of the Battle Network games will likely be right at home.
Network Transmission follows the story of Lan and his “Navi”, Mega Man. Navis are basically programs residing in a device called a PET that people can use to carry out tasks in cyberspace. Lan and Mega Man defeated the WWW crime syndicate a little over a month ago, but some strange things have been happening in cyberspace as a result of the Zero virus. Lan uses Mega Man to find out where the virus is coming from and how to stop it.
The game uses a very interesting interface, mostly with Lan walking around his room trying to figure out what to do next. Pressing the START button brings up the PET interface, where you can read Lan’s e-mail, travel around the map looking for places to have Mega Man jack in to cyberspace, use power-ups to increase Mega Man’s abilities, and manage your library of battle chips.
Other than the Battle Network-style features, the gameplay is very much classic Mega Man platforming, albeit with animated 3D backgrounds, impressive colored lighting, and cel-shaded characters. Skill is a pre-requisite, but the incredibly fluid animation certainly helps, especially with the extremely accurate controls… any hitch in the framerate could cause you to burn a life (called “backups”). Mega Man doesn’t jump very high, which is a real buzz-kill early on, but it can be fixed through judicious use of Double Jump chips. That won’t help in a boss battle, when you can’t jump quite high enough to escape enemy attacks. You’ll find those battles very difficult unless you have just the right combination of chips, technique, and pattern recognition. At first, the bosses seem practically invulnerable, and Mega Man’s abilities are little help, but when you beat that first boss, a real feeling of accomplishment washes over you. That feeling is punctuated by the boisterous musical composition, which feels right at home in the light-hearted Internet-themed game. The game starts off somewhat linear, but after completing the first two areas, it opens up and lets you explore and gather new chips and abilities, all while continuing the progression of the story.
Managing battle chips is where the majority of the game’s strategy lies. You have a maximum of 20 chips in your “folder” at a time, so selecting the right chips for each area can make or break your next run in cyberspace. Chips are sent to Mega Man randomly (save for the “regular” chips, which you can assign manually), so Network Transmission exhibits some collectable card game aspects in that regard. Some chips can be combined to create a glitch in the code, called a Program Advance. These are very powerful attacks that can have defensive capabilities as well, but figuring out which chips can cause these effects and making sure you have them in your folder (not to mention being lucky enough to get them all at once) can be a tricky undertaking. You can swap chips with the shoulder buttons during gameplay, or you can press the Standby button to swap chips in the heat of battle when you need a breather. You can’t just use chips any time, as each depletes Mega Man’s “Memory Points”, or MP for short. Run out of MP, and you can’t use chips until you’ve regained enough to boot up those chips. Of course, some chips require more MP than others.
The game is incredibly tough in the beginning, being a little more difficult than your average platformer. Enemies do quite a bit of damage, endless pits can kill instantly, and while you’ll find that Mega Man’s backups can be upgraded, you can expect to see the “MEGA MAN DELETED” screen with alarming frequency. That is, right up until you discover that you can jack out of cyberspace just about any time you want, aside from in the middle of a boss battle. Doing so becomes key, as you can go through levels several times in a row, collecting chips and increasing Mega Man’s powers, until you feel you have the right mix of chips to take on the boss. Mega Man can level up, increasing his HP and MP in RPG-like fashion. However, don’t expect to be given any clue that you’re gaining levels, as it’s only apparent on the screen where you add power-ups. Apparently, you just quietly gain levels after having busted enough viruses.
Levels are designed to be revisited later, and you can find secrets and alternate paths (even secret enemies) once you have the right assortment of chips. The replay value is somewhat limited, but with over one hundred different chips to find and collect, hidden bosses, and Program Advances, there should be enough keep hardcore gamers going after the initial storyline is completed.
Mega Man Network Transmission got a fairly bad rap in Japan for being overly difficult. The game seems to have been toned down somewhat for the US release, but the initial learning curve will potentially turn people off. A little less difficulty in the early going, ramping up later on would have helped, but anyone that can get past the first few stages will find Network Transmission oddly satisfying and a great deal of fun.