This was Mega Man’s last chance to be a contender, but now Mega Man will always only be Mega Man.
For those of you that do not follow the career of our favorite super fighting robot, Mega Man has gone through several permutations throughout the years. He started as the simple Mega Man, but already graduated to being the “spirit” of (separate) Mega Man X six years later. From there, Mega Man has gone through many different versions and spin off franchises. Some of these franchises were further explorations of “original” Mega Man gameplay (Mega Man Zero somersaults to mind as an example), while other offshoots used familiar iconography in conjunction with wholly unique situations (Mega Man Battle Network… oddly enough, often releasing simultaneously with Mega Man Zero). But whatever the situation, you could count on Mega Man running, jumping, and shooting his way to victory.
… Except when he was hosting a board game. Or racing a go kart. Or that one time he wound up in a bad SEGA CD-esque anime “super” adventure…
There was a hot minute in Capcom’s history when the likes of Super Joe or Captain Commando were intended to be the Mario of the brand. But, somewhere in there, Mega Man became the de facto face of a business that was almost immediately synonymous with gaming. Mega Man! The little robot that blinks! And it was not just a matter of Capcom promoting its blue bomber; Mega Man appeared as a regular on Captain N: The Game Master, too! Complete with a Nintendo Power covers, Mega Man was extraordinarily popular in his salad days.
And, as one would expect, this meant Mega Man became involved in several experimental titles. Mega Man could always be relied on to show up every Christmas with a handful of Robot Masters to rob and/or obliterate, but did you know that Japan saw Rock Board, featuring Mega Man’s two feuding daddies playing boardgames? Or that time Mega Man had to rely on soccer to defeat Dr. Wily? And once we got past the Super Nintendo, the Playstation proved to be the console generation that saw Mega Man experimenting the most. Mega Man: Battle & Chase was Mega’s chance at a kart racer, and Super Adventure Rockman saw Rock starring in his own FMV/anime challenge. We also saw two Mega Man quasi-fighting games in the arcades during this era (finally! You can play as Duo!), and, as the Playstation gave way to the Playstation 2, the obscure Rock Strategy appeared on Asian PCs. Mega Man got around at the turn of the millennium, all while his “traditional” action gameplay had three different flavors immediately available. How should Capcom fill your cup? Mega Man Classic, dark and frothy Mega Man X, or the newest hotness, the legendary Mega Man Dash?
Back in its prime, we had no idea Mega Man Dash/Legends would only ever see three entries. Two of these titles were the straightforward Mega Man Legends and Mega Man Legends 2, which both featured running, jumping, and exploring a world that would be very comfortable including a Duff McWhalen or Doc Robot. But the second title released in this quasi-trilogy, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, included running, jumping, and… a robot management simulator? And a puzzle game? And some light gambling? Wait, did I just see a rogue-like sneak into the background? What is going on here!?
In more ways than one, it is clear that The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was intended to be the experimental offshoot of the already fairly experimental Mega Man Legends. While Mega Man Legends went out of its way to confirm that this was the next generation for our blue hero, his “sister” Roll, and quasi-father Beard Guy, TMoTB barely made the most token of efforts to confirm it existed within the Mega Man universe. 8-Bit Mega Man appears in a random easter egg cameo, and… that’s it. No Dr. Wily boat rental here, and the concept of “Mega Man Legends” is barely even acknowledged on anything but the box copy. Beyond that, this is a story starring Tron Bonne and her family (characters introduced exclusively for Mega Man Legends) before they encountered our third favorite Mega Man. All characters outside the family, whether they be allies, villains, or frenemy police officers, are wholly new and were created exclusively for this adventure. And, give or take visual connection between Glyde and Glide.exe, none of these characters ever received so much as an echo in other Mega Man materials. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is an island onto itself that was never truly revisited again in a franchise that has lasted to this day.
And that’s a damn shame, as once The Misadventures of Tron Bonne gets going, it fires on absolutely every cylinder available. Entire sections are given over to block puzzles, and said puzzles are careful, fun, and thoughtful. Meanwhile, “let’s rob a bank” or “let’s steal all the cows” are exaggerated bits of buffoonery where the action immediately feeds into the exact level of chaos you need when you can chuck whole trees at houses. The weakest segments are the “RPG dungeon” levels, which drag as you wait for your lil’ servbots to stop being squished, flaming casualties long enough to hit a switch or open a treasure chest. But even there, the NPCs of these caves are entertaining and memorable, and, give or take a quiz champ that should be left to die in a forgotten grotto, every “person” in these events could stand to survive to see the Battle Network franchise. Maybe they could control TediousMan.exe? Of course, even those RPG bits remind you that the “action segments” are king here, as every RPG boss is a matter of properly strafing around an arena and targeting servbots at the right weak point. Additionally, the opening and final segments of the whole game are both 100% examples of “action bits”, so, sorry if you really excelled at block shuffling, you need more active abilities to see Ms. Tron save the day.
Or… maybe that isn’t completely accurate. The final battle is a fight like practically any other standard Mega Man title with patterns to recognize and weapons to utilize; but there is one significant difference: levels. Your final matchup is fought not by Tron, but her favorite servbot. And said servbot can be a complete weakling or a daring master of bazookas. What makes the difference? You are responsible for “raising” the servbots between other events, and their levels are wholly dependent on the amount of love, care, and torture you shower on your minifigs. This means that, if you ever want to succeed in this world of airpirates battling other airpirates, you must engage in some light Tamagotchi gameplay to keep your army growing apace with your pocketbook. It’s an action game! It’s a simulation! And if you overlook either side of the equation, you’ll be no more successful than a JRPG player that ignores every town’s equipment shop. You have to remember to upgrade your g(G)ear(s)! (Not that that problem ever occurred on the stream…)
In short, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was wildly experimental, and required the player to manage all sorts of skills to maintain a proper Tron Bonne capable of triumphing over her (relatively more) evil foes.
And then we never saw another Mega Man game try that again.
The Mega Man Zero franchise was the obvious continuation of Mega Man 2-D gameplay, but from Mega Zero 1 to Mega Man ZX Advent, we never saw so much as a cyber elf farming simulator. Similarly, Mega Man X made one attempt at its own JRPG with action elements and some very confusing warring factions… but probably the number one thing anyone remembers from that adventure is that it could unlock Cut Man in Mega Man X8. It seems the only future Mega Man franchise that tried to branch out from its “we’re doing the same thing every year like clockwork” gameplay was the Mega Man Battle Network series. Though, even in that case, its side games were either attempts to emulate other Mega Man games (Mega Man Network Transmission), or diversions that could barely come together as complete titles (Rockman.EXE Battle Chip Stadium, Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge). And by the time that franchise graduated to Mega Man Star Force on the next generation of hardware, the best anyone could hope for was an enhanced rerelease in the form of Rockman.EXE Operate Shooting Star. Bit of an inglorious end for an entire Mega Man Universe…
The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was a wildly experimental, incredibly entertaining diversion from traditional Mega Man gameplay that somehow still included wholly recognizable experiences. And not only was it never attempted again, but it apparently was the end of any experimentation in the Mega Man franchise. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 sure ain’t what my grandfather would recognize as a Pac-Man game, and Zelda Warriors is not your traditional Link jaunt. But Mega Man? Mega Man 11 is very much “the next Mega Man game”, and apparently a tie-in game for Mega Man: Fully Charged is too much to hope for. Mega Man is no longer allowed deviation, and that mandate has apparently been the norm since Tron retired from questing in 1999.
The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is a great game that apparently had horrible consequences. Sorry, Mega Man, but looks like Miss Tron is the reason you’ll never see a tennis court. Maybe Mario could let you guest sometime…
FGC #611 The Misadventures of Tron Bonne
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D! Possibly because I accidentally vacuumed up some automaton’s favorite gyro, this robot is trying to visit misery upon me! Please grab your 3-D glasses, and look forward to Jim Power!