This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
When the fifth generation of consoles was in its infancy, developers learned that they had the tools to take their formerly 2D games, whose mechanics and set pieces were both getting long in the tooth, and make them into fully fleshed out, three dimensional masterpieces. Other, more mediocre games had tried it before, but no one got it right until Nintendo did it with Super Mario 64. As is the norm with the video game industry, the world’s publishers and developers all thought the same thing: Everything is going 3D! Cha-ching! Seemingly everyone came out with new 3D versions of their games. Some worked, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Many more didn’t (e.g. any Castlevania game on the N64). Others received typically mixed reviews.
Mega Man Legends is one of those that received mixed reviews from critics, but found a place in the hearts of its fans that lives on even today. Personally, I never understood the love: the game came out right as Capcom was starting to “expand” (read: milk) the franchise across different spinoffs, and 3D games never sat well with me because of their terrible controls and worse camera. As I dove into this with a purpose for the first time, I fully expected Mega Man Legends to hold up to the history of early-generation 3D games. Whether it did or not…
Mega Man Legends
Original Systems: Sony PlayStation (reviewed), Nintendo 64 (as Mega Man 64), Microsoft Windows
Original Release Date: August 31, 1998
HOW WAS IT THEN: Mega Man Legends was one of the better 2D-to-3D conversions we got at the time. While it still had control issues when compared to the straightforward 2D games that others spawned from, what made Legends fun to play was a whimsically fun story, some solid animation (characters showing facial expressions in real time was something new), and some well done environments. The action sequences were still somewhat problematic: even with lock-on ability, it was hard to keep a bead on anyone you needed to shoot. That said, it avoided the issues other games such as Turok had by placing less
of an emphasis on platforming and more on strategy,
even if that strategy involved running around and hoping
your shots hit something.
Even with its issues, Mega Man did have some tricks up his sleeve. He doesn’t get his weapons the tried-and-true way by stealing them from his dead enemies, but he can still put attachments onto his gun to make it more powerful. There’s also a way to dodge in and out of danger, though it’s hard to do that and keep a bead on enemies. For its time, it was a lot to do for gamers still adjusting to Mario 64.
Mega Man Legends provided a breath of fresh air and a heart-filled, enjoyable time that overlooked its gameplay issues, issues that gamers of 1998 didn’t even really realize existed.
HOW IS IT NOW: Two MML games (counting The Misadventures of Tron Bonne) and dozens 3D action games later, the gameplay issues of Mega Man Legends have been magnified to the point where they cannot be ignored. Simply put, this game is borderline unplayable by 2011 standards.
The number one thing hindering MML is the lack of analogue control of any kind. This predated the DualShock controller, so Mega Man can only be controlled digitally. Since there’s no left stick control, there’s also no right stick control, which makes the game’s default control scheme—where the character is turned with the shoulder buttons and strafes with left and right—look even clunkier. All of this looks even worse by the fact that the lock-on targeting, which predated the system used in Ocarina of Time, doesn’t lock on to whoever is being targeted. In OoT, a target locks onto the character and has to be taken off; but in MML, once focus is lost, it has to be regained. And this happens often, considering the running around that is necessary to win most battles.
All of these issues combine to make battling an absolute chore. Turning around to face an enemy that’s trying to hit you is an arduous, time-consuming task, often taking more time than you comfortably have. Mega Man battles are supposed to be like that, but that’s usually by design. In this case, it’s becasue the game is hindering the player. This means most boss fights are an exercise in patterns: run, gain a bead, hope you hit a shot, run, repeat.
The story, however, has held up. It’s cute, it’s charming, and the characters are wonderfully written. It’s an Inafune game through and through. And while the graphics haven’t held up to modern scrutiny—they’re boxy as all get-out—the game is rendered in a way that minimizes the damages of time, unlike more technologically superior games that got the most out of the limited PlayStation.
I’ve always wondered about the cult-like following of the series, but now, I think I’m beginning to understand why fans have such a soft spot in their hearts for what is technically an inferior game. In fact, even I’m more upset about MML3 being cancelled than I was in the past. I want a new Mega Man Legends game, but it’s not because I have a long established love affair with the game or the story. It’s because I want to see how this game would play on a system that could do the creator’s vision justice. The PlayStation isn’t capable of it, and that stands out more in 2011 than ever.