Capcom's milking of its major franchises has become such a part of gaming life that ironic disdain has given way to silent complacency. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, for example, is a spin-off of Mega Man Legends, which is itself a spin-off of the Mega Man series, which in turn has nearly two dozen major and minor titles for various console systems. By all rights and expectations, one might expect Tron Bonne to be a slapped-together effort designed to milk a quick buck from incorrigible series fanatics. Instead, Tron Bonne is one of this season's most enjoyable and surprising hidden gems.
Tron Bonne puts you in the shoes (and codpiece - no, really) of Tron Bonne, the loveable 14-year-old pirate-in-training nemesis of Mega Man. The Blue Bomber and crew are nowhere to be found, though; this game's focus is squarely on the Bonne family. Tron's square-jawed older brother Tiesel and robotic baby brother Bon Bonne have been captured by the eponymous Loath. Tron gathers the one million zenny in ransom money through heists, treasure hunting, and other acts of piracy. She won't have to do it alone, though; her army of Servbots helps out on the many missions.
The Servbots are the best thing about Tron Bonne, if not the best thing about gaming as a whole. Imagine an army of innocent, self-effacing, adoring five-year-olds in the unwitting service of piracy. When they recover a well-guarded treasure from deep within a cavern, they're happy to hand it over to a fellow treasure hunter, because sharing is good. When you steal rare thoroughbreds from a ranch, they just want to ride the piggies. There are forty Servbots on Tron's flying fortress, the Gesellschaft, each with his own statistics, skills, and personality. (#9, for example, is a fan of cowboy comics and a sharpshooter; #40 is "learning about being different" and enjoys interior decorating.) Individuals put off by excessive cuteness might find the Servbots' can-do demeanor sickly sweet; less jaded gamers will fall instantly in love with Tron's battalion of robotic cheer.
Tron and her Servbots face a variety of gameplay challenges as they attempt to "earn" the ransom money. Action stages let Tron (in her mecha-gorilla armor, the Gustaff) and six Servbots wreak havoc on the general populace, rob banks, loot houses, smash police cars, make money fast. Puzzle stages have Tron working the docks, stealing crates of valuable goods and absconding with the shipments. These are well-crafted box puzzles, with conveyor belts, cranes, and other environmental hazards. RPG stages send three Servbots and a small radio-controlled robot into treasure-filled mines. These stages unfold from a first-person perspective and focus on puzzle-solving, mapping, and character interaction. Finally, the no-relation-to-Shen-Mue FREE stage combines elements of all three level types into an action-packed exploration of a single huge ruin. You will have to make several sorties into this level: entering, grabbing the treasure, and escaping by the skin of your teeth many times until the ruins are completely clear of all treasure. Although not a gameplay mode per se, you will spend a great deal of time between missions on the Gesellschaft, where Tron manages inventory, boosts Servbot morale, dispatches scouting missions, and upgrades the Gustaff. Fortunately, Tron Bonne does a great job with all of the gameplay styles. The action stages are fast-paced and fun, the puzzle stages are appropriately brain rending, and the RPG stages are a nice change of pace and decently designed. They're certainly not the best examples of action, puzzle, or RPG gameplay on the PS, but all of the styles are well balanced and pleasant enough.
If one complaint can be levied against the title's gameplay, it's that it's a tad on the short and simple side. There are only 15 stages total, and judicious management of Servbot abilities and character upgrades will keep experienced gamers from ever facing a serious setback. Still, what is there is a blast to play, and few gamers will complain too bitterly.
Tron Bonne runs on a slightly modified version of the Mega Man Legends engine, and, graphically, it's a bit rough around the edges. The characters are bright and colorful, but the textures are flat and sometimes improperly mirrored. Edges are rough, and the title's draw-in distance is sometimes noticeably short. Still, Capcom was clearly aiming for a simplified, anime-inspired look, so the graphical quirks don't detract much. The music and sound effects are decent, if entirely forgettable. Depending on the speaking character, voice acting ranges from tolerable to good, but the Servbots steal the show with their naive, childlike delivery of every line.
What Tron Bonne lacks in audiovisual splendor, it makes up for in fun. Gamers with eclectic tastes and open minds will find a title with endearing characters, solid gameplay, and pure charm. And Servbots - lots of Servbots!