Rating: E (Everyone)
Release Date: 06/21/2005
When Capcom “reinvented” the Mega Man franchise four years ago, no one could have predicted just how popular it would be. Known as Rockman EXE in Japan, and Mega Man Battle Network stateside, the MM spinoff has generated countless games, three anime series, a collectible card game, action figures…you name it, it’s been done. Capcom keeps up the momentum with their latest video game release, Mega Man Battle Network 5. As with the past two installments, MMBN5 comes in two versions: Team Colonel and Team ProtoMan. The “team” aspect plays a huge role in the gameplay this time around…so read on to discover more!
The MMBN series as a whole takes place in the year 200X, where society is dependent on networking for just about everything. Computers, TVs, even appliances…they’re all interconnected. Most people carry PETs (Personal Terminals; think of them as super-advanced cellphones or PDAs), and inside the PETs, there’s often a Navi (an AI program that helps out its user). One such PET owner is Lan, a 6th grader and the operator of our hero, MegaMan.EXE (“Mega Man” for short).
Picking up right where MMBN4 left off, MMBN5 sees Lan and Mega Man heading over to SciLab, where Lan’s father (Dr. Hikari) works. The good doctor has a fantastic new project to show to Lan and his friends, but before he can unveil it, someone attacks the building and floods the labs with sleeping gas; Dr. Hikari is kidnapped, and the cyberterrorist group Nebula is responsible. Lan naturally wants to help, and joins a secret group working to shut down Nebula for good. Unlike past games, Lan and Mega Man will be working in tandem with other operators and Navis far more often than not. Teamwork is a core component of MMBN5, and the story accurately reflects this.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” MMBN‘s detractors often complain that the look of the graphics engine hasn’t changed much since the series’ 2001 debut. This is true, but why mess with a good thing? The graphics have easily withstood the test of time, and even with the minor changes introduced in MMBN4 and MMBN5, they still fit the game to a T.
Characters are highly detailed, animation is good, and the various environments (both in the real world and within the net) all look fantastic. Special effects are nothing mindblowing, but still very effective. Most importantly, the character design is top notch.
Just like the graphics, MMBN5 uses the same basic sound engine that’s been around since day one. Cannons, swords, and all the various menu commands make the same exact noises they always have. Rather than getting boring, however, this establishes continuity rather well, and since many basic weapons and commands are the same in each game, there’s no reason they’d need to sound different in the first place.
The music keeps up the pace, with a few MMBN remixes here and there. The battle theme even has pieces of the “Get Weapon” music from the classic NES title Mega Man 3! The techno-symphonic score works well with the game, and the mood changes appropriately depending on what area you’re in (especially in the dark portions of the net).
MMBN5‘s basic gameplay is similar to what you’d find in other RPGs; run around various areas, get dragged into random battles, and move on. The combat system remains one of the best I’ve seen in any RPG, equally balancing out realtime action and careful strategy. Mega Man’s stuck on a 3×3 grid, with his enemies on an equal opposing grid. You’ll get to choose battle chips from your folder to use in combat, such as cannons, bombs, swords, health refills, support items, and more. Otherwise, you’re just stuck with your Mega Buster pea shooter (which can thankfully be upgraded over time). Once you clear all the viruses on the screen, the battle is won and you can proceed. Learning to use battle chips properly (as well as merging certain ones into powerful Program Advances) is the key to victory. If you’re having trouble in battle, Mega Man’s emotional state will be affected, and Dark Chips may appear in your inventory. These powerful battle chips may allow you to win the battle, but they’ll sap your maximum HP, as well as having other undesirable effects.
If nothing else, Capcom’s managed to improve the gameplay considerably with each successive MMBN game. Each new title added a new tweak that altered the gameplay just enough, without going overboard. The Navi Customizer’s still around, as is the Soul Unison system introduced in the last game. MMBN5 brings about a rather hefty gameplay alteration by introducing Liberation Missions.
The Liberation Missions are what really separate MMBN5 from its predecessors. Here, you operate Mega Man and up to five other team members. The goal of the LMs is to “liberate” Dark Panels (spaces on the net map) by destroying the viruses that reside within them. There’s also Dark Holes, which are heavily infected areas protected by Guardians (particularly nasty viruses). At the end of the mission, you’ll invariably face a boss Navi of some kind. While the basic combat structure within the LMs is the same, sometimes you’ll be facing enemies on both sides of the screen (use the L & R triggers to face in the right direction), and you’ll also need to learn how to operate the various team members on the fly. Finally, you have only three turns in which to defeat the viruses and liberate the panel. Fail, and the panel stays dark.
The LMs work in phases, and if you complete the mission in a certain amount of phases or less, you can earn rare battle chips as a reward. The whole LM setup is very reminiscent of a strategy RPG, and using each Navi’s special abilities efficiently is the key to success. (For example, some Navis can liberate a whole row of Dark Panels at once.)
Team members, bosses, and the missions themselves vary considerably depending on which version of the game you’re playing. Initially, your team leader will either be Colonel or Proto Man, and you’ll later acquire four more members, some of which are new to the MMBN world (like Tomahawk Man and Gyro Man). You’ll get new Soul Unisons from these guys, too, so use them wisely; these let you merge with the “soul” of specific Navis, gaining their abilites for three turns. If you use these Soul Unisons in conjunction with Dark Chips, you’ll activate a Chaos Soul Unison, which amps up your power…but it’ll cost you.
Beating the game does not mean you are “done.” Once the final boss is defeated, a whole slew of new areas open up for you to explore, as well as more powerful bosses, and the return of upgraded versions of bosses you’ve already beaten! Couple that with even more battle chips to find, more strategies to formulate, and a even a few more story elements, and you’ll be playing MMBN5 a very long time indeed if you want to discover absolutely everything.
MMBN5 starts out just like every other MMBN game: with a full tutorial. The game starts out easy enough, and the difficulty gradually increases as time goes on, just as it should. Even incredibly tough bosses can be disposed of without too much trouble, assuming you’ve got a good set of battle chips and strategies to boot. The MMBN games have never been tough as nails (except for the post-final boss areas), but they’re not super-easy, either.
The Liberation Missions almost make MMBN5 seem like a totally new game, but it is still a sequel. There’s nothing new about the core characters, graphics, or sound, and while the game certainly has its merits, don’t expect an earth-shattering experience unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.
Well, this all depends on how much you like RPGs. Since “leveling up” doesn’t really exist in the same manner as other RPGs, you won’t be aimlessly spending hours on end fighting battle after battle just to become powerful enough to delete that one boss that’s been giving you trouble. MMBN5 is all about strategy, and learning to fight well and arrange your battle chips accordingly is what makes the game fun. Even after you defeat bosses, you’ll likely want to hunt them down again just to earn their Navi Chips, which let you summon them in battle. There’s always something to do in MMBN5, and that feature will keep you coming back for more.
It’s not that MMBN5 couldn’t appeal to a wide audience. Far from it; Mega Man’s been around for nearly 20 years in some way, shape, or form, and gamers from all walks of life love his adventures. The issue with MMBN5 (and with the MMBN series in general) is that the games really should be played in sequential order to get the full story. Don’t get me wrong; MMBN5 can easily be played as a standalone title. However, the average gamer won’t necessarily realize that, and with good reason. Whenever there’s a long-running series, most people are going to want to experience it in proper order, be it video games, books, movies, comics, etc. As such, this hefty backlog of story may scare newbies away.
There’s a bit of a strike against the dual MMBN5 cartridges, and that’s the fact that both versions are being compiled onto a single game card this fall for the Nintendo DS (MMBN5: Double Team). So if you don’t want to spend $60 on two carts, just wait a few months and nab them both in a single game (with a host of extra features) for around $30-40. It almost seems pointless to release the GBA carts in the first place! The DS version of the game will at least make some use of them; you can plug your GBA cart into the DS while MMBN5:DT is playing, and transfer over your battle chips and other items. There’s likely to be some hidden content unlockable only through using the carts, too. (You’ll just have to wait until this fall, and read my review then.) However, there’s one thing that the dual carts can do that the DS version can not: Crossover Battles.
MMBN5 can link up with other copies of itself for chip trading and battling, just as past games did. But MMBN5 also makes use of the GBA Wireless Adapter to link up with Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django. (Mega Man and a few other MMBN characters make an appearance in that game, just as Boktai‘s Django and Otenko appeared in MMBN4). Here, you can engage in Crossover Battles, where Mega Man and Django square off against each other and Shade Man! While Mega Man’s and Django’s worlds couldn’t be more different, this is still a great touch, and a tribute to fans of both series.
Overall Score: 71/100
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (GOOD!)