Not all games that define your childhood are masterpieces. Childlike wonder has a powerful effect; we look back and think “how the fuck did I blindly consume so many trash Sonic games?” forgetting how much joy we gained from chasing down chaos emeralds and petting Chaos. While Mega Man Battle Network, a reimagining of Capcom’s beloved platformer, may be largely forgotten within game history, it certainly helped shaped my taste in games for years to follow.
Christmas 2000andwaytoolongagonow was a confusing time to receive a Game Boy Advance, a Pokémon game hadn’t yet arrived on the console and my haul of a generic wrestling game, a generic racing game and a generic snooker game didn’t appeal to my turn-based loving ass. However, Mega Man Battle Network stood out as the only game that could drag me away from hunting down those slippery legendary cats.
Gameplay wise, Battle Network was super tough, the battle system pitted MegaMan against viruses in a contained grid. These viruses shared a battlefield while displaying unique attack styles and demanding different strategies for defeat. It’s essential that you simultaneously perfectly time when to blast your enemies with chips (essentially one-time use weapons) and avoid their barrage of attacks, difficult for someone who’s still horribly challenged by rhythm games’ easy mode. It was common for a small mistake to result in endless visits to the game over screen. Each unique area culminated in a boss battle, particularly memorable examples includes NumberMan, who forces quickfire maths on you to prevent his devastating attacks, and the clownish ColorMan, whose unpredictable attack style ramped up the panic. Nothing felt better than pulling off that lucky combination of chips to overcome what previously felt like an impossible task.
Outside the real-time strategy of the fights, Battle Network offered some truly unique puzzles. Each stage came with a puzzle that reflected the disaster happening in the real world, ElecMan’s stage boasted a puzzle that left you in the dark fighting against invisibles walls, attempting to reveal your path via correctly placed batteries and forcing one eye on the corner of the screen as your PET battery drains. Battle Network 5 even contains the toughest puzzle I have faced in my gaming life, the Samurai sword minigame, which pits you against janky controls and 100 overwhelmingly fast statues – it took an emulator set to the lowest speed to eventually conquer the challenge years later. Battle Network made me demand something more sophisticated from puzzles than just pushing a few boulders about, which continues to be an important aspect of gaming in my 20s.
Battle Network kept it simple when telling a story. With Mega Man mainstay villain Dr Wily behind the scenes of various real-life incidents, MegaMan and his human partner, Lan, must jack in (hehe) to the net to prevent further calamities. Humans are reliably bland, so the game sell itself on the Navis, revamped versions of familiar Mega Man characters. The boneheaded GutsMan, the too-cool-for-you ProtoMan and pyromaniac FireMan may all be one-dimensional offerings, but they’re more colourfully charming than anyone in the IRL world. Ultimately, 8-year-old me was always itching to move past the overly long cutscenes and get back to virus busting.
Over an admittedly disgusting month-long period, I revisited the whole series, and its flaws were far more glaring then they ever were as a child, particularly the melodramatic story with a dumb emotionally manipulative twist in which – uhhh, spoilers for a 16-year-old game – MegaMan is Lan’s deceased twin brother??? Also, that Samurai challenge is still bullshit. Yet those fond memories that broke me out of my Pokémon playing comfort zone will always put it on a higher pedestal than it probably deserves. History will always favour the stubbier original, but my definitive Mega Man will always be MegaMan.EXE.