When most people think of Mega Man, they think of that hardcore action platforming on the NES or SNES. Admittedly these are some of my favourite retro games, but there’s much more to the blue bomber than jumping and shooting pellets at Robot Masters. Mega Man played football in Mega Man Soccer, there was arcade fighting in Mega Man The Power Fighters, and there’s a whole host of RPGs featuring characters from the series. The most well known (and best) of the Mega Man RPGs are the Battle Network games, and with the upcoming launch of Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection you can play every single one of them on modern consoles.
These games all released originally on the Game Boy Advance (with one also appearing on the DS) and featured six main entries in the series. This collection actually includes ten games though, because some of the games have multiple versions with slight differences sort of like Pokémon. Regardless of if you end up playing six or ten of the games though, there’s hundreds of hours of virus busting content to indulge in here.
Instead of just playing as a blue and cyan robot, the Battle Network games feature the duo of schoolboy Lan Hikari and his virtual partner MegaMan.exe. The adventures of these two take place partially in the real world and partially on the internet, and are packed full of schoolyard antics, charming characters, and inevitably a global threat that can only be stopped by a young boy and his virtual virus battering buddy.
Without a doubt the main hook of all the games in the Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is the action RPG combat. In these battles against digital versions of familiar Mega Man enemies you’ll control our familiar friend on a six by three grid. Each turn you can choose from a selection of weapon chips to unleash on the enemies, and will need to move the blue bomber around the different tiles to aim your attacks and dodge the offence of the enemy. There are all sorts of chips to choose from, from easy to use cannons and blasters, to close range swords and grenades that are launched a certain number of tiles away.
The chips you get at the start of a scrap are random, but you can use more than one a turn provided they’re the same type or labelled with the same letter. This means you’re rewarded for collecting multiple chips with the same letter, and might end up swapping out more powerful attacks for ones that synergise better with the rest of your folder (which is essentially your deck of chips in this RPG card game hybrid).
Even with the most perfectly arranged folder of chips though, there will be plenty of turns where you just don’t have the firepower to finish off the enemy. When this happens you’ll have to wait for the meter at the top of the screen to refill, then you can pick more chips and deal more digital punishment. While you’re waiting you can also fire the Mega Buster, which deals a tiny amount of damage at the base level but at least means you have something productive to do while you wait.
This core gameplay is pretty much the same in every one of the six Battle Network games, but as the series evolves so does the gameplay. There are all sorts of different forms, transformations and upgrades that happen in the various games, which sets each of the titles apart from each other. These unique gimmicks aren’t all created equal, but they shake the games up enough to keep your interest throughout a whole lot of playtime on the world wide web.
The fictional online world of Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is even now such a unique setting for a video game, especially with the constant switching between the real and digital world. Lan can’t really do a whole lot but walk around town and talk to people, but at a whole lot of places in the world there are ports where you can jack in Mega Man and dive into the web. Your computer at home is where you’ll do this the most as it leads directly to the broader online world, but you can also send your little avatar into stereos, street signs and microwaves to name a few. Some of these will be crucial to progressing, but others will just take you to smaller areas with a few upgrades and a cheeky bit of Zenny.
One of my favourite things about playing each of the games in Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection was seeing how different cyberspace looked each time around. It’s always represented by different coloured paths and neon backgrounds, but each new entry in the series guts the online visuals and creates a new mess of colour to explore.
These games (especially later entries) were some of the best looking games on the GBA, and still hold up well today. You have the option of stretching the display area to fill as much of the screen as possible or playing in a smaller window for a more authentic early 2000s experience. There’s also a visual filter that smooths out some edges that can be applied to the games (which helps if you want the display area to be bigger and still visually appealing) and a choice of snazzy borders to select from.
As well as the graphical options, this collection of Game Boy Advance games also features the ability to add certain powerful abilities to your game at any time from the menu. Some of these originally came from e-Reader cards, others include content from the alternate version of a game for you to try out. These are pretty game breaking from a balance standpoint, but if that’s not enough to keep you alive you can also boost the power of the Mega Buster to ludicrous levels if you’re just interested in the story.
Although this collection of classics adds a nice amount of features to experience these games in 2023, there are still some issues I had with the games. When playing them as a collection it’s much easier to notice how slow the start of each of the games is, with lengthy tutorials that are all pretty much identical to each other. This made sense when you played them a year apart from each other, but jumping into the next game never really feels fun for the first session (especially with the amount of enemies this series recycles).
There are also some problems with specific titles in the Legacy Collection, especially the first game. The series was just finding its feet here, but certain aspects like the fact you can’t escape from battle without using a specific chip just feels wild when in all the other games you can just do it.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is a fantastic selection of retro action RPGs that still feel fresh today. The grid based battles and deck building are so engaging from start to finish, and the cyberspace theme is really charming. There are some slow starts and dodgy design choices along the way, but this piece of blue bomber history is well worth experiencing.
Fantastic action RPG combat that still feels fresh today
Deck building is endlessly compelling
A unique and charming setting
So much content
All the games get off to a slow start
Some of the titles are better than others