Even though the Mega Man series is known for its side-scrolling antics, the series has entered some pretty strange waters, none weirder than those of Mega Man Battle Network, and soon, Mega Man Star Force. If you aren't familiar with Mega Man Battle Network, it's like a cross between Mega Man, Pokémon, and Norton Antivirus--an accessible, kid-friendly series of RPGs that takes place in a world where boss robots have been replaced by rogue computer viruses.
The story will follow the Internet patrolling exploits of Geo Stellar, a boy with an apt name, for his story will unfold both on the ground and in cyberspace. In the real world, Geo will travel around looking for cards that will help him in his battles with his enemies. Then, when you're ready for him to fight, you'll flip down your visor and switch to the "Wave World." Here you can actually see and walk in the Internet as it courses through normal reality. But watch out--the Mega equivalent of spam, keyloggers and trojans, are floating all over the place, and even though you can literally see cyberspace itself, you can't see them.
That means random battles. But these aren't your usual RPG turn-based affairs. Rather, they take place on a 3x5 grid, where you and your enemies dodge and attack each other in real time. You can always shoot at them with your regular blaster, or you can pause the action and equip special attack cards for one-time use. The result is a battle scheme that feels more like action than RPG, and should stay fresh because of it.
Now, Geo only has so many special cards to choose from, but if he adds a friend to his network, called a "Brother," he can use all of that person's special attacks as well. What's more, for every person in your network who has a specific skill, that skill gains a level. So if three people have plasma blade, that attack hits much harder than it would if only Geo had it.
This collectible-card scheme has applications outside of the game as well. There will be three versions of Mega Man Star Force--Leo, Dragon, and Pegasus--each with its own elemental focus (oddly, Dragon's is wood). So, if you buy Leo and your friend buys Dragon, you can trade him fire skills for wood.
Whichever version you wind up getting, Mega Man Star Force should be an interesting RPG adventure that will take you far into the future of the Mega Man storyline, and hopefully put a few bus rides in your past when it hits store shelves on August 7.