What Happened to the 'Mega Man' Series?
A 'Mega Man' Retrospective
With its long history and many games, the Mega Man series may at first appear to be a wildly successful franchise up there with Mario and Sonic. However, this isn't true of the Mega Man series as a whole with, only a few games selling more than one million copies worldwide. This fact made me wonder how the Mega Man series could be so well known but rarely be the success we would expect from a long-running franchise.
No Clear Direction
Ever since the launch of Mega Man X in 1993, it seemed inevitable that the X series would take on the mantle of the Mega Man series. However, the release of Mega Man 7 in 1995 called into question whether the main Mega Man series was X or classic. Unlike the Mario series, Mega Man games don't always differentiate themselves by genre (Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario Tennis, etc.) which, makes it confusing to discern if a game is part of the main series. The naming conventions of the Mario series are even more descriptive because the "Super Mario" moniker is usually attached to the mainline titles. The lack of clear messaging affected Mega Man Legends in particular because even though it represented the Mega Man series' first real attempt at 3D with the classic and X series still being active, it was more like a spin-off than a mainline title.
One sentiment that was expressed about the Mega Man series in the early to mid-2000s was that there wasn't anything new for fans of the original side-scrolling platformers. This perception has some merit because, besides the poorly received Mega Man Network Transmission, there weren't any original side-scrolling platformers released on console. At that time, the X series was experimenting with a bunch of different genres including, turn-based RPG (Mega Man X: Command Mission), side-scrolling shooter (Mega Man X8), and third-person shooter (Mega Man X7). However, on the Game Boy Advance, there was no absence of new side-scrolling platformers, with the Mega Man Zero series spanning four entries. Unfortunately, despite favorable reviews, the Mega Man Zero series failed to garner as much attention as its console counterparts.
Too Many Games
Something you may have noticed about the Mega Man commercials in this post is how they feature multiple games. A video game franchise being prolific isn't necessarily a bad thing but, if too many games release in the same year, it can spread its fans too thin. The most significant example being in 2004 which, saw the release of five Mega Man games in Japan and four in North America. An even worse issue was how the sameness of each sub-series burned out many consumers and resulted in bad reviews from game journalists. Craig Harris explains this issue in his review of Mega Man Battle Network 4 "The Battle Network series definitely has its fanbase, but in terms of really anticipating the next game in the series, that's not going to happen until Capcom offers something decidedly new and unique for the characters and universe."
The situation didn't get much better, with many Mega Man games getting canceled following the departure of series producer Keiji Inafune in 2010. However, with the recent success of Mega Man 11 and Mega Man X Legacy Collection, both managing to sell over one million copies, the blue bomber is making a comeback. Hopefully, Capcom will capitalize on this resurgence of interest by creating more games in the Mega Man series.