It's Boss Rush Time!
Mega Man: The Power Battle
For audiences in the West, the Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world. classic series seemed to go through a very quick evolution of styles. From the classic look of the 8-bit style in Mega Man 6 to the new, bright and shiny (and a bit chunky) graphics of Mega Man 7 to, suddenly, the even more upgraded graphics of Mega Man 8 on the PlayStation, the series very quickly burned through a number of art styles is short succession. Except, that wasn't entirely the case. Over in Japan there was a much more subtle transition: the graphical style of the SNES-released Mega Man 7 lived on in two arcade games as well as another SNES game we didn't get overseas until much, much later. had we seen these titles, the artistic transition might have seemed much less severe.
The first of the arcade titles released in this era, Mega Man: The Power Battle (of course originally released in Japan as Rockman: The Power Battle) is honestly little more than a glorified boss rush for the classic series. Capcom, of course, is well known for their fighting games, having released hundreds of games in the genre to arcades over the years (only half of which were re-releases of Street Fighter II). Making a Mega Man fighting game had to seem like a no-brainer -- he's already an action star so why not put him into a fighting game? And if this had been a true fighting game set in the Mega Man universe, this title might have been a real winner. Sadly, it's not really anything more than a collection of bosses to fight as if we were already in Wily Castle, taking on the capsule refights.
At it's core, Power Battle is a series of six, selectable Robot Master fights followed up by a single Wily Castle battle before the final confrontation with Wily himself. Players can choose from one of three heroes -- Mega Man, Protoman, and Bass -- and then use these characters (singularly or in a co=op battle against the villains) to battle, classic Mega Man-style. After the fight, the robot master will grant the hero their ability (like in all the other games int he series), and Mega (or whoever) can then use that weapon on the next boss fight, and so on. It's exactly what you would expect from a Mega Man boss rush game.
To make it seem like more than just a stripped down boss rush, though, the game does at least have a few nice touches and upgrades. For starters, there are three tracks for the players to navigate through:
- Robots from Mega Man and Mega Man 2: Cut Man, Guts Man, Ice Man, Crash Man, Heat Man, and Wood Man.
- Robots from Mega Man 3, Mega Man 4, Mega Man 5, and Mega Man 6: Magnet Man, Gemini Man, Dust Man, Gyro Man, Napalm Man, and Plant Man.
- Robots from Mega Man 7: Freeze Man, Junk Man, Cloud Man, Slash Man, Shade Man, and Turbo Man.
This is a rather robust selection of bosses to fight, leading to plenty of replayability as you try to make it through each of the tracks and learn the various bosses there in. There are some odd inclusions -- I don't think anyone really cared that much about the Mega Man 7 bosses that much, even if they were the easiest to import since they were already in the style of the game, but then were is my Metal Man or Snake Man, bosses that seem iconic for the series? -- but on the whole this is a good, well-rounded selection of bosses to fight once or twice.
Naturally, since this game was designed in the SNES graphical style (which some tweaks based on the Arcade hardware, of course), all the classic bosses showing up here have been redrawn. For the most part they look great, which villains like Ice Man and Guts Man looking quite slick in their new style. Not all the bosses fare so well, though, with some like Wood Man and Gemini Man not really looking as stylish as they should. Whoever designed the new look for the bosses didn't do as even a job across the board with the upgrades.
The game also gave all the bosses new moves to use during the fights, meaning you can't just come into this game having played the past ones and expect to be able to just clear this game in no time. Some of the fighters, like Cut Man, still don't seem all that tough, but a few of them, like Gemini Man and Magnet Man have new twists on their formula that can make them substantially harder. I would grouse about the difficulty normally but since this is a boss rush mode only, and you don't have to try and replay through the entire stage leading up to the boss if you crash out (since there aren't any stages in the game, just boss fights), it doesn't feel nearly as bad.
Of course, back in the day that difficulty was an intended "feature" of the game. As a quarter-munching arcade game the point was to leech money out of players, so particularly hard boss fights in a fighting game were purposeful. The game does try to lure you in, make you think it'll be easy, with the bosses starting off with very small energy bars. As you progress, though, and collect the boss weapons, the bosses get more and more health, become formidable foes with long battles to clear through.
It certainly doesn't help that the boss weapons are virtually useless in this game (which is part of the reason why were aren't even bothering with a boss weapon recap at the end of this article). While you do gain boss weapons as you go along, it never feels like they do all that much damage against your foes. Some enemies, like Ice Man, that should have a clear and obvious weakness (in this case, Heat Man's Atomic Fire), still shrug off the damage like it's nothing. More often than not you're better off just playing through with the Mega Buster (liberally spewing out charge shots) as that weapon does as much damage, if not more, than any of the boss weapons you'll get.
Then there's also the fact that you were obviously meant to play through this game three times, on three sets of quarters, to see everything. Boss weapons you earn on one track don't carry over to the next track, and there's no save feature here (as this was an arcade game) so each play through is like your first play through. It's a very limited setup, one that might encourage a couple of attempts at the game but lacks any depth to keep players deeply hooked.
On the whole, this game feels like an oddly compromised package. While the concept of a Mega Man fighting game seems great, especially one with upgraded graphics and sound, the resulting game doesn't ever rise above the level of cheap, boss rush knock-off. Heck, you'll probably have more fun playing any of the capsule refight stages in the various games than you will playing through this fighting title. If you have a choice, that's probably your better bet.
Remakes and Releases
Although Western audiences didn't originally get to see The Power Battle, it did eventually make it to our shores are part of the Mega Man Anniversary Collection. No major upgrades were done for this release, but it did at least mean those of us in the U.S. could finally (legally) play this game.
Meanwhile a couple of other releases of the game stayed across the pond in Japan. The first was a combo-pack of this game and it's sequel, Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters, published on the PlayStation 2 as Rockman Power Battle Fighters. This version included a new Versus mode so players could fight against each other, and not just against computer enemies. This release of the game was later ported to the PlayStation 3 network as well.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting version (from a historical standpoint) is the remake of the game for the NeoGeo Pocket Color. Although again only published in Japan, this version features stripped-down graphics (bringing it more in line with the NES era style of the classic games) while still maintaining all the basic functionality and basic flourishes you'd expect from a proper port. It's sadly little more than a curiosity now, especially with the more graphically robust version available in the Anniversary Collection. That said, it would still be nice to see Capcom re-release this as part of some hand held collection at some point in the future.