Much to the surprise of gamers everywhere, Capcom recently announced that we would be getting a new Mega Man game soon. We haven’t heard much from the franchise since the cancellation of Mega Man Universe, and the departure of Mega Man’s creator, Keiji Inafune, from the company.
For a brief moment, gamers everywhere were excited to see the blue bomber back in action, until Capcom said the word that seems to be anathema to most of the gaming community: mobile. That’s right, Mega Man’s next title is planned to be a mobile release. Few details about the title have been revealed at this point, but we do know that this is part of a new restructuring initiative. Capcom recently reorganized its existing mobile branches into a whole new division called Capcom Mobile Co. which will launch games exclusively for smartphones. Apart from Mega Man, a new Monster Hunter title is also in the works, as well as a title based on the Sengoku Basara series. The new games will launch in 2017.
This isn’t the first time Capcom pushed Mega Man into the mobile sphere. About a year ago, Mega Man fans were complaining about a title called Rockman GoGo. It was an infinite runner set in the Mega Man universe that borrowed the super-chibi art styles of the Mega Man 1 PSP remake. Frankly, it wasn’t even that good from an infinite runner perspective. It had janky controls, moved at a snail’s pace, and it had horrible sound design that had characters screaming every time a single bullet was fired.
Needless to say, fans are hoping that this new Mega Man project will be something of a higher quality standard.
A Mega Mobile Masterpiece?
While gamers usually scoff at the idea of a mobile game, there’s nothing preventing a mobile Mega Man from being… what’s the word… good! In fact, Mega Man seems oddly well suited to a mobile interface. Let me explain.
Mega Man is a game that revolves around instanced level design. Each Robot Master’s level is its own environment from start to finish. The enemies and hazards don’t change (except in some Mega Man X games). The only thing that limits you is your skill.
Mobile games are very frequently built around instanced game design. Whenever you have levels in a mobile game they are self-contained and can be abandoned at any time. While many mobile games proceed in a linear fashion, they almost always have some form of stage select. Mobile games are meant to be able to be played in tiny chunks, quitting whenever it’s time to get off the bus, or actually pay attention in class.
Mobile games are also made out of instanced gameplay because they tend to put a focus on player progression. Many times mobile games will have quests and achievements to unlock in each of their levels. A single pass through a level is usually enough to beat it, but not get the maximum number or stars or medals or whatever. Usually this requires a revisit at a later date, after your character is more powerful and has more abilities available to them. Thus, we get the standard mobile pattern of play until you can’t progress anymore, grind in previous levels until you have perfected them, and progress again.
Does any of this sound familiar? This is exactly what we do in Mega Man games (especially in games like Mega Man X). We go through levels, defeating Robot Masters and gaining their weapons. Then, when we find ourselves stuck, we go back through levels we already defeated with our new robot master weapons in order to grab collectibles like E-Tanks. These collectibles then let us push forward past the levels we were having trouble with in the first place.
So imagine this. Imagine a Mega Man mobile game where the goal is to defeat all, and I mean ALL of the Robot Masters. Every day, you are given a random draw of Robot Master levels from every previous Mega Man game, and beating one gets you that Robot Master’s weapon. Every eight Robot Masters you defeat forces you to go through a Wiley level before you can make more progress. Except you only ever have the weapons from the Robot Masters you defeated, so whether or not you have the right weapons for the right situation will depend on whether or not you chose your Robot Master stages wisely.
Skilled players could simply play the game as normal, but microtransactions (hold your jeers) could be used to always give you access to a certain Robot Master’s level, allowing you to constantly go back and search for goodies, grind for bolts, or even just keep attempting the level over and over again if it has a Robot Master weapon you really want but you can’t seem to put a dent in the boss. Bolts, which could be found in stages but also bought with microtransactions, could be used to give Mega Man his iconic moves like sliding, charging the Mega Buster, using Rush, Beat, and Tango, or even the strange laser weapons you gained access to in Mega Man 7 and 8. You’d probably have a limited amount of lives to work with that regenerate over time, allowing you to keep playing if you are good, and opening up yet another microtransaction venue if you need to ram your face into Metal Man again.
Wouldn’t that be exactly what Mega Man fans are looking for? It would be like a huge expansion of The Wiley Wars on the Sega Channel, which was an amazing Mega Man game that almost no one played. The game could be expandable, allowing bosses from the Mega Man X and Zero lines to make cameo appearances. Special events could be run giving you once in a lifetime chances to get great weapons, like Enker’s ability to absorb projectiles. Enough bolts could allow you to play as Protoman, Bass, or even Mega Man X. Not only that, but the whole game could be made using re-used assets, making it cheap and easy for Capcom to make and maintain.
Making a great Mega Man mobile title isn’t so hard. It just requires a little bit of thought.
Mobile: The Final Destination of Classic Franchises
Regardless of how interesting a mobile title could be, fans everywhere are shouting “why mobile!?” Why can’t we just have another AAA Mega Man release? Mega Man was one of the most popular games of the NES era, right? Surely it will sell again.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how the industry works. Let’s take a look at Mega Man 2, largely considered one of the best in the series. To date, Mega Man 2 has sold 1.5 million copies, making it the best-selling Mega Man title of all time.
Now let’s look at another Capcom game, Resident Evil 6, a game largely considered a failure both by Capcom, fans, and critics. Resident Evil 6 achieved lifetime sales of 6.3 million copies.
One of the worst Resident Evils sold over four times better than the best Mega Man game.
That’s not to say that Mega Man is bad, just that its scope is limited. Retro 2D style platformers are fun, and when done well, critically acclaimed, but they are usually only 2-3 hours long when played by a semi-competent player. They also take little money and staff to make, which is good for Capcom. But this smaller scale means Capcom can’t charge a 60 dollar price tag. Without that, they simply don’t make the profit they need to continue running as an AAA developer. Thus, Mega Man is perpetually shoved onto the back-burner for other games that can break 5 million in sales at full price.
But the mobile world is a different place. The mobile market is absolutely huge. Nearly everyone in an area that has a market for video games has a cell phone. Using microtransactions, ads, and possibly a small entry fee, Capcom could expose their new Mega Man game to hundreds of millions of people all at the same time. If only a fraction of those people spent money on the game, Capcom would be seeing massive returns, far more than selling a single 60 dollar Mega Man title would get them.
With increasing demands for AAA games, game studios take more money to maintain, and so small-scale games cannot be an AAA studio’s main focus, no matter how popular they are. If your studio is small and indie, you need less income to keep it going, and so classic 2D games like Mighty No. 9 can survive. But Capcom needs to make AAA money to continue operating, and an indie game release simply won’t pay the bills. That’s why the mobile environment is such an inviting place for their next Mega Man title.