20 years later, Capcom's most unique spinoff is finally getting the respect it deserves
Time to log on.
When I was younger and the internet was less omnipresent, there was no bigger joy than getting to rent a game at Blockbuster. Wandering through the shelves of outdated VHS tapes and taking a left at the DVD holiday classics, I’d end up at my childhood mecca: the video game aisle. I’d bounce around like a spark trapped in a cage, overwhelmed by all the games available for consoles I didn’t own.
But I distinctly recall one day when my prepubescent eyes locked onto a GameBoy Advance copy of Mega Man Battle Network 2, featuring a tiny blue character and his spiky-haired cohort on the cover. I had no idea who the azure robot was — or about the nearly two decades of history behind it. But I sealed my fate when I took it off the shelf, bringing me into a decades-long obsession with the weirdest spinoff series starring the internet, radical extremists, and video game mascots.
Now, it’s finally time to party like it’s 2001 again. In 2023, a compilation of all 10 Battle Network games will come to Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC in a remaster bundle, Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection. The full list of games in the compilation includes:
- Mega Man Battle Network
- Mega Man Battle Network 2
- Mega Man Battle Network 3 White
- Mega Man Battle Network 3 Blue
- Mega Man Battle Network 4 Red Sun
- Mega Man Battle Network 4 Blue Moon
- Mega Man Battle Network 5 Team Protoman
- Mega Man Battle Network 5 Team Colonel
- Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar
- Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Falzar
With six mainline title series released between 2001 to 2006 on both the GBA and Nintendo DS, Capcom milked the Battle Network series as much as possible. By the aughts, Mega Man’s luster had waned and his platforming prowess had all but perished. Capcom decided that it needed to reinvent its classic mascot, rehauling his entire backstory and gameplay loop.
In the near future of 20XX, users now have access to personalized avatars stored on PDAs, called NetNavi, to travel the internet. Lan, a young boy with your traditional anime protagonist aesthetic, receives his own Mega Man avatar to help protect the internet. Over the series, Lan and his avatar must thwart villains like the nefarious organization World Three and the crime syndicate Nebula.
Joining him as an ally or foe are many of the blue bomber’s past allies and villains like GutsMan, ProtoMan, and Bass. The colorful world in which they inhabit is an idealized internet that never actually materialized. It’s unlikely we will ever see a world where you can plug your PDA into an air conditioner unit or cages at the zoo to cause them to go haywire.
Adding to that is the weirdness of the plot: early in the series, we find out that the Mega Man program is actually a reincarnated version of Lan’s brother.
But past the text boxes, the gameplay is where the Battle Network series truly shines. Though there have been additional gimmicks and some changes to the formula over the six titles, the core gameplay stayed fairly consistent. Mega Man is placed on a tiled grid and given a selection of chips, picked before the battle, to wield. These chips can range from an energy sword to an entirely new set of powers. The goal is to destroy the enemy standing on the other side of the grid, earn some experience, and move along.
Battle Network 2 and 3 were the games I invested the most time in as a child. I distinctly recall returning my copies to Blockbuster, only to come back the next day and hope that nobody took them out or erased my save file. To tide me over when I couldn’t play, I had a large collection of toys, including a MagnetMan action figure with an actual magnet in its chest. I also had a large assortment of physical chips that I could plug into my own NetNavi palm pilot that had to be shaken to power up.
I thought the Battle Network series had been forgotten by most people and even Capcom. But now a whole new generation can learn about Mega Man the way that I did — as more than an NES sprite with a pellet blaster, but as the internet’s savior.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection comes to PC and consoles in 2023.