Megaman Battle Network


   Though Megaman is one of the longest-running series in the industry, only in recent years has Capcom started to seriously experiment with infusing the franchise with new gameplay ideas. First up was Megaman Legends, which took the games into 3D, and now Capcom is following up with Megaman Battle Network, which reimagines the series as an RPG.

 Connection reset by cannon
Fight, Megaman! For month-long uptimes!

   It would have been fairly easy to slap the huge roster of characters amassed over the years into a turn-based engine, but happily Capcom has put more effort than that into the game. While unmistakably an RPG, with random encounters, hit points, and loads of items carrying the day, the game successfully brings the spirit of the original Megaman series into its battles. At its core, combat consists of Megaman and his adversaries duking it out across adjacent 3x3 square grids. The characters are confined to their respective grids, movement is limited to the 9 squares in the grid. This may not seem at first like it has any similarities to the classic Megaman play style, but that's where the more complex aspects come in.

   Megaman's standard arm cannon only does one point of damage per hit, so more often than not you'll want to use the special abilities found in Chips. At the start of each battle, you can choose from a random drawing of 5 Chips to use, and each Chip functions as a special move of some sort. Some simply heal your HP, and some are nothing more than powerful projectile weapons, but most of them have more exotic properties. Chips allow you to do things like steal a column of the enemy's movement grid and add it to your own, or use a slashing sword in battle, or send out a wave of spikes protruding under the floor.

   What stops you from using these super-powerful attacks at will is that there are a number of restrictions placed on which ones you can bring into combat at the same time. Under normal circumstances, you can only use one chip per turn, unless there are two of the same Chips available from the draw. The other way to carry multiple Chips involves the letter associated with each one: a healing item of type A and a cannon of type A could both be selected, or a cannon of type A and a cannon of type B. Those are still the only Chips you'll be able to use until the next turn comes up, though the definition of "turn" in Megaman Battle Network is a little different--while you fight it out, a meter gradually refills, and you'll be able to select another Chip once it's full.

Pain Transfer Protocol
Between a rock and a hard drive

   The result of all this is fast-paced and frenetic battles--you're reminded just how quick they are at the victory screen, which displays a timer and grades you for the battle depending on how long you took, how many enemies you defeated, and how many times you got hit. Boss battles in particular come close to the perfect blend of RPG elements and Megaman-style gameplay, as you dodge the formidable attacks and wait for the right combination of Chips to strike.

   The fun doesn't stop with the battles, though; the story and characters are engaging and enjoyable as well. ACDC City and its environs are populated with the goofiest townspeople this side of Earthbound, and the translators clearly had fun coming up with amusing descriptions for virtually every examinable object. Even more impressively, the plot manages to embrace an Internet motif without coming off as embarassing, perhaps because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Also strewn throughout the game are references and in-jokes for series aficionados, such as the explorable Servbot doll in one house and the redesigned villains from past games.

 As in real life, the good stuff is always behind a firewall
Very hot synching

   The graphics are very well done, featuring large, well-animated character sprites and creative backgrounds, both in the themed dungeons and in backgrounds. Every character down to the most minor of townspeople has a character portrait when in conversation, and each Chip is similarly illustrated. Even better, all of the graphics are smooth and bright, which helps a lot on the GBA's screen.

   The game is not without its faults, though, and the biggest one is the frequently clunky puzzle-solving required. It's rarely clear what you need to do next in order to advance the plot, and a good bit of the game is spent wandering around trying things at random in order to trigger event flags. Though this flaw rarely shows up in the dungeon design, when it does it's a doozy: the most irritating stage is a labyrinth with invisible floors, which requires you to find keys in order to open multiple locks. Each lock is a puzzle in itself which can only be solved via trial and error, and to top it all off, the dungeon is the only one in the game to feature a time limit.

   Fortunately, the game as a whole is sufficiently fun, and the frustrating sequences sufficiently rare, as to warrant a hearty recommendation anyway. About as well-executed a Megaman RPG as could be imagined, Megaman Battle Network is the perfect game both for series fans looking for something new and GBA owners looking for a good action RPG.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Megaman Battle Network
Developer Capcom
Publisher Capcom
Genre RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  03.21.01
E3: Megaman Battle Network impressions
12 screenshots
2 scenes
Box art