A lot of people seem to feel the same about Megaman as I do. The original series were fundamentally great games that peaked at about the third game and got progressively tired afterwards. I guess that goes to show that there are only so many gimmicks you can stir into a tried and true formula before it starts to go bad. I mean, really. A tiny robot bird who only helps you if you collect a bunch of lettered circuit plates, and the ability to wear your dog as power armor in a creepy display of vague bestiality were pushing it. And having to make Rush sniff for useless items in 7 was counterproductive if anything. Not to mention the fact by the time the series ended there were no less than four 'fire guys' and the curiously named Yamato Man.

     The X series started off well enough. I admit I liked the darker setting more, even though the anthropomorphic Mavericks were theoretically stupider than the Robot Masters before them. (Say what you will about Chill Penguin, Wire Sponge, Split Mushroom, Ground Scaravich and the other throwaway 'beat me first!' bosses.) Unfortunately, by the time the third game came out, Capcom had decided to adopt painfully difficult levels, cheap bosses, and the badass Sigma became a babbling Reploid version of Dr. Wily. When the series jumped to Playstation, the plots started to go off on weird tangents (Zero will kill X because Dr. Wily created him, X will kill Zero if yadda yadda.) And I don't feel like addressing the MMX-Megaman Zero thread, since they decided to introduce magical pixies and religious icons galore to the story.

     But I really did enjoy the games in general, in spite of bitching about the lame gameplay gimmicks (Hey! Let's add another playable character and give him a melee weapon in a game where everyone else has a gun!) and awful continuity (especially to those of the 'X follows Classic' school of thought.) But these newer series, the spinoffs, if you will... they really strike a chord with me. Especially the woefully neglected Megaman Legends series.

     In spite of lots of praise, and some attractive character designs, I put off playing this game until well, this year. Simply put, the prospect of a 3-D Megaman terrified me. Especially considering the awful render they decided to put on the game's cover. (Especially Legends 2's American cover, which featured a jaundiced Megaman clutching his deformed blaster arm.) But after finding a copy on the cheap, and with money to spare, I picked it up and was treated to one of the first truly enjoyable 3-D platformers I ever played.

     The world of Legends is a sort of Waterworld-like one, where most of the surface has been covered by water and the people all live on small islands (also, everyone living on small islands conveniently means the designers don't need to spend as much time mapping an overworld.) There are some adventurous types called Diggers, who go into the mysterious ancient ruins scattered around the world, braving the hordes of Reaverbots that guard the sweet, sweet refractors within. Although it started as a survival business, eventually rumors of a great treasure called the Mother Lode began to circulate among the Diggers. They also must contend with less scrupulous Air Pirates, and the incessant nagging of their Spotter, who offers nattering advice on how to open doors. In the case of one Megaman (Rock) Volnutt, he's supervised by Roll aboard their piscine ship, the Flutter. In this universe, they're not blood (or silicon or whatever) relatives, so it's okay for her to be a love interest. Her grandfather, Barrel Casket, is also aboard the ship, but he really doesn't figure into the main story very much.

     Along the way, the trio runs afoul of the air pirate trio, the Bonne siblings. Older brother Tiesel is a bombastic, gleefully maniacal leader figure with a very impressive ponytail going on. Younger brother Bon/Bomb is a strange giant robot baby. And of course, Tron, the middle sister is the resident mechanical genius. And of course, she has a thing for Megaman(Rock.) The Bonne encounters are probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of Legends. Unlike Sigma or Dr. Wily, you find yourself hoping they'll come back. They also have more genuine motivations than insanity or the influence of a computer virus, and at times seem to really want to go legit. It's also pretty refreshing to see a group of antagonists on a limited budget, since most of the time Tron has to resort to building machines out of stuff Megaman has blown up. On the whole, the Bonnes turn out to be pretty well-intentioned and help you out on occasion. And of course, Tron even got her own prequel/spinoff game. And to reaffirm the Bonnes are good people, the premise behind the game was Tron raising money to rescue her brothers from the clutches of the Loath family. Why? Because Tiesel had borrowed money from notorious loan shark Lex Loath so she could build their flagship Gesselschaft. Doesn't that get you right there?

     Back to the Legends summary, the first game takes Megaman& company to the island of Kattelox after the Flutter's engine konks out. Despite the incredibly repetitive designs of the levels, the game stays pretty engrossing. (Again, mostly the battles with Tron's contraptions are the major draw.) There's not much to say about the first game's story though, it seems the whole game was designed as an introduction to the universe. You battle Reaverbots, unlock gates, and learn precious little about the background of the hero. At the end of the game you face Megaman Juno, an ancient guardian of the island who summons a giant monolith and plans to 'reinitialize' the island. The problem with the first game is that it ends with a terrible cliffhanger sort of ending.

     Fortunately, the second game's character-driven story more than lives up to Legends' vague whispers about the Big Secret. It starts with Roll's grandfather meeting with his old explorer buddy, von Bluecher, and their ship being attacked by someone resembling Roll's long-lost mother on live TV. So, the duo set off for the frozen north, making a stop at some village named Kalinka or something to that extent. Once the rescue mission is under way, Megaman also inadvertantly frees an Ancient girl named Sera and her personality-lite manservant Geetz. They tell of the four Keys needed to open the Mother Lode, so, like a good protagonist, Megaman sets off to retreive the keys, and standing in his way is the Legion of Doom. Well, not really, but the Bonnes joined forces with Glyde Loath and the mysterious ex-bounty hunters Bola and Klaymoor. As with the last game, the real showpieces of this title are the pirate battles, most notably one where Tron launches a sort of failed psychological attack on Megaman involving a voice modulator and a crab mech. Speaking of relationships, I personally liked the fact they actually tried to show more between Megaman and Roll, since in the first game all of the 'aww' sort of moments were between Tron and him. Not that I prefer one to the other, necessarily. In the end, Sera double-crosses everyone, steals the keys, and prepares to launch a genocidal attack on the planet. But in another sort of twist, it turns out she was simply using the world's population as bait to lure The Blue One into her clutches so she could exact petty, jealous revenge.

     The Legends continuity was a dramatic departure from the original series, and I for one say it was mostly for the better. Although I admit it had certain flaws- for example, the little save-monkey Data only appears outside the ruins in the first game, basically forcing you to backtrack all the way out of the dungeon whenever you wanted to save and recharge. He shows up more often in Legends 2, which is both better and more confusing. Maybe if they make a third game, they'll finally explain just how Data is magically there, especially once you leave the planet. Actually most of my complaints go for the first, and were more or less fixed in the second, so I may as well shut up. The voice acting isn't the best or worst, but it certainly suits the game's overall style. Honestly, I wish more games would go for the bright, cartoony look of this game (or Chrono Cross for that matter) than the ultra-realistic look of the newer games. I guess it all depends on your sense of aesthetics.

     Now if only someone could rationalize to me why Marvel vs. Capcom has Tron and Kobun in it, but they decided to use Roll's classic design. I mean, really. I'd like to see a fighter with Legends Roll bludgeoning people with a pipe wrench.


There's a reason I delegated Battle Network to the sidebar, and it probably has something to do with the fact I haven't played it as much as Legends, and I actually don't like it as much as Legends overall. But I digress.

Battle Network (aka Rockman.EXE) follows Lan Hikari's adventures with his best non-corporeal friend in the whole wide world, Megaman.EXE. So you might say that it's the first time Megaman himself took the supporting role (but not the last.) Then again, they manage to share the screen time pretty well.

The setting is typical suburbia. Well, sort of. Everything, and I mean everything is connected by a computer network. Right up to the robot doghouse. Then the inevitable happens, and a cyberterrorist ring called the World Three (WWW, get it?) starts flooding the place with viruses, causing appliances to revolt and other tangential malfunctions. It might serve as a cautionary tale against linking everything in the world up to the internet, if not for the brave Net Battlers who go in and bust viruses with their Navis. Navis being little theme robots who live in PDAs (here called PETs, although what that stands for is anyone's guess.) Oh, and of course, every little kid in the neighborhood has a PET and Navi to play with. Why they think small children should be fooling around with artificial intelligences capable of distrupting society on a hitherto unimagined scale is beyond me. Then again, I never got Pokemon. I mean, are there only pokemon in that world? Aren't there any normal birds or cats so the people would know what the hell they mean by 'bird-type' et al? But I digress. Megaman is cool.

In a rare turn of events for an RPG, the game system is arguably more fun and/or interesting than the story. Battles take place on a 3x6 grid divided in half. You move and attack freely while waiting for the meter to fill up so you can add more battle chips. Said battle chips are doled out randomly from a 'folder' of 30, they give you special attacks, heal damage, etc. You also get sort of summon chips that call other Navis in to attack. Of course, there's actually more of a cause behind getting all the battle chips than certain other collection-themed games. Some chips even combine to enable enhanced weapons, like combining Cannon A, B, and C into a rapid fire, limited time cannon.

Oh right. I mentioned the plot. What with all the pretty graphics and fast paced, suprisingly deep gameplay, I almost forgot about the story. I can't help but feel it ends up feeling like your average 'monster of the week' formula than one long story. Lan is late for school. Lan gets an email about something supposed to happen that day. The stove attacks his mom (whose computer literacy I question, as none of the adults seem to have Navis.) There's pseudo-sexual tension between 8 year old Lan and Mayl. Lan jacks into bubblegum machine. Megaman.EXE kills a theme virus. All's right with the world until the fade to black.

Don't get me wrong, MMBN is super, in spite of some really awful dungeon/ Internet levels (indistinguishable, 1- square wide paths) it's more than playable. It's fun. MMBN2 improves on the underworld (since the 'overworld' stays exactly the same) and chip systems. Unfortunately, it looks like Capcom isn't messing around when it comes to pushing this series along, since I hear there will be FIVE Rockman.EXE's by the end of the year. Well... here's to hoping they can keep this fresh.

But Capcom, seriously; The world's mouth may say it wants more Battle Network, but what its heart wants is more Legends. Eyes on the prize, you go girl.