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|[ 01/01/04 ] = Mega Man Network Transmission
Since the story behind my purchase of this game is so anger-inducing that I've already dedicated an entire article to it, I'll just cut to the chase and start off by saying that Capcom's Blue Bomber is back in yet another quality title. Alongside the Mega Man X and Zero series, Capcom decided to expand upon the Mega Man Battle Network series, and with Mega Man Network Transmission the results couldn't have been better. Mega Man Network Transmission retains the characters, story, and weapons, of the Mega Man Battle Network series, but (thankfully) throws out the RPG gameplay system. In every aspect, MMNT looks, feels, and sounds like the original Mega Man titles of old. With a combination of impressive next-generation visuals (cel-shaded 3-D graphics, nice effects) and profound nostalgia (stage design, gameplay), Mega Man Network Transmission immerses the player into its intricate world while simultaneously taking glimpses back to the humble beginnings of the Mega Man series. However, on the contrary, before the game was released it received a considerable amount of unjustified criticism (from both "fans" and casual gamers), and not much had changed even after the game's official release. Although I like the X series the best out of all the Mega Man series, I thought that MMNT has been rated rather coarse and unfairly by many. Sure, the game may not be perfect, but its strong points well make-up for its few weak points, and the game is yet another title any fan can gladly add to their Mega Man collection. I once asked for a cel-shaded Mega Man game, and my request was answered promptly with the release of Mega Man Network Transmission earlier this year.
First off, the impressive visuals of Mega Man Network Transmission. Immediately from the stunning opening cinematic sequence (a showdown between Mega Man and a giant monster), you know you're in for a treat. The game's bright, colorful characters, effects, and stages are all presented in 3-D cel-shaded brilliance. Essentially, the game's 3-D cel-shaded graphical approach is what separates it from the Mega Man titles before it (although Mega Man 64 achieved a level of 3-D graphics very close to that of 3-D cel-shaded graphics), and it adds a whole new level of visual sophistication to Keiji Inafune's world of Mega Man. The animation in Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Legends 2, and Mega Man 64 was often criticized for being 3-D, and due to irrelevant comparisons between 2-D and 3-D animation, nasty precepts were born; MMNT smashes these precepts into the ground. Its crisp 3-D character models animate silky-smooth, and the GameCube hardware is efficiently utilized to breathe life into characters of the Mega Man universe in ways never before seen in previous titles. The release of every shot, slash of every blade, and evasion of every danger are all followed by animation of remarkable fluidity. MMNT also sports some impressive effects; most notably falling sparks that trail glimmering Mega Buster shots, glowing enemies that illuminate dim passages, and bright, colorful explosions that fill the screen when bosses expire. Perhaps the best thing about the ultra-smooth animation of MMNT is that it proves to big-mouth asshole critics everywhere that through cel-shading 3-D animation has reached a level of polish that cannot be subject to the established precepts of 3-D and 2-D comparisons. 3-D animation has evolved continuously since its birth in the early 90's, and although 3-D cel-shaded titles have made appearances since Sega pioneered the technique of cel-shading with Jet Grind Radio, Mega Man Network Transmission (as well as the recently-released Mega Man X7) seems to represent the peak of 3-D cel-shaded graphical polish. By far my favorite aspect of the game (even more than the intricate story), every bit of animation in MMNT is pure visual splendor.
While MMNT features a wonderful mix of characters new (mostly "net-operators" and standard enemies) and old (mostly playable characters and bosses), the majority of them (playable characters and bosses) are redesigned versions of already-stellar character designs seen in previous Mega Man titles. Die-hard fans will be thrilled to see how characters from past Mega Man games have been redesigned in today's design style; some underwent subtle changes from their 2-D counterparts (Mega Man, Roll, Proto Man, Quick Man, Guts Man, Sniper Joe, Hammer Joe, Red Guards), while others (Elec Man, Sword Man, Gravity Man, Bright Man, Shadow Man, Pharaoh Man) underwent more profound changes (and are actually unrecognizable in some cases). Some of the coolest-looking characters in the game are Sniper Joe, Shadow Man, Sword Man, and Needle Man; they will kick your ass without hesitation. Still more, as if having some of the coolest characters from the original Mega Man games all together (and redesigned) in one game wasn't enough, Capcom and Keiji Inafune went the extra mile and integrated Zero (from the Mega Man X series) into the deep story of MMNT. And let me tell you, it's all I could have ever wanted it to be; when you fight Zero he's a bit rotten, but after you defeat him the Z-Saber he gives you is killer, and having him to call on in times of need is just awesome. On a side note, Proto Man is to Mega Man in the original MM series as to what Zero is to X in MMX series, and to play a game featuring both of these secondary characters feels like the coming of a rare opportunity. However, MMNT's character roster doesn't come without flaws; the consistency of the game's nice roster is ruined by the ridiculous and barely-acceptable designs of bosses Color Man and Ice Man, amongst bullshit standard enemies like Bunnies and Rattons. The game flows nicely, that is until you encounter one of the aforementioned cheap enemies who break that nice flow. For the most part, though, there are more cool enemies in this MM game than there are floaters, and the cool ones do a good job of covering up the inconsistencies.
MMNT features a good number of huge stages, each with several nicely-designed areas (accessible via warps). With the power of the GameCube hardware at their disposal MMNT's development team created the visual shine of the stages, while inspiration from past MM titles influenced the actual construction of the stages. In fact, it is even said that the "Net On Fire" stage is a replica of Fire Man's stage from the original Mega Man! Kick ass. Nostalgia is great. Some of the coolest visual shine is seen in the Waterworks (where Mega Man treads on crystal-clear transparent blocks of ice topped with snow), Net On Fire (where glowing cinders float slowly into the air from beds of fire), and the Undernet (the deepest, blackest depths, where the only thing that lights the way are floor lamps and the dim illumination of blue fragmented halos) stages. MMNT's stages are monstrous; some contain various warps to other areas, while others resemble the older games with multiple paths, lots of ladder climbing, and the cheap-ass invisible-block jumping we all love to hate. I love the old MM games, of course, but I could have lived without having those wretched disappearing blocks in MMNT (well, at least they weren't in any of the MMX games). The shine of the stages in MMNT might not remind fans too much of the older MM games, but the structure of every last one of them will.
Next up is the game's deep story. As in other areas of MMNT, story elements have also been retained from the Mega Man Battle Network series, and from start to finish the game is filled with enough plot twists to keep even ADD children interested in progressing further. Although MMNT features one of the deepest, most intricate storylines in the series (next to the Legends/64 series), I still like the story of the MMX series more overall. Don't get me wrong, though, MMNT does feature a good story that fits the game's characters well. MMNT takes place after Mega Man has destroyed the WWW (what a task that must have been, considering I have trouble stopping mere pop-up ads), and as one could have predicted, peace was only temporary, only to die at the hands of yet another threat. In MMNT's deep story, a virus has been driving Net Navis ape-shit, and caught in the middle (as always, things never change) is Mega Man. After intense investigation and several plot twists and turns, Mega Man discovers that this destructive virus is called the "Zero virus," and that in addition to making Net Navis go ape-shit, it is a living, breathing, evolving entity. With this at hand, the mastermind (the Professor) behind it all is revealed, as is his plot to use the virus to infiltrate military computers all over the world in an attempt to drown the world in a hail of its own missile fire. The motives behind his plans are also quite interesting, and in revealing his motives the game refers back to the good 'ol days of Dr. Wily's schemes to end the world. Quite an ambitious story for this particular node of the series, I thought, and it ultimately surprised me.
However, just as the game's great character roster is plagued by a bit of by inconsistency, its impressive story almost escapes criticism, but unfortunately the game's ending line contains a shortcoming that is difficult to ignore. When you finish the game, the closing line says that it is to be continued; this is the thing that pisses me off about MMNT's story. You are probably thinking "So, what's wrong with that? Isn't that a good thing?" Well, yes, it would be a good thing, if it weren't for the irritating fact that the whole line reads "To be continued in Mega Man Battle Network 2." What the fuck does that mean? So let me get this shit straight: I have to go out and buy Megaman Battle Network 2, with its boring RPG gameplay system, and play through the whole thing just to find out the rest of the fucking story? I have to go through all of that shit to find out who Shadow Man was talking to at the end, and to find out what the hell their new plan is? Screw that shit, I'll go without (or just go to GameFAQs and read about it). Some sort of announcement of a MMNT sequel would have fit in that closing "To be continued..." line so much better. I hope somebody at Capcom just made a mistake of some sort on the translation.
As for the gameplay, it consists of the tried-and-true "platformer" action game style the series is known for. In other words, plasma-blasting action at its finest. Though the game's modern design and 3-D cel-shaded visuals may imply otherwise, the fact is that MMNT retains the same elements of addictive gameplay that made the original MM titles so great (and eventually into classics that have stood the test of time even better than Morgan Fairchild). Yes, running, jumping, and shooting (for the Final Fantasy generation). That is, MMNT requires effort and skill to play (as opposed to the time prerequisite of RPGs). If you fail to properly time a jump, you die. If you fail to shoot with precision, you die. If you fail to recognize boss and/or standard enemy attack patterns, you die. From this fact it may be hastily conjectured that the game is beyond difficult, and indeed, various trashy magazines, bullshit websites, and big-mouth critics have created such a facade. I have a few things to say about this. First of all, the game is challenging, but it is not unfair. There's a difference between the two. Unfair means unplayable, and that is not at all what MMNT is. Second, to the Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy generations MMNT may come off as being difficult simply because the game takes a good amount reaction timing, coordination, and effort to play, but to anyone who has played MM titles (or other action games) in the past, the game will offer a challenge not unlike that of previous entries in the series. For the record though, I'll note that MMNT is nowhere near as hard as the incredibly difficult Mega Man & Bass (no other title in the series will piss you off more than this beast). MMNT isn't as hard as it's been made out to be, and it's easy compared to Mega Man & Bass.
Just as in previous MM titles, at the player's disposal are weapons, abilities, and items (in the form of Chips); and lots of them. I'm not sure exactly how many weapons, abilities and items (both normal and hidden) there are in MMNT, so I'll just say that there are at least over a hundred or so (check GameFAQs to get an accurate inventory). The plethora of weapons, abilities, and items in MMNT are found scattered throughout the game's various areas in Mystery Data cubes (some require unlocking with another item), and with over a hundred Chips to find hidden within even the darkest depths of the game, MMNT stuffs a gag in the mouth of noisy critics who judge games solely upon "replay value." In other words, you'll be playing this game for a long, long time before you have seen and unlocked everything it's large weapon and item assortment has to offer. The game's intensive weapon and item system is managed in part by a new addition to the Megaman series: the Custom Bar. The Custom Bar (for those who haven't yet played the game) charges gradually, and when fully charged it allows the player to choose somewhat randomly-generated weapons and abilities from a menu (called the Custom Screen). I say "somewhat randomly-generated" because it is actually possible to designate a single weapon/ability (with the press of a specific button), which essentially allows the player to choose one weapon/ability to appear among the randomly-generated weapons/abilities on the Custom Screen (it doesn't seem like many who have played this game even know about this option). The designation of a weapon/ability certainly increases the likelihood of it appearing on the Custom Screen menu, and although not a regular occurrence, it must be noted that sometimes the designated weapon/ability does not show up on the Custom Screen (why this is so, we'll never know). Ultimately, the factor of randomly-generated weapons and/or abilities (as determined by the Custom Gauge) goes hand-in-hand with the game's large amount of weaponry and abilities, and forces the player to explore the game outside of their comfort zone.
However, MMNT's random-generation of weapons and abilities is yet another aspect of the game under fire, and some claim that this system makes the game harder. It is said that this system doesn't work in MMNT due to the importance of having specific weapons on command to use on bosses (and in other situations of need), but the fact is that although MMNT retains elements of the original MM games, there doesn't seem to be as much of an emphasis on attacking bosses with a specific weapon to inflict adequate damage. Sure, in some situations (mostly towards the end of the game and against select bosses) using specific weapons may be a favorable option, but in actuality it is not a necessity in MMNT (as it has been in previous MM titles) to advance. Since MMNT weapons are classified by elemental status (water, fire, electricity, wood, neutral), as long as there is more than one weapon of the preferred elemental status in the folder (that the Custom Gauge is randomly-generating the desired weapons and/or abilities from), there is a good chance that if the player doesn't get the desired weapon/ability, he/she will be given at least one weapon that can perform equally (and in some cases even better) than that of the originally-desired weapon/ability. This exists due in part to the fact that in this game Mega Man can acquire the weapons/abilities of not just the bosses, but the weapons/abilities of the standard enemies as well (both of which often overlap in elemental status). Still more, if the player does not happen to receive the desired weapons/abilities to get the job done in a particular situation, there are items that can be used to speed up recovery of (or regain in full) energy of the Custom Bar, thus increasing the chance of getting the desired weapons/abilities. While it is true that the Custom Screen can turn out some real useless shit at times (mostly at the beginning of the game), it is also true that to some extent the randomly-generated weapons/abilities in MMNT can be manipulated.
Last is the game's audio, which is of the typical Mega Man fare fans have come to expect. Explosions and the like are presented well, and in MMNT the characters are quite vocal, as each one blurts out various phrases depending on the situation (attacking, taking hits, receiving items, jumping, or sending messages). Threats also spew from the bosses in complete sentences during their introduction sequences (in Japanese but with subtitles), and each even has their own respective voice actors (according to the ending credits). And just as in past Mega Man titles (excluding the MMX series), in MMNT Mega Man's voice-over is a female. As for the music in MMNT, it's not as balls-to-the-wall as that of the MMX titles, but the game's tracks fit its stages particularly well, and ranges from the somewhat-serious (Waterworks, Arcade) to the dark and mysterious (Zero Account, Undernet). My favorite is the music of the Zero Account stage; it kicks ass. All in all, I think it's hard for other games in the MM series to beat the exceptional audio of the MMX (especially MMX2 and MMX5) games, but MMNT's audio is still quality nonetheless.
All in all, MMNT has a few subtle flaws, but its strong points make it a fun game to play even after it's been conquered. Its character inconsistency and story issues can be easily overlooked in favor of the game's awesome cel-shaded visuals, good character designs, and "old-school" approach. Capcom also put a lot into the pretty special effects of MMNT, and although I fancy the splashier style of the effects in the MMX titles more, I think they did a good job with the unique flair of MMNT. It's not the best game in the Mega Man series, but it definitely carries on the name faithfully.