A natural progression of the MegaMan series

Jon Mercer
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A screenshot from MegaMan Unlimited. — Submitted photo

MegaMan Unlimited

PC

First, bit of business this week: I don’t normally like to review fangames. Not because I feel it’s a waste of developer talent to craft a love letter to a pre-existing IP; rather that the end result is usually a step below rubbish.

However, a wealth of circumstance — the death of my original model PS3 after more than six years of dutiful service, a woefully slow July for games, the silent support of Capcom, the manner in which the fan base has welcomed this with open arms, and that fact that being a lifelong fan of this franchise has softened the blow of my hypocrisy — has converged in a perfect storm and I have deemed the free-to-play “MegaMan Unlimited” worthy of discussion.

It’s a good thing, too, because this has proven to be a labour of love that more than makes up for Capcom’s complete and utter lack of any celebration for the Blue Bomber’s 25th birthday. This one represents a level of polish that could lift fangames into the same lofty air of respectability as their indie cousins.

Crafted over the course of five years by a group based out of Quebec (Philippe Poulin, Jean-Simon Brochu, Gabriel LeBlanc, Yan Thouin of Ubisoft Montreal fame, and Jocelyn Perreault, and featuring musical assists by American chiptune artist Kevin Phetsomphou), “MegaMan Unlimited” impresses beyond the measure of a mere fangame. There were times playing this that I forgot I was enjoying a game that was completed in a group of friends’ spare time; that is how complete the illusion is. There is no clashing of sprites, no usage of pre-existing level design or recycled music that pervades games of this type.

And while it lovingly clings to

eight-bit game design (duh), it doesn’t ignore the advances the classic MM series made past 1988. That means the slide is in, and so are backgrounds with animated details and lots of other little bells and whistles that I’m getting way too excited about at 31 years old.

The point is, while MMU respects and adheres to the limitations of eight-bit game design, it doesn’t feel as if it is stifled in the same way that official releases MM9 and MM10 were. This plays like I imagine a natural progression of the series would have in the early to mid 1990s.

The levels are chock full of clever environmental hazards such as floors coated in sticky adhesive   that limit movement to jumping. Add in spike traps and things get quite dangerous.

Other levels toss in such dangers as platforms floating in pools of explosive gelatin that detonate skyward at high speed should MegaMan jump onto them; low gravity coupled with ice; moving platforms powered by locomotion.

The level design is equal parts clever and nefarious. Jumping puzzles require almost pixel perfect leaping to safely clear, and enemy placement demands patience and memorization. However, new gimmicks are introduced isolated from immediate danger, allowing players a chance to get their timing down before moving forward. Not that gamers won’t be dying in rapid fashion as this is the most challenging a “MegaMan” title has been since before my age was in double digits.

Frankly, it’s refreshing.

Wacky weapons

Of course, the most important questions: how are the bosses and weapons?

For the most part they are fantastic. The bosses attack with intelligent patterns and attacks that scream fun. I loved accidentally hitting the explosive tank on Trinitro Man too many times and having him take us both down in a massive kamikaze explosion. Plus, the weapons are diverse enough to make the missing charge shot a non-factor. The Glue Shot can create makeshift platforms for scaling walls, the Nitro Blast can pierce shields, and the Comet Dash doubles as an MMX style air dash.

Matching the gameplay and graphics is a soundtrack filled with 8-bit chiptunes that are simply infectious. There is a noticeable divide between the music composed by Kevin Phetsomphou and the rest of the crew, but thankfully Phetsomphou takes on the bulk of the soundtrack. I’m still humming the ninth hidden Robot Master’s stage theme nearly a week after release.

“Mega Man Unlimited” is nothing if not an ambitious, well crafted celebration of a series that shaped action games of the NES era. There is true talent here that cannot be faked, from the level layouts to the imaginative boss battles.

Looking back at the early YouTube videos before the project started to come together, it’s amazing that Philippe Poulin and his team have managed to deliver a game so concrete that it could have easily come from Capcom themselves.

It’s available for free download (Google it), and supports an amazing suite of USB controllers if you have trouble playing a platformer with a keyboard. Considering that “MegaMan Unlimited” started its life as a flash animation thrown together for a laugh, the end result is almost a masterpiece.

Platform: PC

Developer: MegaPhilX

Publisher: MegaPhilX (with support from Capcom in the form of No Cease and Desist Order)

Release Date: July 14, 2013

Rated: Not Rated (But E for Everyone.)

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a

communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Capcom, Google

Geographic location: Quebec, Montreal

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