After what seems like a mind-bogglingly endless procession of sequels, Capcom has finally decided to take Mega Man out of the 2D realm and into the world of 3D. Not a minute too soon either, because Mega Man had been languishing for over a decade with barely a hint of innovation during that entire time. Mega Man Legends, as it turns out, is no mere side-scrolling platformer; instead, it arrives in the form of an action RPG that delves further into the legend of Mega Man than any of its 2D brethren ever did.
In Mega Man Legends you take control of our blue buddy and navigate him through a fully polygonal 3D world composed of brightly colored towns and sprawling landscapes. Along the way you'll meet a large cast of characters who will help define the story as you progress. Keeping you company is Mega Man's sister Roll, their Grandpa Barrel, and their hyperactive pet monkey named Data. At the beginning of the game you find yourself crash-landed on the island of Kattelox, in need of repairs. While attempting to find the necessary parts to fix their ship, our intrepid trio discovers that the island is under attack, and naturally, this is where Mega Man comes in.
The controls in Mega Man function, for lack of a better comparison, like Tomb Raider. However, it should be noted that the game moves much faster and smoother than its curvaceous counterpart. Unlike the good ol' days, Mega Man can now jump, kick, do diving rolls to the side, and, of course, arm himself with a large variety of upgradable armaments. Unfortunately, controlling Mega Man in this game is a little like trying to drive a truck. The controls require you to use the shoulder buttons to turn, something that makes little to no sense when simple use of the D-pad would have been fine. Another notable exclusion is the lack of analog support. If Mega Man Legends had analog control, it certainly would have been a much improved game. Maybe next time.
As is customary in the Mega Man series, you can upgrade Mega Man with a large number of enhancements. During the earlier parts of the game, Mega Man can add two parts to his Buster Arm. After he locates a certain part later in the game he can then add up to three. There are four characteristics you can enhance with the parts you obtain: attack power, range, rapid fire, and energy. Depending on how you balance your upgrades will determine how effective your Arm is. You can also have Roll augment certain parts so Mega Man becomes stronger.
The gameplay itself involves exploring towns, where the locals will clue you in to what actions to take next. Once your course of action is determined, you will explore any number of locations varying from places like City Hall to industrial shipyards and underground dungeons. Combat also takes you to a variety of arenas as you engage in battle with your arch-nemesis Tron and her twisted white-haired brother Teasel, in the sky, on the sea, as well as on land.
Indigenous to just about every RPG known are the item shops and merchants, which are all present here, to supply Mega Man with just about everything he needs. At certain points you will find parts for your ship that you must take to Roll, so that she can do the necessary repairs and upgrades. Then, whenever you're ready to take a break and recharge your batteries, all you have to do is find your dancing monkey, Data, and he'll save your game for you.
Visually, Mega Man Legends is a mixed bag. Those of you used to the stunning graphic achievements of games like Tobal2 or Crash Bandicoot might find this a bit disappointing, as Mega Man Legends relies almost exclusively on flat-shaded polygons, giving everything a boxy, Crayola-colored look to it. The game benefits from this, however, as the horizon and the considerable amount of structures and buildings are rendered almost infinitely with virtually no pop-up. The backgrounds and textures, while simple, capture the essence of the old 2D games and do a fairly good job of bringing them to life in 3D.
The characters, in that distinct Capcom style, are some of the most enjoyable yet seen in a video game. For the first time ever, Mega Man spends at least half the game with his helmet off. A small detail, certainly, but one that adds an immense amount of personality to the series. Roll, a charmer in her own right, is a vivacious and quick-thinking complement to Rock's all-action persona. Tron, the evil little witch that commands the invading forces, even elicits a smile from time to time, due to her feisty demeanor. Although Mega Man doesn't have a sidekick, ala Zero (room for that in the sequel, perhaps?) or Dash the mega dog, it does have Data the monkey. Watching this little bundle of polygons continuously bop back and forth is practically worth the price of admission alone. You'll have to see it to understand.
The sound in Mega Man Legends is notable, because, while no particular aspect is outstanding, as a whole it is a remarkably complete package. The music is typical Capcom fare, better suited to the background in any case. The sound effects complement the onscreen explosions and whatnot quite well. The best part of the sound in Legends is the voice-overs. Everyone has an appropriately chirpy, amused, disgusted, gruff, infuriated, and/or confused sound bite to go along with the text onscreen.
In the end, what Capcom has managed to do has been this: It's deftly avoided the pitfalls that await most platformers making the jump from 2D to 3D by creating an action/RPG instead. Relying less on twitch reflexes and more on exploration and storytelling, Mega Man Legends makes a graceful entry into the world of 3D, rather than the clumsy splash associated with other less-successful debuts. If Capcom continues to explore the paths that this series could follow, and enhance the graphic presentation and control somewhat, it just might be on to something special. Legends indeed.