Rockman EXE Operate Shooting Star, Capcom's "plus alpha" remake of MegaMan Battle Network for the Nintendo DS, was released in Japan last week. Having had the chance to play the game and try out its new features, I'm here to give you my impression of this title. I must warn, this review contains a fair bit of spoilerish information concerning the game. I'm normally not this candid about a game that has yet to release in North America, but considering the kind of game Operate Shooting Star is, it's hard to get around. Regardless, if you don't want to be spoiled you should not read on. Now, there's something I want to make clear right away about my impression of Operate Shooting Star. It is not a remake of MegaMan Battle Network. It IS MegaMan Battle Network, with some additional features thrown in. If you have played MegaMan Battle Network before, you have essentially played this game already. "Plus alpha" is a Japanese expression that roughly means "a little something extra," and in Operate Shooting Star's case the emphasis is on "a little." I can't say this is a bad game though, because I do like the original MegaMan Battle Network. But I cannot understand why this game needed to be made. It is truly disappointing just how little new content was put in this game when you consider the whole package.
Since the game essentially is MegaMan Battle Network, I'll only bother to discuss the game's new elements. The largest new addition, of course, is what gives the game the subtitle of "Operate Shooting Star." Capcom has made a lot of effort to hype the game as a crossover with MegaMan Star Force, a "dream collaboration" between both MegaMans. Star Force MegaMan, aka Geo Stelar, even makes a large, mysterious looking presence on the game's box design.
In actuality, though, the Star Force connection this game has is incredibly weak. It amounts to little more than a side story about Geo needing to go back in time 200 years to stop ClockMan, an out-of-control experimental Net Navi who has kidnapped Harp Note. You first get the gist of this story in the game's prologue, which curiously is separate from the game itself - you can only watch it from the title screen, and return to the title screen when it's finished. Aside from that, this involvement only plays into a single additional scenario, where Geo finally does arrive in the past to stop ClockMan, who has taken Roll as well. The event itself is pretty fun and feels fresh, though it's fairly short. The banter between Lan, Geo and Omega-Xis is very entertaining. What's truly surprising, however, is that the event doesn't take place until after the ElecMan scenario, which is well three fourths into the game. By this point you've probably forgotten that this game had any connection to Star Force, especially since the previous scenarios are exactly the same. What's more, once the Star Force scenario is done, it's back to Battle Network as usual. The event makes no impact on the rest of the game's story.
Of course, after this event you can choose whether you want to play as BN MegaMan or SF MegaMan in battle. SF MegaMan generally has all his abilities from his own series. He charges automatically and rapid fires when you hold down the B button. Pressing Y generates his shield, and pressing X enters his lock-on mode, which lets him warp in front of enemies to perform chip attacks. This is way better than BN MegaMan, who doesn't have such an easy time with short ranged attacks, although using X to lock on is a little cumbersome. SF MegaMan's demerits are that he cannot use Program Advances, and if he's hurt in the middle of a lock-on attack he'll become paralyzed for a few crucial seconds. As much fun as he is to battle with, the game is nearly over by the time you get him.
The other major new feature is the Star Colosseum minigame. This is also available from the title screen, and can be played with up to six people wirelessly using just one copy of the game. The main competitive mode of this minigame plays out in the style of the game's overworld view. Players, who can use either BN MegaMan, ProtoMan or SF MegaMan, compete to gain the most stars in either a free-for-all match or a team match. Stars appear on the overworld to be collected, but you can also steal stars from opponents by attacking them. The catch is, every player has a rock-paper-scissors attribute, and your attribute has to best theirs (i.e. if you have rock, you can only steal stars from people who have scissors). Aside from stars, other items appear on the field that can be activated with the B button. You can only carry one at a time, and there are items that can change your attribute, give you a temporary advantage, or set traps for other players.
Additionally, there is also a Vs. Bass cooperate mode. Instead of collecting stars, all players must work together to defeat Bass by using bombs on him. Bass is capable of knocking players out in one hit, though knocked-out players can be revived if another player comes to touch them. The game is over if Bass is defeated or if all players are defeated, but Bass is definitely challenging, as he continuously hunts players down, and becomes faster as his HP decreases.
I was only able to try the Star Colosseum mode with one other friend, but we both had a bit of fun playing it. We definitely enjoyed the Vs. Bass mode the most, and though we tried about seven or eight times we couldn't defeat him. The star capturing competitive modes are a little more complex but just as frantic. I don't think my friend got into as much, especially since he couldn't read Japanese, so he wasn't sure what was happening all the time. But it was still fun, and I imagine it can get extremely exciting and chaotic with six people. The matches are short but sweet, lasting roughly three to five minutes.
There are other additional features in the main game of Operate Shooting Star. The internet areas now have maps in the lower screen which can be helpful, though personally I think it would have been more helpful to make different areas of the internet have a different visual style, as all the successive Battle Network titles did. The game's battle system takes a few elements from Battle Network 2, such as the inclusion of * coded wildcard chips, limitations to the amount of same chips in your folder, and the amount of chips you can gain with the add button. There are also a few new chips, a couple new program advances, and slight graphical updates here and there (mostly some new character mugshots).
All in all, though, Rockman EXE Operate Shooting Star is largely identical to MegaMan Battle Network of the Gameboy Advance, and I can't really feel that its new features justify the game's existence enough. The story is the same, the graphics are the same, the music is the same and unarranged, aside from the title theme (the Star Force event and Star Colosseum use music directly from the Star Force games as well). All this sameness makes for a rather tepid attempt at an exciting new game.
As far as I'm concerned, it's not a big issue that what they did use from Battle Network isn't updated at all. I can accept the same graphics and same music. Some believe they make the game feel dated, but I don't think this is a major concern. What is a concern to me is, since Capcom did just port over so much of Battle Network's content, why did they not very much new content? Why couldn't they throw in more new scenarios, or switch up the game's events a bit? Why couldn't they add more new Navis and new enemies? As I've mentioned before, enemy characters are one of the biggest draws to Mega Man games, and having more new Navis would have made this game much more appreciated. As it stands, the only new Navi really is ClockMan. And I'll give it to OSS that ClockMan is a pretty cool new character, if not very unique at the least (his personality is quite eccentric). But if you knew that Operate Shooting Star were to only include a single new Navi, would ClockMan really be your first choice? I didn't think so.
There has been some comparison of this game to Ace Attorney on the DS. After all, it's the same game as the Gameboy Advance version, with the same characters, same graphics and same music, with a single new scenario and other minor new features. However, this argument is rather flawed. First of all, just because Ace Attorney does it doesn't necessarily make it a fine practice. But more importantly, before its DS porting, Ace Attorney was only available in Japan. While the new features in the DS port were to test features they intended to include in the series' fourth installment, it was also to see how well the game would sell in North America and Europe. Of course, the game was eagerly enjoyed in those regions, which prompted the more hasty porting of the second and third titles for the DS as well. Still, I cannot imagine Japanese consumers had much reason to purchase these ports (although the original port did have a new scenario, and an additional secenario in a game like Ace Attorney amounts to much more new content than does an additional scenario in a game like Battle Network). Since MegaMan Battle Network has already been released worldwide, it will not enjoy this same advantage the Ace Attorney games had.
Additionally, people have also argued that this is a typical Capcom "cash-in;" that it's a simply made game to maximize profits. However, I disagree with this argument as well. While I can't imagine this game did take a whole lot of effort to make in a year's time, I also can't see it being that profitable since I think most Mega Man fans will realize there's not much new going on here. Imagine this. Capcom could have instead made a brand new entry in the Battle Network series, with new characters and events, and still had a Star Force crossover and the Star Colosseum minigame. They could have still used many assets from the previous games, such as character and environment graphics, combat systems and other engines, and so on. But the game would be much more attractive for having actual new content. Such a game would not take too much more effort to create, but would easily be much more profitable because people ultimately buy (and don't buy) games for their content.
So I cannot honestly understand the purpose this game was made. It's hardly original. It's a poor excuse for a cash-in. And I don't feel Capcom had a need to make a game just to gauge how much people are still interested in Battle Network. The strong worldwide sales of Battle Network 6 should alone prove that. The only conclusion I can draw is that Capcom just needed to buy time as they work on the direction they really want to go for Mega Man's future. I can only hope whatever they're working on is worth it for this disappointing excuse of a remake. With the excitement that Mega Man 9 created in 2008, 2009 will look pretty pitiful in comparison with this being Capcom's only offering for Mega Man.
In the end I can only recommend Operate Shooting Star to people who have never played the original MegaMan Battle Network, or to fans who are just really excited over Geo and other Star Force characters entering the game, however briefly it may be. And again, it's not like Operate Shooting Star is a BAD game. It's just hardly a new game, and I don't think it lives up to the hype Capcom of Japan drove up for it. I just want to make sure you understand what kind of game you're getting if you do decide to purchase it once it comes out in the western regions.