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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Capcom

1copy-01.jpg (3543 bytes)The world is covered by endless water, terrorized by pirates and their robot minions. The inhabitants of a smattering of tiny islands rely on the power of quantum refractors to live. These refractors are hidden in remote and dangerous regions. Only a few brave souls, known as "diggers," are skilled enough to harvest them. One such digger, haunted by a mysterious past, aided by his sister and a mechanical monkey, searches for the "mother load," a source of power so great that it would provide an infinite supply of energy to his people…

2copy-01.jpg (3378 bytes)By now you may be asking yourself "What the hell does this have to do with Mega Man?" Or, given the absurd nature of the plot, maybe a simple "What the hell?" would suffice. Many of you, however, will recognize this story. Yes, the long-awaited debut of Mega Man on the N64 is just a port of the dusty 3 year-old PlayStation title, Mega Man Legends. Legends, Capcom’s first attempt to bring its popular boy in blue from 2D platforming to 3D action/RPG, was largely dismissed by the gaming public. Legends wasn’t a bad game, but it was a flawed underachiever in 3D gaming at a time when the Tomb Raider series was at its peak. And despite years of hindsight and the claim that Mega Man 64 is an enhanced version of Legends, this port is, in many ways, worse than the original.

5copy-01.jpg (3514 bytes)Take, for instance, the graphics. Sure, they have smoothed out most of the jagged edges and aliasing that Legends suffered from, but those problems have been replaced by a lower polygon count and significant slow-down. And the developers have done nothing to prevent the horrible draw-in, clipping, collision problems, or the disappearing/reappearing walls. All of these were common a few years ago, but are simply embarrassing today. And when you get right down to it, this game has very little eye candy anyway. Our hero is forced to spend so much of his time searching through dungeons so bland, so monotonous, that most of the game seems like one textureless, gray panel after another.

6copy-01.jpg (3298 bytes)Then there is the sound. Capcom has managed to transfer all of the vocal narration from Legends. This is rare for an N64 title, but Mega Man 64 makes you wish they hadn’t bothered. The characters’ voices sound as if they have been filtered through a tin can and are nearly incomprehensible at times. The musical score is utterly generic and forgettable. Given the quality and clarity of the vocal work in a title like Perfect Dark and the dynamic soundtracks of Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 (in Dolby Surround, no less), this is inexcusable.

7copy-01.jpg (3323 bytes)In terms of gameplay, Capcom’s intention is to incorporate the classic Mega Man run, jump, and shoot, platform-style of action, along with the story and character interaction of an RPG, into one big 3D adventure. The result is indeed a fun game. The island city is bright and cheery, and is host to many different shops, services, and a cast of characters who provide you with information, ask for your help, or, in typical RPG fashion, get in your way. The dungeons conceal hordes of treasure and supplies, and danger lurks around every corner. You must blast your way through enemy robots which attack from the ground, the walls, even crawl along the ceiling, and then there are those giant bosses to contend with. And yet the problems abound here as well.

8copy-01.jpg (3167 bytes)The premise of the game has you stranded on a single island looking for parts to fix your disabled ship. Despite the various people you encounter and tasks you are made to complete, the environment you are given to explore is very confining. Adding to that is the fact that you are limited to walking paths; at no time can you just take off in any direction you want. Also, the action and RPG elements lack cohesion. The island city is a simple RPG where you walk around, explore, and interact with your environs, but cannot access your weapons or fight. The dungeons, in contrast, are pure action—more bosses and cohorts than you can shake a mega buster at.

The game retains its platform roots by anchoring the 3D perspective in ninety degree angles so that you and oncoming enemies still, for the most part, just run forward and back, side to side, jump and shoot. This might be fine if the camera, targeting system, and control didn’t suck. The camera has a hard time aligning itself, often hides enemies attacking you from behind, and gets caught behind objects. The targeting system constantly locks onto enemies out of range or even behind walls, allowing the one right in front you to kick your ass. The only fix for this (aside from not using it at all) is to scroll through the possible targets until it lands on the one you want. And the control set-up is not at all intuitive. You use the joystick/directional pad to move forward and back, strafe right and left, and the right and left/z buttons to turn right and left. This isn’t bad, but rather than using the pressure sensitive analog joystick they give you a walk button. It just goes downhill from there. For example, Mega Man can hang from ledges and pull himself up onto them, but rather than grabbing hold and simply pressing up, you have to press the map display button which now serves as a climb button. Unnecessary button rotation like this interrupts the flow of the game and just gets on my nerves.

Okay, we all know that updating a classic game format to fit the contemporary gaming scene is hard. This is especially true when the game has been a fan favorite for over a decade, as Mega Man has. But it seems to me the biggest mistake you could make would be to jettison the characters and continuity that the fans have grown to love in favor of a story as inane as the one I began this review with. We have watched Mega Man evolve into a bad-ass platform actioner, and a hand-drawn, anime work of art. But the Mega Man of Legends, and now Mega Man 64, has been reduced to a cartoony moron, a "digger." He relies on a mechanical monkey. And for all the charm of the Bonne Pirates Teasel, Tron, and Bomb, their army of robots and bosses aren’t as ominous as those employed by Dr. Wily. Capcom has updated their franchises enough to know this, and they should be ashamed for allowing the N64 port, released this long after the original PlayStation version, to lose so much in the translation, especially when they are charging $50 for this cartridge, and the superior Legends can be found in most bargain bins or used game shops for under $20. Alas poor Mega Man, I knew him well.

Jeremy Kauffman

Snapshot

Ups: Good attempt at capturing the Action/RPG charm of MM Legends on N64.

Downs: Sound; graphics; control.

System Reqs:
Nintendo 64

 

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