All Together Then: Weirdo Battle Network
A look at some of the lesser-known titles in Mega Man's RPG series
Hello! With the recent-ish release of the Mega Man Battle Network Collection, I've been rather engaged in a bit of obscure Battle Networkery, investigating some of the lesser-known corners of Capcom's terminally online series. And here, in the manner of an All Together Then column, are four of them - the same number as what I normally do. Of. Them.
Battle routine, set! AllTogetherThen.exe! Execute!
Rockman EXE Operate Shooting Star (DS, 2009)
This is a remake of 2001's original Mega Man Battle Network, a mere eight years after the fact. And it's extremely similar, all told, though there are innumerable small improvements which add up to a much friendlier, vastly more enjoyable experience. That's not to say that the original version is bad in that it's clearly a formative sort of thing, but some of those dungeons... yikes. I still get cold sweats when I think about the ice stage or the power plant. Both of which have been polished up here and rendered fair, rather than the nightmares of trial and error they were before. As well as the many, many improvements, there's also a new section of the game involving TimeMan.exe, which crosses over with the Mega Man Star Force series to the unfettered excitement of both its fans. If you haven't played the original Battle Network, this is fairly inarguably a superior way to do so, given its incorporation of tons of quality of life changes from the sequels. Unfortunately it isn't included on the Legacy Collection, but there is a fan translation out there. Which, of course, you must only use with a legitimately purchased copy that you have dumped to your computer, patched, then re-flashed to a DS cart and run on a stock Nintendo DS system.
Mega Man Network Transmission (GameCube, 2003)
This side-scroller is one heck of an odd duck, but I find it surprisingly enjoyable once I get past the initial hurdles. See, the first three or four Navis you have to fight are absurdly challenging. Like, "kill you in three hits before you even know what's going on" challenging. It's one of those games that actually gets easier as you play and level up your character, as your own progress seems to overtake the enemy's raise in power rather quickly. Collecting HPMemorys, PowerUps and BackUp Chips will eventually see you turn the tables, and it's very satisfying when it happens because the game both looks and feels good, which compels one to play it despite it being so egregious to begin with. The plot is nonsense, but the music is awesome, the cel-shaded graphics are nicely stylised, and frankly it's cool playing a Battle Network 2D platformer. The whole Chip system from the RPGs is here and while it can occasionally lead to situations where your best tactical option is to stand still for ages waiting for the Custom Bar to refill, it's nice to experiment and build up a powerful folder. I think my biggest complaint about this game is the way that changing your equipped armour doesn't affect Mega Man, not even his colour. Come on, Capcom!
Rockman EXE WS (WonderSwan Color, 2003)
Developed by Tose, this is another sidescroller that takes its cues from the Mega Man NT Warrior anime, though unfortunately it doesn't take any cues from the concept of "being a good game". Yes, this is a weird one that feels low-budget and unimpressive in almost every way, with a game feel that's so spongey and crap that it almost feels like a weird romhack sometimes; the terrible animation on MegaMan.exe does nothing to dissuade me from this notion, but it's an official release for the somewhat rightfully unloved WonderSwan Color. It's not even the only terrible Mega Man game on the system - Rockman & Forte got a horrendous incarnation on the black and white model - but it's so weak that I can't really understand why they bothered, or why it wasn't more polished. I will concede that towards the end of the game it gets a little better as the challenge reaches a reasonable standard, but it's just not fun - assigning your Battlechips to the face buttons is a good idea but when the stage design is so dull and the feel is so tacky. There's a fan translation and it's so short that it might be worth a blast through for die-hards, but don't expect much more than the slightest level of engagement. A shame.
Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
I fucking love this game. I say that unreservedly, without a hint of shame, totally disinterested in the slings and arrows thrown at it over the years ((including by our very own Jeremy Parish). It's so simple and so compulsive. Assign Battlechips to a grid. Start NetBattle. Hope the game lets you win. It's really just so fundamentally lacking in anything you could reasonably consider strategy that it rewires your brain into mush. You become nothing more than a passive observer, listening to the outstanding music and praying that the RNG gods find you worthy of favour. To many, yes, this is what makes the game bad, and I do understand that perspective! The problem is I am incapable of disliking any game that does something so outrageously outside of the usual standards with this level of flair and clearly decent budget. I mean, again, the music - no Battle Network game has music as good as this. It's a grindfest, a totally brainless thing to do with your hands. Your only meaningful input is to "slot in" a chip of your choice, but the odds of it succeeding are also pretty much random. I love it. A roll of the dice. What can I say, I have a literal gambling addiction which this feeds without the unpleasant reality of emptying my bank account. I am honestly devastated that Battle Chip Challenge wasn't included with the recent compilation.