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Celebrating MEGA MAN’s RPG Spinoff, BATTLE NETWORK

Celebrating MEGA MAN’s RPG Spinoff, BATTLE NETWORK

Mega Man, a name nearly as synonymous with video games as Mario or Pac Man, has been a staple of both arcades and home consoles for the last three decades. It’s no surprise why people love Mega Man — tight controls, beautiful sprite-based visuals, a real challenge — but Mega Man‘s success does not stop at his 10 (and soon to be 11) action platformers.

In honor of Dr. Light’s 30-year-old robot, I’d like to take the time to celebrate an underappreciated Mega Man gem, the RPG spinoff, Battle Network.

Mario is always praised for its jump from platformer to RPG with three incredibly successful spinoffs, Mario RPGMario and Luigi, and Paper Mario, but the Blue Bomber made a similar leap to the Gameboy Advance in the early 2000s.

Other than Pokemon, this is the series that saw the most of my Gameboy Advance playtime. The six Battle Network games each boasted 20+ hours of charming dialogue, tons of collectibles, and one of the most unique gameplay systems I’ve ever seen. Part collectible card game, part action RPG/turn-based RPG, Battle Network managed to take the challenge, complexity, and mechanics of the original platformers and transfer them into a well-designed role playing game.

This game wasn’t as difficult as the originals, but it still had its fair share of challenge — the games’ turn-based planning and execution kept you on your toes. Mega Man’s slick ninja-esque design said from the beginning that this was a new Mega Man, but still clearly our favorite Buster. He even retained his ability to absorb his enemies’ powers via their battle cards, which he could use in future battles. Later games even let him assume their forms just like the Robot Masters of old.

Gameplay aside, what kept me coming back were the characters and world. The 20xx of Battle Network was a modern-day haven of the early internet, and Mega Man was an online AI avatar called a NetNavi. He and his friends, including fan favorites Gutsman and Protoman, were linked to a group of IRL middle-schoolers, lending the game a schooldays, Spider-Man charm as you juggled the responsibilities of everyday life while trying to save the world. Altering servers in the real world changed Mega Man’s battlefield, and likewise actions in the Net would affect real world change, making every mission a two-front battle.

The first few games were well-received, but an unfortunate mix of over-saturation and limited evolution burned out the player base. Capcom released the games on an annual basis with limited innovation; each game was more of a continuation than a true sequel. Coupled with the fact that later games released two different versions with minor differences a-la PokemonBattle Network simply overstayed its welcome.

Also, the game had a truly hilarious amount of localization errors.

With the recent announcement of the long-awaited Mega Man 11, maybe Capcom will finally return to the spinoff series, or at least create a new Mega Man RPG. They haven’t completely forgotten Battle Network, though; NetNavi Mega Man made a cameo appearance in Super Smash Bros.

Maybe there’s hope after all.

Image: Capcom, Nintendo

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