Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Alternate Worlds of Mega Man

When Mega Man was first released in 1987 I'm fairly certain that its creators at Capcom never expected that their game about a little blue robot shooting pellets at other robots would become the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

Mega Man is such a beloved icon that he has seen many homages and has been used in all sorts of other games and media, including spin-offs by Capcom themselves.

With Mega Man's 30th Anniversary looming and Capcom announcing a new animated series and feature film with 20th Century Fox I thought it would be fitting to take a look at a selection of some of the best and worst versions of the Blue Bomber that have surfaced over the last 28 years.

5. Worlds of Power

I recently posted an article on my site Retro-Def (shameless, I know) about Metal Gear and in researching the original NES title I rediscovered the Worlds of Power novels that were published in 1990.

They were edited by Seth Godin, written by several writers (including Godin himself), and published by Scholastic under the nom de plume "F.X. Nine". The idea was to take some of the most popular Nintendo games at the time and develop them into short novels as a gateway to get kids reading.

One of those novels was "Mega Man 2" written by Ellen Miles. It was one of two "junior" editions in the series - the other being "Bases Loaded II: The Second Season" - which meant they had a slightly smaller page count in comparison to the other novels in the series.

As was the case with all of the Worlds of Power books, the authors took great liberties with the storyline, often going off of what little they could find in the games' manuals, some of the gameplay, and notes that Godin had developed as a sort of "bible" to follow in their writing.

In many ways Mega Man 2's adaptation is no less wacky than any of the others, but it certainly stands out. In the novel Mega Man has already faced off against Wily's robots in the past. When Dr. Wily re-emerges with a new cadre of Robot Masters, Dr. Light decides it might be prudent to clone Mega Man to shore up their odds.

In his attempt, however, he pulls some sort of weird Geppetto and accidentally makes Mega Man into... a real boy! That's right, Mega Man is alive in this story, but still has to face off against Dr. Wily's evil robots.

As he is no longer a robot, Mega Man has to carry a handheld laser in this story, which may have been an attempt to answer the question as to why he was brandishing one on the box art of Mega Man 2. If it was then the great irony is that all weapons were removed from the covers of the Worlds of Power books, so instead of Mega Man blasting at Quick Man it just looks like Mega Man is shaking his fist sternly.

Mega Man is also at another disadvantage in this story, as he no longer has his copy abilities. Instead he takes the weapon of each of the Robot Masters he defeats so that he can use them down the line. Interestingly enough he can still consume "E-drinks" to regain his energy, even though he's no longer a robot.

I actually owned this book when I was a kid, although I can't seem to find my copy. I have no recollection of the storyline, whatsoever, and as a kid I may not have found it totally weird, although I suspect I would have. The one thing I do recall is that at the end of each chapter there would be a small hint that you could actually use in Mega Man 2 on the NES!

4. Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N: The Game Master was a Saturday morning cartoon series that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1991. It actually started out as a story in the pages of Nintendo Power, Nintendo's former official magazine, entitled "Captain Nintendo".

The story's writer, Randy Studdard, brought the character he'd published in Nintendo Power to some Nintendo executives as a "spokes-character" and even proposed a TV show. The greasy execs decided they liked the idea - but didn't want to play Studdard - so they went to DIC Entertainment with a very similar show idea, which became Captain N.

The show ultimately focused on a teenager by the name of Kevin Keene who is playing Nintendo with his dog Duke and is sucked into Videoland, where all of his favourite video game characters actually exist.

The show featured Nintendo-owned characters like Pit (erroneously named "Kid Icarus" in the TV series), Mother Brain, King Hippo, and Eggplant Wizard, but also - and somewhat surprisingly - there were licensed characters, like Simon Belmont, Dr. Wily, and Mega Man!

To say that the series took liberties with the source material would be the understatement of the century. Simon Belmont is portrayed as a womanizing dolt who is obsessed with his looks and is afraid of his own shadow and Mega Man is perplexingly coloured green and has what could be classified as the most grating voice in cartoon history.

You can't really blame the writers in taking some liberties with the subject matter on this one. They were trying to deliver a kid's cartoon based on characters that, at the time, didn't exactly have the deepest back-story. That said, I would say that the writers could have done a little more research. Mega Man's green hue, for instance, is often attributed to the fact that the animators played the game on a TV set with maladjusted colours and they actually thought that he was green and not his signature blue.

Although Mega Man is depicted as a loyal and powerful little fighting robot, having him prefix almost every other word with "mega-" and giving him that awful smoker's voice makes him a little hard to take whenever he's on screen. At the end of the day, though, I usually enjoyed the Megaland (Mega Man's home world in Videoland) episodes the most, because they often did a decent job of depicting what a Mega Man level might look like in a 3D space.

I give Captain N's weird little green Mega Man a bit of leeway, because I grew up with the cartoon, but in the end he is nothing like the true blue Mega Man he was based on.

3. Mega Man Animated Series

Captain N: The Game Master wouldn't be Mega Man's last foray into animated television. In 1994 Capcom, in association with several other production houses - namely Ruby-Spears Productions - decided to develop a Saturday Morning Cartoon-style Mega Man series.

The show was developed in Japan, but was animated in such a way so that it would blend in well with Western expectations of cartoons, and as such didn't go with an anime style. They also didn't depict Mega Man or Roll as children and instead went for a more grown-up, teenage look.

The show follows the events laid out in the first Mega Man game pretty closely. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily are working on advanced robots together and come up with a prototype version. After some issues, Dr. Light wants to scrap the prototype, but Dr. Wily steals the plans and goes on to create the robot in secret, which of course ends up being Proto Man. This is probably the biggest deviation from the canonized Mega Man storyline set out in the games.

Dr. Light goes on to build Rock, Roll, Ice Man, Guts Man, and Cuts Man. Dr. Wily kidnaps the robots, reprogramming the latter three. When he sets his sights on Rock and Roll, Rock lies to Dr. Wily - something he believes robots can't do - and tricks him into letting himself and Roll go free.

Dr. Light then sees that a warrior is needed to fight Dr. Wily and protect the world from his evil deeds, so he re-programs and upgrades Rock into Mega Man.

The show was a fairly big success and went on to spawn action figures from Bandai, as well as VHS releases of several episodes. This was ultimately a blessing and a curse, however, as Bandai would eventually drop the toyline because of poor sales, which prompted Capcom to pull the plug on the show after the second season, even though a Season 3 was already fully planned.

This was especially a bummer, because at the end of Season 2 there was a time warp, which brought Mega Man X, Vile, Spark Mandrill, and Sigma from the future of 21XX into 20XX. This same premise would go on to be explored in the relatively new Mega Man Archie comics, so if you are a big fan of the Mega Man Animated Series you can scratch that itch!

2. Bad Box Art Mega Man

Bad Box Art Mega Man is one of those things that I could never have imagined would exist in any sort of tangible way, but of course Capcom somehow managed to make him an actual character in their ever-growing roster.

It all started with Mega Man Universe, a scrapped game that was being developed for Xbox Live and Playstation Network, which was basically going to be an online, 2.5D side-scrolling Mega Man game where users could create their own levels, as well as customize their own characters. It was a great idea and is one of the two Mega Man projects that Capcom inexplicably cancelled in 2011 after Keiji Inafune left the company, the other being the hotly anticipated Mega Man Legends 3 for the Nintendo 3DS.

The game was not only going to include character creation and customization, but also several DLC characters, like Ryu from Street Fighter and Arthur from Ghosts n' Goblins. Another character that was teased for the game was none other than Bad Box Art Mega Man.

A complete joke character, Bad Box Art Mega Man is based on the horrific North American box art from the original NES Mega Man game. Referred to as "US Mega Man" in Japan, he is depicted as wearing yellow and blue armour and carrying his Mega Buster like a gun. The only difference between how he and a normal Mega Man character was intended to play in Mega Man Universe was that Bad Box Art Mega Man was only going to be able to shoot two shots at a time, unlike Mega Man who can shoot three.

This was all teased in an awesome claymation cartoon, which I would suggest you watch, but I can't find it anywhere on the web. Capcom might've been brushing this one underneath the carpet after the backlash of cancelling Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3. The image above stands as proof that the video existed.

Bad Box Art Mega Man wasn't down and out. During the development of these two Mega Man games a joint venture between Capcom and Namco was also brewing in the form of Street Fighter x Tekken, which featured fighters from Capcom and Namco game series. In what is widely considered to be an apology to fans expecting those Mega Man titles, Capcom added Bad Box Art Mega Man to the SFxT roster.

In this version Bad Box Art Mega Man is depicted as overweight and very boisterous. He says things like, "It's time to bring home the bacon!" He is sort of a cross between the look of Bad Box Art Mega Man and Megaman Volnutt - the hero of the Mega Man Legends series - as he is described as a digger and treasure hunter.

I for one wish that Mega Man Universe somehow gets greenlit again and that I get the opportunity to play through a game as this weird little oddity in the world of Mega Man.

1. The Protomen

What may be the most interesting and unique version of Mega Man is the mindchild of The Protomen.

The Protomen are a rock band based in Nashville known for their very gritty, indie style and most famously for their namesake: concept albums based on the world of Mega Man.

The band themselves are actually an enigma. They all use stage names based on different pop culture references, like "Murphy Weller" from Robocop and "Reanimator", a Stuart Gordon film loosely based on a Lovecraft story. The band is mostly comprised of students the Middle Tennessee State University's recording program and different musicians and artists from the area of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When they play on stage they wear costumes and make-up, which thematically reflects their music, but also acts to hide their true identities.

The band has become famous with "Nintendocore" music enthusiasts for their first two albums, known as ACT I and ACT II. These albums are centered around the world of Mega Man's first six games, but this isn't the Mega Man you know and love. They've created this dark, dystopian world that essentially uses the story you know as a launching board and then goes in their own direction.

In their first album's story Dr. Wily rose up using a robot army and took over "the city", which serves as the entire scope of their world. Dr. Light, once a partner of Wily's, stood up against Wily's regime and created what he considered to be an unbeatable robot, Proto Man. Proto Man attacked Wily and his Robot Masters, but was defeated and literally torn apart.

In his grief, Light created a new son, Mega Man, who he dissuaded from fighting against Wily and his robots. Over time, however, Mega Man hears the stories of his brother's heroism and wants to fight back against Dr. Wily, take back his city, avenge his brother, and save the masses from their horrible lives under the thumb of the machine.

ACT II, entitled "The Father of Death" serves as a prequel to the first album and tells the story of Thomas Light and Albert Wily, inventors trying to create robots to perform jobs that are dangerous for humans, like mining and manufacturing. It details Albert Wily's rise to power, his betrayal of Thomas Light, and what leads Light to creating Proto Man in an attempt defeat Wily and end his rule over the city.

I'm reticent to give any more details than I have about the world the Protomen have created in their music. I can't emphasize enough just how much I enjoy their music and how their version of Mega Man stands out for me. They consider themselves storytellers, which is very apparent in their lyrics and the tone of their albums. ACT I features a dark, gritty sound, purposefully recorded in mono, meant to help mentally describe the city after everything changed and Wily took over. ACT II is a much cleaner sound, meant to reflect that we're seeing the world before "the bomb dropped".

The music may seem jarring at first and it may not be for everyone, but I encourage anyone that considers themselves to be a music enthusiast and a big fan of Mega Man to listen. It is a very different take on the world set out by Keiji Inafune some 28 years ago, but it is unlike any Mega Man you've witnessed before and likely ever will.