24 years ago Capcom was an up and coming arcade game maker that was making its’ first strides into home consoles by porting their arcade titles. Hungry for a new challenge they decided to create a brand new intellectual property for the home market, one that used the action and fast paced game play they were known for at the arcade, but solely designed for the home console. This project would be the first opportunity for then fledgling employee Keiji Inafune to contribute in a major way to a game. That game was Rockman, released a year later in North America as MegaMan.
The premise, on the outside, was quite simple. You are a robot that has been tasked with stopping a mad scientist and his army of repurposed industrial ‘bots from taking over the world. You can jump, shoot, climb ladders and run through the challenging levels to face the robot masters.
On the other hand, Rockman challenged traditional arcade gaming notions of progress by removing the linear flow of the game. The player could choose which levels to do in whatever order they liked. Further to this, defeating a master got you his weapon to use as needed to make the levels easier and, if you chose the right one, as a trump to another robot master.
Rockman was a resounding success. The simple controls, challenging levels and charming art style won over the hearts of gamers around the world. It was so successful, in fact, that it spawned a sequel very quickly, followed by another, and another….
Rockman quickly became the unofficial “face” of Capcom, and would remain alone in that role until the fighting game boom of the 90’s was started by Capcom’s other flagship series, Street Fighter.
Gracing multiple platforms over many generations of console and computer, Rockman is still one of the most recognized faces in gaming, with a devoted fan following that borders on the obsessive. Almost every series has seen record sales numbers. He has travelled through not 1 or 2, but multiple spin-offs and side games, made appearances and cameos in many more. Ask any gamer today to name 2 Capcom games and you’re most likely to hear “MegaMan and Street Fighter”.
In fact, in Japan Rockman is so popular that Capcom hosts a summer festival just for him.
At the heart of this incredible franchise, Keiji Inafune. Innovator, creator and driving force for some of Capcom’s most notable games, he is the heart and soul of the classic series and indeed all things Mega. But as time marched on Capcom saw the potential in Inafune and began to heap more and more responsibility on him, leaving him less and less involved in the games themselves. He did make a point of keeping his hand in one particular spin-off. Rockman Dash, a.k.a. MegaMan Legends.
Although they achieved minimal success in sales numbers, the game found a niche in the fan base not unlike that of a cult movie. The narrative was well thought out, paced and brilliant, the combat system excellent, and the graphics stunning (especially for the time). This was Inafune’s Opus, his most cherished work, and a labour of love for his fans.
Unfortunately, the timing for the release of the second chapter couldn’t have been worse. At the end of the Playstation’s life cycle, and just as the Playstation 2 was taking off, Rockman Dash 2 was released to little fanfare and performed poorly in the sales quotas. And even worse for the fans, the game’s story ended on a cliff hanger with no chance of a sequel in sight. This would be the start of a seemingly endless battle to see the story finished.
This seemed like the end for the plucky blue bomber. There were a few more games released, most notably the Battle Network, Zero and ZX games, but Rockman seemed to be fading as the generation that grew up with him moved on.
Inafune had other ideas. With the advent of PSN, Xbox live arcade and WiiWare, he saw a chance to bring Rock back to his roots and give the fan base what they wanted: Classic 8-bit Rockman. By making it a downloadable title he appeased the higher ups at Capcom by reducing the development cost. The result was Rockman 9. Made in the 8-bit style, this game was at the heart of a Retro Gaming movement that wanted to make old new again. More so, Rockman was back in the spotlight and on center stage! The success of Rockman 9 prompted Rockman 10 and a slew of merchandising and licensing. Figures, Manga, shirts, comics, cell phone charms. The Blue Bomber was back and in high demand.
Riding high on the swell of this newfound support, Inafune (again) pitched the idea of Legends 3. His angle? First, put it on the new Nintendo Handheld that was generating a lot of buzz and looking to be THE next big thing. Second, get the fans involved. In an unprecedented move Inafune opened up the development of Legends 3 to the fans, allowing them unrestricted access to the game’s progress as well as a major say in how the game was made. Fans could vote on character designs, submit enemy designs to be used in game, help choose voice actors, and grow even closer as a community. It was a brilliant marketing strategy and wonderful gift to the fans. Even better, a demo game that would preface the story of the game was being developed for the 3DS e-store.
Then tragedy struck. Inafune, who had been at loggerheads for years with the Capcom Brass, finally couldn’t take it any more. In a move that rocked the gaming world, he tendered his resignation and walked away. He had, in his time at Capcom, groomed a handful of successors who still had the passion and love of great game design and Rockman to carry on his legacy. Although shaken, the Legends 3 team soldiered on bolstered by the support of the fans.
Another staggering blow hit as the launch sales of the 3DS were posted. To say they fell short of expectations would be like saying a kick in the nuts might cause slight discomfort. The gamble that Capcom had been talked into taking (considering they never truly believed a third Legends game would ever sell well) looked to be going sour.
The first rumbles of worry travelled through fans when Capcom, very quietly and off to one side, stated that the future of Legends 3 may rest on the sales numbers for the Demo version on the e-store. Fans still felt confident as they were waiting for this release to purchase a 3DS. Although the Capcom execs could not see it, this game was a system seller.
The final blow fell when, without fanfare, Capcom very quietly issued an announcement that development of Legends 3 would cease, effective immediately, and would not resume. This was a shocking and unbelievable move. It was obviously financially motivated, but was a complete slap in the face of MegaFans everywhere. The backlash was instant and brutal. Fans cried out for the game to be reinstated. Begged to be given this final game.
With Inafune gone, it was general consensus that this was to be the last Rockman game anyway, but what a tribute to the fans. To retire the Blue Bomber with honour and fanfare, praised as the mascot and symbol of greatness that he had always been.
We were denied. Worse, Capcom seemed to want to erase all traces of Rockman. When the roster for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was drawn up Rockman was a shoe in, having been in both previous entries. He was mysteriously absent.
When the updated roster was announced for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and fans were asked to vote for the added characters, MegaFans were again ignored.
So, after 24 years of devoted service to Capcom as a major money making franchise, mascot, and face of the company Rockman was not carried off into the sunset with a hero’s farewell. He was stuffed in a sack and, in the dark of night, drowned in the river.