Capcom released Mega Man 11 over five years ago. That sentence hurt to write, so hopefully it hurt to read as well!
Although Mega Man 11 signaled a seemingly bright future for the series, that future remains just as murky as it was half a decade ago. Fans spent most of the 2010s believing Mega Man to be “dead,” roughly from Legends 3’s cancellation in mid 2011 to late 2017 when Mega Man 11 was first announced. We’re fast approaching a similarly long dry spell now. Some revival, huh? Yeah, collections, merchandise, and phone games continue to be pumped out, but that stuff existed while Mega Man spent time in Robot Heaven, too. If there’s no discernible difference between Mega Man being “alive” or “dead,” can you really say Mega Man has much of a future at all?
Sure you can. Whether Capcom releases one hundred more Mega Man games or none at all, it makes no difference. Mega Man’s future does not lie with Capcom or even Mega Man himself. You hold Mega Man’s future in your hands. You, me, and everyone else, are Mega Man’s future.
That sounds nice if somewhat unhinged, so let’s go on a journey of understanding. I’ll walk you through the current state of Mega Man as I see it and lead you to how I reached this conclusion. You can consider it like how Mega Man journeys through a boss’s stage before taking his power. Once you have my power you can…think about Mega Man a little differently than before? And then use that to defeat people who are weak to your thoughts? This analogy didn’t carry me as far as I hoped.
Mega Man’s Future is in Flux
Last year, I made some bold predictions about the future of Mega Man. To date, nothing I speculated to happen has actually happened. Oops! If it wasn’t obvious, I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. Don’t worry; I can salvage this. The reason none of my thoughts panned out was because virtually nothing has happened with Mega Man at all. For all we know, I can still be right about everything. I’m 100% correct until proven otherwise, as long as you don’t focus too much on 2022 being an important year for Mega Man. That was at least 99% wrong.
Even if I end up being right in the long run, it would be irresponsible to claim things were always supposed to play out that way. If you’ve been keeping up with Mega Man news, you’ve probably heard whispers about the next Mega Man game, either from the developers themselves or top secret leaks. Just about everyone assumed that this mysterious “Mega Man Match” game would be the next big step for the series. Most also assumed that it would be out by now. For several reasons, I believe it’s fair to say that plans have changed.
According to the leaks, the next Mega Man was expected to release in 2022. At the time of writing, we’re almost through 2023 without Capcom so much as even publicly sneezing in this game’s direction. Delays happen, of course, especially these days. With things like COVID derailing most everything in the industry, such developments are expected.
Less expected was longtime Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono leaving Capcom back in April 2021. Officially, we’ll likely never hear why. If you subscribe to the rumor mill, Mr. Ono’s vision for Street Fighter 6 didn’t work out so he got the crouching fierce boot. Said booting left a void that suddenly needed to be filled, which brings us back to Mega Man. We all still remember who that guy is, right?
Kazuhiro Tsuchiya took Mr. Ono’s mantle as the Producer of Street Fighter 6, which posed an interesting dilemma for Mega Man. Prior to this, Mr. Tsuchiya acted as the Producer for the Mega Man series as well as Mega Man 11 specifically. He basically guided the Mega Man brand – if anyone knew what was going on with Mega Man’s future, it was him.
Warning: we’re activating unhinged speculation mode now.
While you could say this new position doubled his workload, I am not sure that would be accurate. Street Fighter is a much bigger franchise than Mega Man, and Street Fighter 6 undoubtedly a much bigger project than any given Mega Man project. While Mr. Tsuchiya surely continued work on both series in some capacity, my guess, and I emphasize that this is a guess, is that Street Fighter 6 became his main priority.
Mega Man Match likely began development sometime in 2019, so having your Producer shift gears into an entirely different project years-in likely took a major toll on the game. Although Mr. Tsuchiya is the only confirmed crossover between these teams, I also find it highly probable that he was not the only Mega Man staffer who suddenly found their hands full with Street Fighter. An awful lot of Mega Man references and iconography seemed to sneak their way into the final product.
Frankly, I’m not sure that “Mega Man Match” actually survived these events. Mr. Tsuchiya unceremoniously departed Capcom in May of this year. Typically, key people like a Producer leaving mid-project means bad things for said project. It makes more sense for someone in an important, comprehensive oversight role like that to stick it out until the game launches and then leave, with his role more or less finished. In fact, that’s exactly what Mr. Tsuchiya did for Street Fighter 6 – the timing for his departure indicates that his role ended just when Street Fighter 6 was ready to launch in early June.
In the case of the next Mega Man, they didn’t even officially announce the thing before he left. Is it possible that Capcom actually finished Mega Man Match and it’s sitting in a vault somewhere waiting to be unleashed at any moment to bring the world everlasting peace? I suppose. I’d rank the likelihood somewhere around Mega Man Legends 3 releasing next week. Instead, Mega Man Match as we knew it, or more accurately as we didn’t know it, probably got binned. Perhaps the project got rebooted, perhaps development shifted to a different Mega Man game entirely, or perhaps…Capcom isn’t making a new Mega Man game at all right now.
Look, stuff happens. A big company like Capcom needs to make big decisions. Extenuating circumstances around Street Fighter 6 forced the people in charge to reassess what they were doing and prioritize getting the bigger game out. Mega Man may yet have a future, but I think it’s clear now that Capcom actively chose to put that future on the backburner in favor of bigger things. That’s why it’s been five years without a peep of something actually new. When it comes down to it, Mega Man isn’t a priority for Capcom. At least not in the way you’d hope.
Mega Man Isn’t a Priority (in the way you’d hope)
While potentially completely wrong about everything to do with Mega Man’s future, the real value my earlier speculation article provides is its assessment of Mega Man’s past as a cog in the Capcom business machine. Long story short: the video game industry is pretty messed up these days. The current business atmosphere leaves little room for Mega Man to breathe.
I’ve noticed that Mega Man’s role in gaming history has been heavily colored by how things are today. People seem to retroactively brand Mega Man as some failure for not selling a million bajillion copies with every release like Resident Evil does. It’s a no-brainer that Mega Man died after so many years of flops, right?
Just so the younger people out there know, we didn’t always live in this neverending AAA hellscape. Once upon a time, big video game companies regularly made and released games of all kinds of different budgets and scopes. Capcom specifically used to release over a dozen new games a year instead of maybe three if you’re lucky. Different types of games served unique roles and established multiple types of revenue for the company.
Mega Man games were all about small investments resulting in modest returns. If Capcom considered Mega Man’s sales bad, they would not have made so many of them for so long. It’s not like someone kept stumbling and accidentally hitting the “make Mega Man” lever. No, Mega Man functioned exactly as he was designed to. When needed, Capcom reinvented him with things like Mega Man X, Legends, or Battle Network. Legends was the closest Mega Man ever got to being “big budget,” and in turn, it was also probably the biggest (financial) failure of the series.
The shift to high definition graphics and larger scopes for games dramatically increased the cost of game development, even for smaller projects. Rising costs turned every project into a major, high-risk financial drain that created the cut-throat world that led to Mega Man’s current predicament. Capcom pumps out Resident Evil and Monster Hunter constantly because focusing on much else would be irresponsible. They try to leave room for a smaller project or two, and an occasional bigger risk like Devil May Cry or Dragon’s Dogma also sneaks out the door, but for the most part Capcom stays the course.
Through such major changes in the industry, the small yet consistent role Mega Man occupied evaporated. That has nothing to do with the actual quality or impact of Mega Man games; it’s just the reality of how the business evolved. Mega Man can still find success, just not the level of success gigantic corporations are interested in pursuing right now.
That being the case, two paths remain open for Mega Man. The first: make Mega Man into a big budget monstrosity that can stand tall amongst his monster hunting brethren. Based on the leaks for Mega Man Match indicating an unusually high budget for the series, that seems to have been the overall plan.
What exactly a “big budget” Mega Man actually looks like is up for debate. As far as what Match was, I’d like to revise my thoughts a little based on the new information we’ve gained about Mr. Tsuchiya. Previously, I speculated that Match may be some type of action RPG similar to Battle Network. In the wake of the Battle Network Legacy Collection’s success especially, something like that seems inevitable to me. However, I don’t think that was what Match aimed to be.
Instead, I suspect that Match was some kind of competitive battle game with an emphasis on multiplayer. After all, I doubt they picked someone like Mr. Tsuchiya to fill Mr. Ono’s Street Fighter shoes randomly – his work with Mega Man Match probably shared some key similarities with the fighting franchise that made him a good fit for the role. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Match was a fighting game exactly like Street Fighter, just that it probably had a competitive online slant to it. There are a million different types of popular battle games that Mega Man could be shaped into, from hero shooters to MOBAs or even something like Fortnite. If that sounds crazy to you, consider that Activision recently tried to do exactly the same thing with Crash Bandicoot of all things.
Reskinning Mega Man into a popular multiplayer genre like this would also provide an opportunity to give the entire Mega Man franchise a chance to shine. In the same breath that Mr. Tsuchiya talked about the next Mega Man game after 11, he also said the following:
“Still, I think that there’s no such thing as a spin-off in the Mega Man series, every saga is a main series on its own. When speaking of “Mega Man”, there will always be people who think of “X”, as well as people who think of “EXE”, and I think that’s why each one’s concept of what Mega Man is changes depending on the generation. For that reason, we don’t want to deny any series of its future.”
What better way to capitalize on that perspective than to make a big online service game that lets you battle as all of the different Mega Man characters on equal ground? I can’t wait to purchase my Mega Man Battle & Pass!
You may be thinking…is a big budget Mega Man game like that really Mega Man? Maybe they could pull something like this off in a way that satisfies fans while appealing to a new audience, but we’ve seen time and time again that franchises often need to sacrifice major parts of their identity to adapt to current trends. I trust Capcom to do right by their fans more than most big companies today, yet even I would have major reservations if something like this were the plan.
Along similar yet different lines, another avenue exists for Mega Man’s future and it’s one Mega Man has been traveling down the entire time. Mega Man makes money outside of releasing new games and always has. The Mega Man that already exists can be infinitely milked for money in the forms of merchandising, re-releases, exploitative mobile games, and repackaged corpses of exploitative mobile games. Capcom finds seemingly endless ways to cash in on people’s affection for the brand.
That’s why it always seems silly to me that someone would ever bemoan the amount of Mega Man games as a poor business decision. Not only did they fulfill their functions at the time of release, they kept the door open for an incredibly varied backlog of properties to mine from for future business endeavors. Capcom would not be able to constantly re-release their backlog if they didn’t have a significant backlog of titles to re-release.
One of the biggest strengths of Capcom as a company is their willingness to keep their games in circulation for people to play. This allows the company to continually leverage the power of these players’ passion and their resulting fandom. With this strategy, Capcom continues to make money off of their games long after their initial release with the extended Mega Man merchandiseverse. Series like Darkstalkers and Okami have essentially existed as “merchandise” brands for decades.
These “merchandise” brands can only go so far, however. People may still fall in love with these games today, but without anything new to get excited about, they won’t necessarily connect with them in the same way that fans did when these games were fresh. I think that a big part of why Mega Man created such a fervent fanbase is exactly because they released so frequently during many of our childhoods. We essentially grew up alongside this series. Kids today may play and enjoy Mega Man, but they don’t have a Mega Man that they can grow up with. A lack of new games will eventually cause the passion of the fanbase to diminish and fade away as the old audience dies out and new audiences fail to connect to the material as strongly.
The solution seems obvious: go back to making smaller-scope games to give people reasons to invest in the series long term. I don’t think it’s impossible. Companies like Inti Creates and their Gunvolt games prove that you can make relatively small budget games, sell them to a dedicated audience, and then merchandize them for continued long-term revenue. Sure they need to do a lot of contract work, too, but if it were such a disastrous business model they would have shuttered long ago. As discussed above, though, a strategy like that can be hard to sell in the high-risk high-reward industry of today.
Here’s the thing about Inti Creates: they want to make the kinds of games they do. Whether you’re a smaller company or a major corporation like Capcom, you need the right people in the right places to be passionate about making games like Mega Man in order for them to actually be made. Mr. Tsuchiya described this exact problem as the reason why Mega Man 11 took so long to happen after the previous series overseer Keiji Inafune departed the company. Say what you will about his poorly conceived Kickstarters and NFT scams, Mr. Inafune wanted to make Mega Man. He used his position at Capcom to ensure that Mega Man continued to be made throughout his entire tenure with the company. With Mr. Inafune and now Mr. Tsuchiya gone, I’m not sure who exactly would take up the mantle for these kinds of games at the Capcom of today. It’s disheartening to say the least that such a major void has opened in the company. The day where Mega Man arrives at his final resting place as a “merchandise” brand may be unavoidable.
If you’re a longtime Mega Man fan, what both these potential avenues for Mega Man’s future share is that they probably don’t lead to destinations you hope for. You probably just want new games that retain the things you like about Mega Man. Whether Capcom prioritizes Mega Man as a big budget mainstream game or as a discarded hunk of nostalgia to be monetized, something important to Mega Man’s identity risks getting lost at the end of each journey.
You don’t have to support either of these directions. I recommend you don’t if you do not like them. So often people lump themselves into “fanbases” for a property and convince themselves that they need to blindly support whatever direction said property goes in. That doesn’t make you a fan; that makes you an unreasonable zealot. Maybe you don’t need to force yourself to like the latest grubby gacha game or Mega Man’s bold new foray into the survival crafting genre, you know?
People tend to love the things they do for specific reasons. If you can no longer recognize what you love in what you’re seeing, you need to move on. That advice works for your favorite video games and for your personal relationships, so feel free to test it out!
You are Mega Man’s Future!
“Moving on” from what Mega Man may become does not mean you need to move on from Mega Man altogether. The value of Mega Man is not Mega Man, the brand that Capcom owns and will do whatever it pleases with in the future. Mega Man’s true value lies in how Mega Man affects you. Whether Mega Man games simply make you happy to play or they inspire you in some way, those feelings matter more than any plans to monetize the series going forward. As with most things in life, it’s best to appreciate what you have rather than what may be.
For me, Mega Man serves a constant source of inspiration. This series demonstrates just how powerful simple yet effective concepts can be. From an artistic perspective to a design perspective, Mega Man has gone in so many interesting directions while retaining a core identity. Each of these disparate directions works because the core concept lends itself to being stretched and played with. Mega Man embodies infinite potential both as a character and as a series.
As a child, I found that infinite potential easy to latch onto. Mega Man characters inspired me to draw and imagine my own characters. The music and story stirred my imagination about the world. All of the hazardous spike pits and tricky enemies taught me to be patient. These experiences translated to how I see the world on a likely subconscious level. Maybe that seems a bit much for a video game to do, but I disagree. I don’t think I would be writing any of this, or much of anything at all, if Mega Man didn’t give me so many subtle pushes to think about what I’m experiencing and convey my thoughts to others.
Your experience with Mega Man can lead you to do all sorts of crazy things. Perhaps you create a ridiculously convoluted sprite comic, or a three act rock opera without a third act. Maybe you write a monthly Mega Man article on GoNintendo.com for an entire year. Whether the things you do with your life directly relate to Mega Man or not, if Mega Man has ever pushed you to do anything creative, that’s worth treasuring and acting upon. How you use what you take from Mega Man is just as impactful for Mega Man’s future as any new games can be.
Perhaps you don’t care about any of that and just want more Mega Man games. I don’t blame you. Well, I might blame you a little if you don’t stop being so picky. Mega Man 11 may have released five years ago, but Mega Man games still come out every single year. I’m sure that you’ve missed at least a few.
In truth, Mega Man is more than just the company that owns it and it always has been. The people who made the games defined Mega Man, and very rarely did these games ever have a consistent creative team. Staff constantly shifted, different companies moved in and out of involvement. Mega Man’s creator, Akira Kitamura, arguably the single most instrumental person in the history of the series, only stuck around for the first two games. The work and passion of the individuals on each and every team made Mega Man what it is, and rigidly adhering to what Capcom labels as Mega Man as the end-all-be-all will only make you unhappy in the long run.
Mega Man games do not need to be made specifically by Capcom to be “Mega Man.” Fans can and have proven themselves to be just as capable of carrying on his gaming legacy as the official company. Weird situations like Street Fighter x Mega Man show that the line is arbitrary to begin with. Professional experience and budget can make a difference, but passion and spirit matters above all else. Fangames like Mega Man Rock ‘N Roll or Unlimited recreate the traditional Mega Man experience with new creative spins. Projects like Mega Man Arena and 8-bit Deathmatch take familiar Mega Man elements into an entirely new direction. The stuff you can create and play in Mega Man Maker is ridiculously extensive to the point where you can theoretically always have some form of new Mega Man to look forward to.
The spirit of Mega Man continues on in video game form even when he’s not actually in the game. I played multiple games from just this past year that obviously pick up from where he left off. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, Gravity Circuit, and LunarLux are all cool games that are worth playing if you’re into Mega Man.
Earlier I talked about Inti Creates, who played an extensive role in Mega Man’s history. They don’t make Mega Man anymore, but they also kind of do. Don’t worry, I already wrote the book on why Gunvolt isn’t Mega Man in terms of gameplay. I mean more that their projects obviously pick up from concepts that Mega Man laid out while taking them into new directions.
As much as we may all want new Mega Man, I see unofficial continuations like these as a best case scenario. We get a constant influx of people who are passionate about the source material putting their all into their own spin on the basic, highly malleable Mega Man concept. If Capcom themselves published and reskinned these as Mega Man games, I doubt many would question their validity as potential new subseries. At the very least, something like Gunvolt or Gravity Circuit would be a lot easier to swallow as a Mega Man continuation than some Fortnite version of Mega Man. Games like these, ones either made by you or are capable of being made by you, are yet another vital way to carry Mega Man towards the future.
Regardless of what the future holds for Mega Man, the brand owned by Capcom, you do not need to wait around to keep Mega Man alive. You can create Mega Man’s future yourself by playing what’s out there, taking inspiration from the games, sharing your passion with others, and making things of your own. Mega Man has had a symbiotic relationship with fans from close to the beginning with its various boss design contests. Fans helped build Mega Man games of the past, and they can ensure Mega Man’s spirit carries on long into the future. You are Mega Man’s future, so don’t forget it!
All that said, I wouldn’t mind if Capcom really does announce that Mega Man Legends 3 releases next week and invalidates this entire article.