2D: The flip side

Lest one think this site has become a haven for mindless, drone-like cheerleading for 2D games, I downloaded the Japanese demo of Mega Man Battle Network: Operation Shooting Star today. And boy golly, is it pretty much the definition of why people tend to look down on games in two dimensions.

Some background info: OSS is a remake of the original Battle Network, kind of a DS port, but also kind of not — apparently it’s a crossover with the Mega Man Star Force series. I guess it’s pretty much that episode of that awful Mega Man cartoon where Mega Man X travelled back in time to hang out with the original Mega Man, turned into an actual video game — a bit of fanservice to be sure, only it’s happening with the Mega Man franchise that hardcore Mega Man fans don’t give a crap about. There’s a certain perverse charm about that, and it amuses me.

And in theory, OSS should be pretty good. I really enjoyed the first couple of Battle Networks, until it became clear that the games would be incredibly unambitious rehashes padded by meandering, meaningless plots, year over yeard. And I enjoyed Star Force 3 this year, to a degree, because it reminded me of the quality core behind the games (so tragically obscured behind the flaws). Sadly, Star Force 3 had its own issues, the most crippling of which was the fact that the move to a 3D battle system greatly simplified the great combat that made Battle Network worth playing despite its shortcomings. The 3×6 battle grid was trimmed to 3×4, greatly reducing the strategy and flexibility of the games. OSS, however, promises to bring the Star Force series into the Battle Network mechanics — theoretically, the best of two worlds.

Except, man, for a “new” game, it sure is a lazy rehash. The demo consisted of just three battles hosted by Mr. Famous, and what those battles revealed is that OSS is more or less just a GBA game. Same sprites, same backgrounds, same everything. Not just a GBA game, either; a first-gen GBA game that looked merely OK eight years ago.

This screenshot is from the new game! Not the original Battle Network! But you’d never know unless you peeked at the image dimensions and noticed it’s 256×192 instead of 240×160. That’s… pretty crummy. By all rights, OSS should have been an opportunity for Capcom to go back and really do justice to the original Battle Network — spruce it up with new visuals, better music, more interesting character designs. Instead, Capcom appears to have used it as an opportunity to rake in some easy cash. Gamers haven’t responded nearly as well to the Star Force games as they did to Battle Network (the series was a bona-fide smash in Japan, and pretty successful over here, too), so they’re taking their newer character into the games that people actually enjoyed. Yet rather than lavish a sure-fire money-maker with any sort of care, Capcom looks to be content to simply recycle old content.

It’s disappointing — not least of all because this is exactly the sort of thing that fuels the mindset that 2D visuals are a step backward. OSS strikes me as a genuine step backward in every way, and the visuals are only the tip of that particular regressive iceberg… but they’re the part that people will notice first. I guess this is the part where I shake my fist and shout, “Thanks for nothing, buttheads!”

10 thoughts on “2D: The flip side

  1. I have to agree. The first time I heard of this game was from a few Japanese magazine scans. Seeing a 2D Star Force MegaMan in a battle is quite intriguing, but after watching the trailer, this game is pretty much Battle Network 1 + extras. This game would of made sense is if it was some kind of an unlockable. Just imagine, a new DS game where having Battle Network 1 in a Slot-2 (or something), would unlock a different game mode *COUGH*SONIC&KNUCKLES*COUGH*. But…MEH.

  2. Ah, Capcom… the king of recycling graphics. How many times have they used that ratty old Morrigan sprite, anyway?

    Companies need to recognize that just because their game is in 2D doesn’t mean that it’s exempt from all the technological advancements that have happened in the last fifteen years. They need to get with the times and improve the quality of their artwork… make the most of those 32-bit color palettes and the stretched sprite boxes. Vanillaware and Arc System Works have done just that with their latest titles. Capcom, not so much.

  3. I gave up on Battle Network when they started doing the split releases. It signaled a Pokemon-esque cash grab to me, not to mention nothing was really changing between releases.

    I tremendously enjoyed the first Battle Network, though. :) As a lapsed follower, what is the best of that (admittedly stale) series?

  4. *shrug* I’ve only ever played the original Battle Network, and I really liked the graphics at the time. And looking back on it today via screenshots, I’m not really sure what I would change. Obviously the visuals aren’t on par with something like Bowser’s Inside story, with all the super-expressive animations, but well-drawn 2D art doesn’t age, so I’m fine with having a Battle Network remake that looks the same as the original.

    As lazy as the practice may be, I won’t decry GBA ports on the DS, simply because they have the practical effect of giving me one less reason to hold onto my old Lite. I’d have upgraded to the DSi by now if I didn’t need that GBA slot for a handful of my portable favorites.

    Similarly, I was more than willing to ignore the questionable value proposition of ODST because the Halo 3 multiplayer disc allowed me to delete a bunch of old DLC and free up 1.3 gigs of valuable Xbox 360 hard drive space.

  5. While I loved the backwards regression of Mega Man 9’s visual/audial design paired with two decades of gaming knowledge to make awesome level designs and the like, Mega Man Battle Network: Operation Shooting Star just looks like Capcom’s missing the friggin’ point (again) and recycling the first chapter of one of their worst aged series to try to make some more bucks off the kids who love MMBN while attempting to sucker them into Mega Man Star Force.

    Me, I got sick of the series (again) after trying to replay some of the previous titles. There’s way too many terrible Net map designs, fetch quests revisiting many of those terrible Net map designs, and random encounters on those terrible Net map designs for me to try going back to Battle Network again…..not to mention many of those battle chips feel unsuited for frequent encounters.

  6. That’s a narrow view of BCC. It was designed as an obvious tribute to classic PC robot/mech programming games (and even to Armored Core, to some degree). The problem wasn’t the structure of the game, the problem was how slowly everything played out. If they’d streamlined the interminable dialogue and text feedback, it would have been a pretty solid game.

  7. I loved the first three Battle Network games, but good LORD did the series abruptly burn out after that. I played through 4-6, but…well, the series recovered *slightly* after the absolute series nadir that was MMBN4, but it never got any better than mediocre. I was utterly, utterly burned out on the series at that point–played maybe an hour of Starforce, hated it with all my heart, and then never gave it another thought. Way to sow that field with salt, Capcom! Still, for a newbie who ISN’T burned out, I imagine a remake of the original would be a lot of fun. I assume the DS version uses the second screen for an automap? That was a big advantage of the DS version of MMBN5, and having it in the original would make a good game even better.

  8. Given that they’ve already made Mega Man 9, there are few things Capcom could do that would make me happier than to do some justice to the Battle Network series. BN2 and 3 were fantastic games, two of my favorites on the GBA. Few franchises fall so far, so fast, and continue to suck for so long afterward… But then, that’s the Capcom way.

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