Battle of the Network Mega Stars.
The Mega Man Battle Network series on the Game Boy Advance reprogrammed the mega-mythos we all know and love into a digital pet game. In the three Action/RPG GBA games thus far, Mega Man teams up with his human trainer and best bud, Lan Hikari, to combat ne'er-do-well viruses online.
Geez, it sure would be helpful to have a Mega Man of my very own just to power blast all my junk e-mail away. "Johnny Liu Â increase your bust size from a measly A to a voluptuous double D!" *BLAM!* My bust size is fine, thank you very much. Unfortunately, there's no "Mega Man Spam Killer" for my e-mail just yet, but at least the blue bomber made it to the Gamecube.
Mega Man Network Transmission takes the Mega Man Battle Network formula and attempts to bring it back into the classic action realm. It's a hard pill to swallow. The most interesting RPG parts of Battle Network are left behind, and the action is not as good as the best of the Mega Man series. With some unbalanced difficulty, this is not a Mega Man for the masses.
Part of what made Battle Network good was the dichotomy of a human world and an online net. In Network Transmission, there is no dichotomy Â just action levels set online and the cheap facade of a normal world. Movement around the normal world, with a steady increase of new areas and a shop, is done via a simple map that doesn't add any sense of environment or immersion.
Instead, we get the classic Mega Man action stages with a degree of backtracking after upgrades have been made ala Metroid. The "Chip Weapon" upgrade system has been grafted into the traditional action game with fair results.
In Battle Network, the Chip system allowed Mega Man to have a range of selectable weapons, such as a shot that would spread into a V, a sword, or bombs to lob. Battles would take place on a small grid. The different attacks directly complemented the grid environment, creating offensive and defensive points for each attack. Network Transmission forces that grid system back into a 2D world, thus creating a smaller margin of error with a tendency towards a strict timing scheme.
In turn, Network Transmission encourages the old-school trial and error gameplay, with its complete absence of continues and abundance of punishing instant deaths. With this trial and error comes a mastery of which chip weapons are best for which scenario, a hallmark of the series. Perhaps the RPG element that should have been added was steady growth that rewarded each attempt instead of instant deletion.
When you start a new life, you pick from a selection of five chip weapons. There's also the very weak basic shot. At certain times, it is to your strategic advantage to use the weak shot, thus saving your weapon chips while still avoiding damage. The timer to reset your chip weapons is painfully slow. It made sense in the direct one on one battles of Battle Network to have a timer, but in Network Transmission where you can just as easily stand in place without any damage to reset the timer, it's more of a hassle.
If you take on Network Transmission, expect to play the first two levels several times over Â getting the knack of using the proper battle chips can be trying, and don't expect much luck by way of random enemy actions.
For instance, while it can be relatively easy to learn how to slide under Fire Man's torch blasts, he may just as likely start walking towards you on one try as he is to walk away. If he walks toward you, the torch blast timing becomes much harder, and then whammo! - quick death.
Even though you can set some default chip items to be ready upon starting an action sequence, the weapon system is more predicated upon the luck of the draw. Once you do get over the initial difficulty, the game evens out a touch, but by then, most people will have already left.
Of any Gamecube game, this one would make the most sense for GBA connectivity. The Game Boy Advance could act like one of the digital PDA devices featured in the game, where little Mega Man could live and then "jack in" to the big scary "net" on the Gamecube. For a game about network connectivity, not utilizing any form of it is just a shame.
Stylistically, the cel-shading of Network Transmission could have used some more detail, but the highly contrasted light-sourcing effects add considerably to the look. It pales next to Wind Waker, but the cartoony graphics are decent. The electronic theme is adequately represented with wires, neon, chips, and 'net' imagery everywhere.
The music references the digital pops and clicks of computer noises to create a series of heavily electronic sounding tunes. The voices are in the original Japanese, which is par for the course of the series.
Mega Man Network Transmission's gameplay is simply not as strong as either of the two original parent entities on their own. It's as if the balanced half-action, half-RPG formula of the Network Series was just tossed into the classic Mega Man action mold, creating an unbalanced partial-RPG with a merely satisfactory mix of action. While there are some good action bits that do justice to Mega Man's long history, Network Transmission is not among the best of the series. Still, those of you who have followed Mega Man through his 15 years of gaming may find enough fond memories here to warrant a go.