There’s been much speculation on just what kind of experience Mega Man Universe would offer in the wake of the stylized teaser trailer that revealed its existence a few months ago. Capcom’s finally offered a clearer picture of what to expect, thanks to the first playable version of the upcoming game in its booth at this year’s Tokyo Game Show. We tried out the three levels on display in the work-in-progress game and found the title to be surprising in a number of ways.
Before we dive in to the game, we should offer some context around the demo on display at TGS based on a chat with Capcom reps. The three levels on display were made especially for the show, and at the moment, they aren’t planned to be in the game, although they might be included as a bonus. The levels were intended to offer players an idea of what to expect from both the action and level creation in the upcoming title. It’s an interesting choice for the game’s debut, which covers a lot of ground.
The three levels are broken up by difficulty--easy, normal, and hard--with each being set in a unique area. The core gameplay is exactly what you would expect to find in a Mega Man game: You’re running, jumping, climbing, and shooting enemies while avoiding death. But, while this sounds run of the mill, things get interesting when you get to the small details. First off, the demo lets you choose one of six different Mega Mans (or Mega Men, as it were), each with unique attributes.
Three of your choices are in the more traditional Mega Man vein. There’s a classic anime-style Mega Man based on Keiji Inafune’s original designs, an all new design for the Blue Bomber specific for MMU that’s reminiscent of Tron (the Disney sci-fi flick), and a design based on the box art from the original Mega Man on the NES. The other three choices are representative of the kinds of creations you’ll be able to make using the game’s customization system. Two of the options, named Gust Man and Chop Man, retain most of the traditional Mega Man look in his head but feature new torsos, arms, and legs. The third option, Metto Man, is the most dramatic departure and features a totally different look that borrows heavily from elements seen on the mettaur enemies in the series. The demo lets you cycle through the six characters on a character selection menu where you get a look at their specific attributes. It turns out that the unique appearance of each Mega Man is more than just cosmetic because every version has different abilities. Each character will have different ratings for the life energy, weapon energy, shot, jump, and move categories. In addition, we were able to see a display of slots for their special weapons, item payload, and a “chip slot.” From the look of things, the chip slots are going to be central to tweaking your personal Mega Man. You’ll be able to equip different chips on Mega Man’s head, arms, torso, and legs--each of which have the potential to impact your character’s ratings.
It sounds pretty logical; legs impact your speed and jumps, while arms impact your base shot type and the like. The special weapon slots will let you equip boss weapons as they become available. Finally, the item payload will let you equip different items, such as the always vital e-tanks, to use during the adventure.
Things got a little bumpy once we started playing the actual demo. Each of the difficulties was well in line with the challenge the game is known for, but the game’s controls weren't as tight as we wanted. Things were a little too twitchy for us, which made the precise jumps that are key to staying alive pretty challenging. Using the D pad instead of the analog stick on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 helped, but we were definitely left wanting a more responsive experience.
We explored the three stages a bit more and found that they followed a pretty traditional Mega Man layout and had a decent array of ladders, spikes, enemies, jumps, and platforms. There were a few spots in the hard stage where it seemed like it was possible to get trapped if you missed a jump, which was actually in line with what can sometimes happen in user-generated content. The enemy mix was also on par with what you’d see in a Mega Man game and presented less of a problem than the actual jumping.
One thing we have to call out about the Mega Man Universe demo was the mix of art on display. All three of the levels featured a mix of polished art that’s in line with the look of the art in Mega Man 8, as well as pixelated sprite art that’s a nod to the classic NES games. It was an interesting blend of styles that showcased what was possible with the tools the game is set to offer. Our big hope is that there will be enough content in each of the styles to let fans create proper 8-bit style stages along with more modern-looking ones.
More importantly, we hope there’s content for each of the different eras in between so that dedicated fans can go to town. As for Mega Man himself, we have to say that we were a little disappointed in the level of detail and animation for the iconic blue hero--although we’re aware the game is a work in progress. After the trailer and the talk about what the game was going to be, we were hoping for something along the lines of Mega Man Powered Up in terms of art style and animation. Hopefully, the game will come closer to that title’s level of polish as it takes shape.
Based on what we played, we’re fans of the idea behind Mega Man Universe, but the execution is pretty rough right now. We like the customization of Mega Man and possibilities offered by stage creation. There’s a lot of potential here, but it seems like the game needs more time to cook before it can deliver on its promise due to its shaky controls. Look for more on Mega Man Universe in the months to come.