Haven’t written anything about Mega Man in a long time. With the announcement of new Mega Man toys and Mega Man games being included with the NES Mini console, a small freefall post about the Blue Bomber is in place.
The question whether or not Mega Man is back is not a question that never needed asking. The franchise has potential for expansions of all sorts. Breaking the mould is nothing new, CAPCOM has been doing it since Wily & Light’s Rock Board. The games had constant evolution of content and gameplay mechanics, the most drastic standard deviation probably being X series’ RPG elements with hidden Energy Tanks and Armour parts. The most drastic deviation in the franchise are in Legends and Battle Network, but these are what each major game series goes through. Well, Mega Man is not major any more, just a relic of sorts. It pains me to write that down.
As a successful game franchise, it’s weird to look back and see how little third-party franchising there has been in the history of the franchise. Before Battle Network became the hottest shit on the block for the first half of the 00’s, most toys were Japan-only models from Bandai. The Ruby-Spears cartoon, which is still pretty good show, was the first major step outside and stand from the games. Captain N‘s Mega Man was largely part of the cast and the show used the NES as a whole as its source theme, so it’s not exactly what Mega Man could’ve used. If we get down to it, the Ruby-Spears Mega Man is a sort of rarity. Not many games got a show based on them like this. It tells something about the popularity of the franchise when its contemporaries like Castlevania never got one. Nowadays they are more common and almost dime in the dozen as the industry has grown to stupidly large heights.
Despite its seeming popularity, Mega Man’s franchising has been less than expanded. Outside Ruby-Spears cartoon, we had that three-shot OVA Wish Upon a Star, which more or less are educational bits above all else. Mega Man didn’t see cereals or the like, and after the Classic bits ended, there was a long silence until the aforementioned Battle Network. After that, franchising slowly but surely began rising in amount. Nowadays, we have somewhat healthy amount of material to choose from. Mega Man soundtracks, toys, more books, all sorts of tapes and whatnot are available for you to purchase. Whether or not purchasing these show that there is an interest in the franchise is another question altogether, as sometimes companies find better revenues in selling third-party franchise instead of producing the main product itself. Think Star Wars and how it has an immense amount of goods produced of when it only has seven movies and few TV-shows across decades. Originally all these third-party goods CAPCOM had for Mega Man served as advertising for the games themselves. However, when the sales of the games went to a decline, franchising saw a change. Now, Mega Man toys and whatnot are sold mainly to the core audience that have been fans of the franchise for a long time. Yours truly included, I’m afraid. The upside is that current Mega Man goods are of higher standard than what they used to be.
The decline of the games’ sales can be attributed to decline of the games themselves and the internal matters at CAPCOM. Mega Man was always a children’s franchise, and the while the X series is nowadays often cited as an edgy 1990’s edition, we can also see that the Zero series is a grim and dark future of already darker future. Like it or not, there is no levity in Zero that you could find in the Classic and X. Battle Network on the other hand stroke a chord almost perfectly, at least during its three first games. I expect the upcoming television series to have a lieu of toys and other goods to purchase. Time will tell whether or not they will be a success.
The thing is, CAPCOM has a point of comparison how well a new 2D Mega Man could sell with Mega Man 9 and 10. If the franchising rights bring them about the same amount money than what the games could, why put the money down for the development? After all, the current branding of CAPCOM doesn’t exactly have a fitting slot for Mega Man, despite the character being an unofficial mascot of the company still, next to Street Fighters‘ Ryu. Whether or not the 2017 Mega Man will fit that image, or if CAPCOM will loosen up their hard cased face to facilitate the franchise more than just re-releasing the same NES games for the Nth time. It’d be nice if they’d see the trouble of porting the rest over as a collection as well and not just circlejerking over the NES titles and trickle the rest through digital services.
There are those who would like to keep the franchise away from the children and newbies and only have CAPCOM catering to their wants. However, that’s not a healthy model, and to CAPCOM, it’s just not making the cut. It’s the same dilemma with every long running franchise; balancing with the core audience while trying to expand. Often companies get called selling out or the like when they try to get their titles to break some new ground when it comes to consumers, and while sometimes they fail, sometimes they manage to push the envelope a bit further. To go back to start, CAPCOM has always been breaking the mould Mega Man has been sitting in from time to time with variety of results. The franchise took its time to grow to a full multimedia franchise, thou still more limited in its scope than some others, thou I’m not sure how many game based franchises have a Settlers of Catan version after them.
So don’t think that purchasing third-party Mega Man merch will signal CAPCOM to return making some of the older titles. However, keep purchasing them if you feel that Mega Man should have more items outside its games, and the whole buyer-provider game gets some sort of revamp when the 2017 cartoon hits with its merch. I’m still wagering for a CAPCOM published title to hit the stores at some point.