Review by discoinferno84

"Tin Can Hitman..."

Mega Man has seen better days. It's not that it's faded into obscurity – far from it, given the undying loyalty of its fans – but because Capcom practically abandoned it. Gamers clamoring for a new title were repeatedly disappointed with news of canceled games and disappointing prospects. The problem was that that no one was sure what to do with it anymore. Without Keiji Inafune around, it's as if the company ran out of fresh and interesting ideas for the franchise. The occasional crossover cameos with Tatsunoko and Marvel weren't enough. Rather than tackling the issue head-on, Capcom played it safe by focusing all its efforts on celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Street Fighter series. It was a fun and profitable ride, but it couldn't last. It was time to move on to the next big milestone: the 25th anniversary of Mega Man, the series Capcom had all but dismissed throughout the year. With nothing on the proverbial table, they turned to the fans for something to use. Soon after, Street Fighter X Mega Man was ready to go.

It'd be easy to say that this game is just a blatant attempt to milk a few more cents out of the Street Fighter series, but it is available free to download from the Capcom Unity website. It's not so much about the money it generates, but the brand recognition it provides. It's almost as if Capcom assumed that no one would bother with another Mega Man unless it had some other huge name attached to it. Why not? It's what they've been doing with all their fighting games lately, right? This particular crossover works surprisingly well, though. The game designers – talented and dedicated fans of the series – carefully chose fighters that could make decent old school Mega Man bosses. Thus our hero trades fireballs with Ryu, dodges Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick, blasts through Blanka's electricity and Dhalsim's fire, and even faces a wonderfully 8-bit rendered version of Alpha 3's M. Bison. Despite not having Dr. Wily or anything resembling a story, the effort put into making the characters fight similarly to their console versions is commendable.

While a fascinating idea in concept, Street Fighter X Mega Man falters in execution. At first glance, nothing seems wrong. Mega Man has his chargeable Buster arm cannon, he can slide around, and the running and jumping animations seem to be just fine. But once you get further into the game, the problems become more noticeable. The responsiveness of the controls is questionable at best; you can type the keyboard commands perfectly, but they don't always register. The game can randomly freeze or leave you incapable unleashing a charged shot. You can even get stuck on the title screen because it refuses to acknowledge pressing of the start button. That's especially problematic since you can't change the button mapping or any of the other settings until you've entered a level, paused the screen, and looked through the options. Also, the most dangerous foe you'll ever encounter isn't a fighter, but the ESC key; if you accidentally hit it, you can kiss any progress you've made goodbye. These kinds of issues and inconsistencies drag down what could have been an amazing experience.

Such glitches are what make up most of the game's fake difficulty. Many retro games – Ghosts'n Goblins comes to mind – used terrible and limited controls to make things more challenging. Mega Man, on the other hand, had a really responsive and consistent feel to it. As a result, more effort had to be put into the stage designs. Jumps had to be perfect due to careful platform layouts, enemies were cleverly positioned, and getting through a level felt rewarding. There's relatively little of that in Street Fighter X Mega Man. Take Chun-Li's stage for example: you run in an almost entirely straight path while climbing the occasional ladder and shooting endless streams of foes. While the minor enemies are a nice shout out to Yun and Yang from Third Strike, neither they nor the entire stage have any interesting features. The hardest level forces you to climb a huge cage through a multiscreen gauntlet of baddies. It's not truly difficult due to the number or positioning of enemies, but because one mistake can send you plummeting all the way to the beginning of the stage. Thus the challenge isn't attributed to clever design, but the amount of patience you have. Though you have a set number of lives and infinite continues, there's no way to save. That's a pretty glaring oversight, especially considering the risk of accidentally pressing the ESC key. Mega Man 2 introduced the password system mechanic for a reason: it's so the players could have fun at their own pace instead of being forced to finish things in one shot or give up entirely.

This is how Capcom wants to celebrate 25 years of innovation?

It's not all bad, though. The high points are few and far between, but they're still enjoyable. Before you fight C. Viper, you have to battle through the SIN headquarters, complete with an advancing wall of laser cannons and nigh-indestructible force fields. Blanka's stage includes the electric eels that taught him his signature move. Rolento's pre-battle area has an amazing retro version of his stage from Final Fight, complete with the classic elevator sequence. The bosses, while lacking the usual weapon weakness-specific animations, feature the same movement patterns of their fighting game counterparts. Ryu can unleash three different kinds of Hadokens, even emitting an adorable chiptune version of his battle cry. Urien's constant tackling and knee press barrages make it seem as if Third Strike were turned into a NES game. That's aside from the final battle, which recreates the showdown in Alpha 3 right down to the stormy weather and flowing grass. The secret features, such as the bonus boss, Guile's theme, the helmetless Mega Man, and V-ISM Mode, are nice touches as well. The soundtrack is the best part, though. Hearing the iconic Street Fighter themes – especially Ryu's – remixed with Mega Man music almost makes all the other problems worth the trouble.

Almost. Street Fighter X Mega Man might seem like an interesting way to ring in the anniversary of the series, but it's dragged down by numerous issues. The controls are unreliable, and the glitch-ridden gameplay might tempt you to throw your laptop out the nearest window. Rather than focusing on demanding platforming layouts and enemy positioning, the stages lack clever and satisfying designs. While the boss battles are certainly entertaining and nostalgic, the lacking of a save feature turns what should have been a fun experience into a chore. Aside from some wonderful retro imagery and music, there isn't much incentive to play through more than once. It's almost as if Capcom intended the project to be a teaser for a longer and better made Mega Man console title later on. Regardless, this game sets an interesting precedent for the series; if Capcom is willing to reach out to its fans and give the franchise a real chance, the possibilities for the coming year are worth pondering. Only time will tell if this is Mega Man's last feeble attempt at reclaiming glory, or a shaky start of something great.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/04/13

Game Release: Street Fighter X Mega Man (US, 12/17/12)

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