As of 2002, Mega Man has been around for 15 years. Needless to say, the little guy has been quite prolific, hopping deftly from game platform to platform and bravely exploring and acquiring the skills of new genres. Aside from numerous action outings, the Blue Bomber has raced carts, played soccer, and has even entered a few fighting tournaments. After testing the waters in the Legends series, Mega Man has donned an .exe file extension and entered the Battle Network in a traditional RPG for the Game Boy Advance.
Battle Network is the story of a boy and his PET. In the year 20XX, humankind has entered the "network age." To navigate this high-tech world, it has become necessary for every man, woman, and child to carry portable exploration devices known as PETs. Each PET has a personality which manifests in the form of a Net navi. These trusty digital assistants help you navigate the Net, check your e-mail, and battle against malicious code.
After deleting a nasty virus from his oven, which charred his breakfast and very nearly his own mother, fifth grader Lan and his best friend/Net navi Mega Man begin to investigate the nefarious WWW organization. While Lan searches the real world for clues, he'll be able to jack in to various computers and electronic devices. In the cyberworld, Mega Man takes over the active role. As Mega Man, you'll be able to do a bit of online shopping to upgrade your battle capabilities, visit your friends' computers, and do a liberal amount of virus busting.
Whether you're controlling Mega Man or Lan, you'll be able to talk to the character you're not currently playing as for direction and support. When you're at a loss as to where to go or what to do, your partner should be able to provide at least a vague idea of what you should be doing. At certain points, you'll have to switch control back and forth to accomplish your goal. For instance, Lan may have to reboot a crashed computer to open up the way for Mega Man.
The battle system of Battle Network is probably its most original and compelling feature. Unlike in a traditional RPG, skill is a primary factor here. Mega Man does gain levels by installing upgrade programs to increase hit points and attack power, but in true Mega Man tradition, quick reflexes and recognizing attack patterns can take you far. Battles take place on a 3-by-8 grid, initially split in two, dividing your area from the enemy's. You and the enemy will move and attack in real time, which results in fast-paced but strategic encounters.
In addition to his tried-and-true buster arm, Mega Man will use battle chips to aid him in battle. Each has a different range and effect. He will have a multitude of damage-dealing chips, such as spreader and longsword, as well as chips that can steal or destroy tiles, recover life, or even call in another navi for help. You initially start with five chips randomly chosen from your folder, and when the battle gauge at the top of the screen is full, you will receive more battle chips.
As in a card battle game, collecting new chips and managing your folder will give you an edge in battle. Choosing chips with similar names or codes can allow you to use more than one chip at a time or perform powerful special attacks. New battle chips can be traded, rewarded for efficient deletion of enemies, or found online.
The game's battle system aptly captures the essence of Mega Man, and so does the colorful visual style. The boy in blue himself has been smartly redesigned, as have other classic characters like Roll, Guts Man, and Proto Man. There are an abundance of visual and verbal references that fans will immediately pick up on, and the accompanying music matches up just as well as the visuals.
Largely due to the battle system, the game is quite engaging and is in many ways unique among RPGs. If there's something that might hold you back from enjoying the game, it's the lighthearted and somewhat goofy story. However, the game doesn't take itself too seriously, so neither should you. Filling your folder with rare and powerful battle chips, battling against Net crime, and reveling in the silliness of the "network age" can make for a very worthwhile gaming experience.