From a goal-oriented mindset
This is serious. Mega Man plays soccer and no one talks about it. When was the last time you or anyone you know brought up this important fact? No one goes to dinner parties and says “hey, did you know Mega Man plays soccer!?” or some equally graceful attempt to broach the subject. Is this simply a failure of society as a whole, or does this phenomenon speak to something deeper? We all know that there must be more to this or else I would have very little to write about. To truly understand the situation, we must delve into the origins of Mega Man’s soccer-playing habits in the aptly-titled Mega Man Soccer.
I theorize that Mega Man Soccer lacks an important ingredient. As a result of this deficiency, Mega Man Soccer fails to stick in the hearts and minds of the people. This missing element, something that all memorable Mega Man games contain at least some trace amount of, is seriousness. Seriously! If you don’t believe me, I’ll show my work. If you do, I guess you can stop reading now. Thanks for your time, as always.
The basic premise offers the best place to start. Mega Man Soccer contains some semblance of a story, believe it or not. This story draws attention to a major issue – why would Mega Man be playing soccer? Despite the attempt, the game itself can’t really explain it.
An opening cutscene reveals that robots have suddenly invaded (and exploded?) a soccer field on TV. Mega Man heeds the call to stop the robots, but before he leaves Dr. Light announces that he must first make some modifications to Mega Man’s programming to “give them a game they won’t soon forget.” Uh, what? I’m pretty sure people are dying, Dr. Light! Those robots at bare minimum just blew part of a soccer stadium up. They don’t seem like they’re at the soccer stadium to actually play socc- oh, nevermind, I guess they are.
Alright, so Dr. Wily grabbed a bunch of robots and programmed them to take over the world. Fair enough, that falls in line with established Mega Man canon. However, the developers skipped the part explaining why Mega Man would play soccer to stop them as opposed to just shooting them like usual. More importantly, they skipped the part explaining why Dr. Wily even wants his robots to play soccer and how that benefits his plans for world domination.
Look, I know what I’m dealing with here. Mega Man Soccer is an inherently silly idea. Playing soccer to defeat robots makes no sense and no amount of explanation could possibly change that. That mindset demonstrates my point, though. This soccer premise doesn’t fit neatly with Mega Man conceptually. Perhaps these things are not completely incompatible, but little care was put into tying them together.
Spin-offs like Mega Man Soccer pop up for many of gaming’s biggest mascots. Just because spin-offs like these happen, however, doesn’t mean that they should. Some consideration should be given to how well a series or character actually lends itself to taking up a random sport.
Take Mario for an example. His creator envisioned him as an everyman, jack-of-all-trades kind of character that could fit into any role asked of him. Who Mario is as a person and what his goals are were left purposefully vague for decades to accommodate this. One day he’s saving princesses, another he’s practicing medicine, and the next he may be fighting in the Vietnam War. If Mario decides to pick up soccer, no one questions it because he’s Mario. He lacks concreteness to his benefit, allowing him to star in virtually any type of video game.
Mega Man exists for the clearly defined purpose of blasting robots and jumping over obstacles. He plays a concrete role within relatively concrete video game parameters. If you move him outside of that familiar sphere, it comes across as odd or unnatural. People start to ask questions, so the developers feel the need to start explaining things, even if they are explained poorly like in Mega Man Soccer’s case. You can’t simply throw Mega Man into something like a sports game without some clever execution.
People often give Mega Man guff for having a lot of spin-offs, but I find that he handles the issue far better than most long-running franchises out there. It’s no coincidence that projects like Mega Man Soccer are few and far between, while the vast majority of Mega Man spin-offs branch into their own specific subseries. Even when these spin-offs turn into completely different games from the original Mega Man, such as Battle Network or Legends, they still meaningfully riff on the core concepts of their predecessor. Those games feel like the developers put genuine thought into how their ideas could branch off from the original while still retaining a distinctly “Mega Man” identity.
In other words, most Mega Man spin-offs take the idea of being a spin-off to Mega Man seriously. Mega Man X, Zero, Battle Network, Legends, and so on are not cheap cash grabs. They function as genuine extensions of Mega Man in ways that fit the series. Mega Man Soccer, on the other hand, fumbles the ball out of the gate. It picks a premise out of a hat and then thoughtlessly dumps Mega Man into it. Sink or swim, Mega Man!
Maybe I’m jumping the gun here. Mega Man Soccer may fail to establish a convincing premise for a Mega Man game, but that doesn’t mean it lacks Mega Man-ness entirely. Let’s take a step back and look at Mega Man Soccer conceptually once more.
What do Mega Man and soccer share in common? On a basic level, they both challenge their players’ abilities. Mega Man games test a few relevant skills in particular: patience, observation, and precision. While I have yet to win the Super Bowl, I have gotten a few home runs before, so believe me when I say that soccer players need similar skill sets. They need to be aware of the field, know when and where to move, and carefully control the ball on their journey to attempt shots at the goal. Soccer and Mega Man may execute on their tests in completely different ways, but they test nonetheless.
Of course, soccer in real life and soccer in video games are different beasts. The way that Mega Man Soccer in particular translates the sport into video game form takes some liberties. As Storm Eagle-eyed fans may note from the title screen, this game is not actually Mega Man Soccer. This is Mega Man’s Soccer, and he has some ideas about where to take the concept.
Those things I said about soccer requiring stuff like precision don’t apply so much to Mega Man’s version of the game. In terms of the actual act of playing soccer, your options fall into a small handful of categories. You can run, you can pass the ball, you can shoot the ball, and if you lack a ball, you can try to steal it. The availability of these actions depend largely on context that lies only vaguely in your control, which makes the experience feel automated in a way.
You don’t control the actual soccer players so much as a “snapshot” of them. The game’s camera understandably follows the ball, which creates situations where you constantly warp control between players. When you’re the one moving the ball you will at least have some idea of which player you’ll be sent to next. If you’re trying to snag the ball back, you’re more or less at the mercy of the AI to get someone to the ball for you to control. Mega Man Soccer limits how much you can actually control the match through direct player control alone.
In essence, you act as Coach Man (the new Mega Man character I created just now), who can briefly possess the bodies of his players to make sure they do what he coached them to do. The actual control of the game requires little in the way of precision. The positioning of the players stays relatively static, so there isn’t much to observe. Only patience remains standing in the battlefield known as Mega Man Soccer. This results in a game that ultimately tests very different skills than a normal soccer player or a normal Mega Man game.
These new skills attempt to establish a “Mega Man” identity from a different angle. Strategy centers itself as the single biggest component of Mega Man Soccer. Team composition, placement, and timely use of power shots win matches. Normal Mega Man games also contain an element of strategy to them – you select levels in a freeform manner and use the weapons you gain from clearing them to gain an advantage in subsequent levels. When you understand where each weapon can be used best, you can devise a plan of attack for nearly everything each game throws at you.
Capcom Championship mode draws this comparison more closely by structurally resembling a normal Mega Man game. Mega Man picks from a selection of stages that can be completed in any order. Instead of stealing the boss’s weapon when you win, you steal the boss himself. Each playable character possesses unique stats as well as a unique power shot. On paper, this idea bridges the gap between Mega Man and soccer in a clever way.
Which characters you give a spot on the team and where you place them can make a difference. Wood Man belongs in the goal area blocking shots and absolutely nowhere else. His slow speed makes him a liability. The game provides you with an army of Mega Men to compose your team with at the start, but plenty of characters can do what he does better, so you want to keep an eye out for upgrades.
However, this system shows weakness when you actually play the matches. While your team selection can make a difference, it’s not usually a big one. Unless you pick someone catastrophically bad for a role, you likely won’t notice any distinguishable advantage or disadvantage. Making sure you pick a proper team formation to counter the opposing team’s matters more than any slight stat differences between the actual players. As long as you know how to play the game, you’ll likely win no matter what. Unless you’re playing against Dr, Wily, then all bets are off.
This problem intensifies when you take the power shots into account. For Mega Man platformers, these boss weapons change how you approach the entire game. In Mega Man Soccer, they don’t change a thing.
Technically, each weapon does do something different. Fire Man’s will burn an opponent while Cut Man’s will straight up murder them. Despite the fun animations, the actual end result always boils down to briefly incapacitating whoever takes the hit. This means that every weapon basically falls into one specific use case: fire it at the goalie to get a free point. Foreseeing this to be a problem, the rules of the game limit you to two power shots each match. Unfortunately, this limit effectively invalidates the existence of power shots altogether; you might as well just remove them and give each team two points at the start of the match. Better yet, give them zero!
All of this leaves us with a game that can be difficult to take seriously on its own merits. Mega Man Soccer makes some admirable attempts to incorporate “Mega Man” ideas into the sport, it just falls short in its execution.
This game rather infamously ran into some trouble during development that resulted in the removal of the game’s ending and unlockable character, Dr. Wily. Perhaps if the developers had time to properly finish the game, the weaker gameplay aspects could also have been further developed into a more serious attempt. As is, Mega Man Soccer stands as an unfortunate example of the dreaded “cheap cash-in spin-off” that Mega Man usually avoids.
I suppose if we want to salvage this as an even remotely serious entry into the Mega Man series, and who wouldn’t, this game explains where the Mega Ball from Mega Man 8 came from. That’s kind of a random addition without the important context that Mega Man Soccer provides, right? After rewiring Mega Man to play soccer, Dr. Light decided to not only keep that programming installed, he also took the next logical step and made soccer an overtly lethal part of Mega Man’s arsenal. It just makes sense!
If that all seems like a stretch, that’s because it is. Mega Man Soccer leaves little to work with in its current state.
Although Mega Man Soccer says virtually nothing about Mega Man as a whole, in a way that says a lot. This game shines a light on how spin-offs should be handled for a character like Mega Man. It hints at ways where Mega Man’s ideas can be creatively applied to new genres. Unfortunately, Mega Man Soccer lacks the seriousness required to pull it all together in the end. We all recognize this on a subconscious level, which is why I must sadly report that dinner parties will continue to go without mention of Mega Man Soccer for years to come.