There’s any number of signature touches that have made Mega Man such an enduring presence in gaming: the variety of enemies, the cool weapons, the iconic bosses—they’re all key to the 23-year-old series’ charm. But the most ingenious aspect of the Mega Man games is their level design. The platforming challenges of Mega Man are difficult enough to make gamers squeeze their controllers in rage, but elegant enough that with persistence, any player can get the little tricks of a given stage into their fingers’ muscle memory. And after that, miraculously, the game just flows. (At least until you get to the next level and start the process all over again.)
Capcom’s designers have made their job look easy all these years, and now Mega Man Universe will give players the opportunity to see just what it’s like to build a world full of Bubble Bats, Mets, and of course the ever-present death spikes. The company has previously been coy about the game’s player-creation features, but at Tokyo Game Show, Capcom PR representatives have started to open up about MMU’s capabilities.
Capcom says that the game will give you all the tools and building blocks necessary to make your own playable Mega Man level. That includes the basics like terrain, enemies, and bottomless pits, of course, but players will also have access to more complex bits like moving platforms and those dreaded disappearing-block jumping puzzles. I encountered more than one of the latter as I played through the MMU sample that Capcom had available in their TGS suite.
Most notably, players will be able to create levels that branch out in different directions. You see branching from time to time in the classic Mega Man games, but it’s relatively rare. That doesn’t have to be the case in Mega Man Universe—there can be multiple paths through a level, which creates opportunities for exploration and surprise. In one level, I missed a jump and cursed as I fell down a pit, only to find that I wasn’t dead yet—I had fallen down to a hidden part of the stage. I heard another reporter remark that he had gotten lost wandering around in his playthrough. Lost! That didn’t happen too often on the NES games.
Players will also be able to customize their own Mega Man character, toying with variables like running speed, jump height, Mega Buster power, and pre-equipped weapons. Naturally, Mega Man’s appearance can be customized as well. The “default” look is the classic Blue Bomber garb—revised to match MMU’s cartoony 3-D style. In the TGS demo, I also got to play with a character modeled after the homely schmoe on the original Mega Man’s North American box art. And another character had patches of red armor amid the blue, as if he were the love child of Mega Man and Cut Man.
Capcom didn’t offer any details on how players would share their custom levels and characters. It would be a bizarre omission, though, if Mega Man Universe didn’t allow players to publish content online á la LittleBigPlanet. It was an open secret in the room that Capcom would set up a network for that very purpose.
The one glaring problem I noticed as I played through a couple of short levels is that the game is rather unattractive in its current form. Which is a polite way of saying that it’s uglier than a robot dog’s backside. The levels in the demo were supposed to look as if they could have been created by an amateur, but they may have accomplished that too well.
The revised 3-D aesthetic feels cheap and hollow in comparison to the bright warmth of the classic 2-D graphics in the Mega Man and Mega Man X games. (Even Mega Man Powered Up did a better job of bringing 3-D animation into the Mega Man template.) There were some classic 2-D sprites sprinkled in, but that juxtaposition just made the scenery more of a hodgepodge.
It’s easier to fix a bad look than a bad idea, and Mega Man Universe is still one of the more intriguing concepts at TGS—in essence, it’s a developer giving fans the keys to one of its most iconic properties. Let’s hope that Capcom has time to put another coat of paint on this one before they release it to Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.