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Mega Man Universe preview: Mega Man Uncertainty


There's one thing I'm sure of about Mega Man Universe: I want to like it. For one thing, it's a Mega Man game! I like it when those are good. For another, the concept of making your own Mega Man stages and playing them with cobbled-together heroes or other Capcom characters is a total slam dunk. I'm just ... not really sure about anything else.

The major hook for Universe is that you can build your own avatar out of parts from various Mega Mans, the series' bosses and other Capcom characters (Capcom won't say yet exactly how you obtain these parts in the game). The TGS demo build included multiple premade Mega Mans, including one in the style of Keiji Inafune's drawings and one resembling the style of the dopey space ranger from the Mega Man box art. Each one has different attributes in terms of health, speed, jumping ability and so on. You can further augment these abilities by changing parts.

Gallery: Mega Man Universe (TGS 2010) | 17 Photos

I chose "Metto Man," a weird Metool-headed guy with extreme jumping ability. I'm sure, over time, I'd appreciate having greater-than-Mega jumps, but in practice it was utterly disorienting. After 25 years of learning the Mega Man mechanics, having a jump even one pixel higher than normal was like picking up a cardboard box that you think is going to be full, but isn't. I won't say this is a problem for the game, because it was only a problem for me. It actually adds welcome variety to the formula .. if you can handle it -- which I couldn't.

I have some concerns about the general movement, as well, which don't pertain to the specialized attributes. When other Joystiq team members played the Universe demo, they pointed out to me that Mega Man can't really take just one step anymore. You can hold a direction to run, but tapping just a bit to precisely position yourself results in ... nothing. It's a minor gripe, especially considering how spot-on most of the motion feels, but this one aspect of not-quite-rightness might suggest there are other issues that could come up when playing the game for longer than a few minutes. Universe needs to feel like a Mega Man game -- otherwise it's just a run-and-gun toolkit.

It's much easier to evaluate the visuals, and they're mostly not great. Universe features a mishmash of 8-bit-style elements in its environments, along with unattractive 3D models of enemies and characters. Some of the updated enemies are kind of cute, but not enough to save the whole presentation. It's especially baffling that Capcom went this (more difficult) route when the NES aesthetic used in the last two games -- Mega Man 9 and 10 -- would have made it easier to keep all the user-placed elements consistent.

But again, the Universe concept calls out to me. With movement seemingly almost perfect, the level creation and sharing might be sufficient to overlook the superficial problems. In one of the TGS demo stages, what looked like an instant-death chasm actually turned out to be a shortcut to a different part of the stage; one that I wouldn't have discovered without "dying." That's an interesting "innovation" in terms of Mega Man level design, and it makes me excited for what I'll be able to play.

If Capcom and users continue to come up with neat level ideas, Mega Man Universe could be a very enjoyable game. As a Mega Man fan, though, it's sad to think that it would have to succeed despite anything.

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