I can’t decide whether or not we live in an era where we are demanding authors’ and artists’ works to be untouched by outside forces, or we demand changes to these works for whatever reasons. I don’t really care either way, but the blog’s standpoint is that if a work is by one primary author, it should be left alone by external forces and be allowed to contest in the marketplace just as any. If the work is by a team effort, then it is subject to the hierarchy and decisions of that hierarchy, for better or worse. In video games, it’s rather common to see consumers demanding one of a game’s creator’s position to be the highest priority, that a game franchise should not continue because its perceived primary force is either in a bad position or abandoned. At the same, the same consumers keep consuming games that have the original teams long gone and don’t give a one damn about who’s in charge and what’s being done by whom.
Mega Man as a franchise is a great example of this. The first game’s original team effectively broke away, with only the core who wanted to do a sequel worked on the second game on their free time, and the third game had a producer who didn’t know what was going on so Keiji Inafune had to pull triple duty. The rest is history, with Inafune effectively being the only guy who worked on the first game and was coined as the Father of the franchise, until Mighty Number 9 hit the corner and the consumer opinion changed vastly. Still, the franchise has numerous games that have been worked by stupid amount of different people and some of the most acclaimed games have been developed by someone else other than Capcom, namely Minakuchi Engineering and Inti-Creates.
The Game Boy Mega Man titles, or Rockman World titles, were not developed by Capcom. Outside the second game, they were handled by Minakuchi Engineering, a game developer that mysteriously vanished around 2002. Due to developers going uncredited as part of branding and recognition, their website could only claim to have worked on over forty titles, including Mega Man X3. It wasn’t a practice to showcase who developed the game in the Japanese game industry, and as such none of the games until Mega Man Zero show any names or branding that would contradict Capcom. As far as the customers and the reviewers knew, the Game Boy games were developed by Capcom themselves. The second World game (I’ll just call the GB Mega Man games as World games from hereon) was developed by Japan System House, another dead developer, but one that has less favourable reputation. They later restructured into Biox Co., Ltd, and then into JSH Co, only to change back to Biox in 1997. GDRI has a list of titles confirmed they worked on.
We’ll never know the real reason why Capcom switched their developers for the World games few times around, but looking at the quality of World 2 game, it’s most likely that the sad quality of programming and designing was the main reason. The game was put into developed right after the first game and released five months later. Programming is one thing, but sound effects being completely off, sound being tinny hell and the whole package smelling like cheap chop job, it’s no wonder Capcom would turn back to Minakuchi Engineering. They became Capcom’s most important second team with Mega Man then, handling the rest of the Game Boy games, The Wily Wars and the aforementioned MMX3 before Inti-Creates took their spot. While World 3 is still about as uninspired as the previous games on the Game Boy, the fourth and fifth games have been praised for their quality and design, as well as taking some steps to try innovating with the franchise a bit.
I doubt anyone will contest me too eagerly if I claim Mega Man to be rather static franchise. For each series entry, there’s not a whole lot room for innovation as much as there is for improvement. Giving Mega Man a charged shot was more or less a natural evolution of ramping up his ready arsenal, with Rush being normal evolution of the Item Weapons. Giving Mega Man a a slide improved his mobility, but also allowed more complex stage designs and enemy patterns. Small changes like these seem that much more significant, when the core game play was effectively perfected on the first go. Understanding limitations and how to work with them isn’t anything special for original creators, as pretty much all of the changes Mega Man has seen in its franchise run are by from other than original creators. They’re also an example how someone else, like a third party developer, can understand the idea better than the originator, and understand the customer wants and needs that much better. Mega Man (World) 4 has two things that elevates this title above its three predecessors; Item Replicator is a way for t he player to gain items that would might want and need, alleviating the lack of resources with new type of resource in P-Chips. Collected Chips can be turned into Lives, different kind of restorative Tanks and so on. Item Replicator would go down as something that would appear in later games, like Mega Man 7. It’s a surprising major change, but not as major as the second improvement; proper cut-scenes with higher production values than most in the series. While Mega Man games have had introduction and ending sequences, in-game cutscenes have been rather sparse. World 4 had short, to the point scenes moving the game along in certain points. While nothing world changing for video games, Mega Man always asked for something like this, and after this the series would see far more of these story sequences, for better or worse. There are other small tweaks that change how the player has to approach the game, e.g. the charged shot now has a kickback that will mess with jump trajectories and can push Mega Man off a ledge.
Even a small thing like completely changing how the Stage Selection screen looks and functions gives a massive change in tone. Rather than presenting a static four faces (or the standard eight in NES games,) Mega Man (World 4) opted to use a selection wheel with the stage view underneath. This is one of those small improvements that stack upon each other, until few games later the you have completely different kind of game in your hands. The core of the game hasn’t been touched, but everything else has been improved in a way or another.
Minakuchi Engineering understood after their first take how Mega Man games are at their core play out, how the stages need to be structured to present the player a puzzle-like challenge that more often than not requires dexterity and action. Perhaps even better than Capcom did, as after World 4 Capcom was more or less gearing up for the SNES entries. The last portable hurrah for the original series of Game Boy games would end up being the best in the franchise, with Mega Man (World) 5 changing some of the series’ established structures more Capcom has done at any point in the franchise history to this point. If Capcom wanted to shake things up drastically, they’d make a new series. Minakuchi Engineering understood how Mega Man functioned and now they could go and break it.
World 5‘s largest change is straight on the box itself; Mega Man now had a rocket punch as his main charged weapon. Dr. Wily didn’t end up being the villain of the game and the robots you fought were aliens. While the game plays like a Mega Man game in two dimensions should, it wasn’t chained down to the small progression any more. The Mega Arm, or the Rock’n Arm, doesn’t function like other standard weaponry. With purchasable upgrade it can grab items and enemies, meaning you can launch it to an enemy and keep causing it extra damage it would otherwise not receive due to the invincibility flicker. The Arm also has to return after being launched, meaning the player has to mind themselves for that period when they can shoot anything. While on the surface this seems like standard small addition, in a Mega Man game it breaks the slow gradual change in design, and the same applies with the Special Weapons, which now have far more wildly different applications. Both World 4 and 5 have some stages that you can tackle through different paths, and NES games already introduced few select hidden rooms for items, but Minakuchi Engineering ramped this up, and Capcom ramped this up again in Mega Man 7. Hell, if you look things in proper light, you’ll see that Mega Man 7 was very much influenced by the Game Boy titles. Starts with four stages selectable at the start, hidden room galore, Item Replicator, Mega Man has access to a weaker Rocket Punch with his armour, more and more cutscenes and more attempts to break away from the established moulding.
This is applicable to whatever form of entertainment. As long as you have someone who understand the underlying functions and structure, the original creators/authors are not required. That’s a big caveat, but something that anyone willing could be able to pull off as long as they’re willing to learn the ropes. World 4 is like a safe bet, not shaking the boat and showcasing a well-made meal everyone can enjoy, though it won’t blow anyone’s taste buds. World 5‘s meal would be still as expected, but the new chef prepared it with ingredients and new preparations methods that heighten the taste and texture.
I can’t wait to see when will Konami finally produce a new Metal Gear game to see how the franchise will be handled. Give it five or six more years, the Japanese game industry seems to have a habit to let a franchise lay silent for a period after some kind of hard negative event has taken place. Nevertheless, perhaps a Mega Man -like game with the grabbing mechanics and all that which World 5 made itself so good would’ve been a better option. There are always more room for more 2D action games.