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, despite its recognition, the Mega Man series only has a few games that sold more than one million copies worldwide. Even the best-selling Mega Man game Mega Man 2 only sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. This fact made me wonder how the Mega Man series could be so well known but rarely be the success one would expect from a long-running franchise.
Ever since the release of Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo, it seemed inevitable that the X series would take on the mantle of the Mega Man series. However, Mega Man 7's release on the Super Nintendo questioned whether the classic or X series was the main one. Unlike the Mario series, the naming conventions of Mega Man games are less descriptive because they don't have a moniker like "Super Mario" that acts as an identifier for the mainline titles. This lack of clear messaging affected Mega Man Legends because even though it represented the Mega Man series' jump to 3D with the classic and X series still active, it was more like a spin-off than a mainline title. With the confused identity of the Mega Man series, it's not surprising that the only iteration of the franchise Capcom feels confident returning to is the classic series that started it all.
One sentiment 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. There is some truth to this sentiment 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, third-person action (Mega Man X7), turn-based RPG (Mega Man X: Command Mission), and side-scrolling shooter (Mega Man X8). However, there was no shortage of new side-scrolling platformers on portable systems with games like Mega Man Zero, Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X, and Mega Man Powered Up. Unfortunately, these handheld Mega Man games weren't as successful as their console counterparts.
Too Many Games
Something you may have noticed about the Mega Man commercials in this post is how they all feature multiple games. The prolific nature of the Mega Man franchise isn't necessarily a bad thing but, too many games releasing in the same year can spread a franchise's fans too thin. The most egregious year was 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 critics. 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 canceled Mega Man games following the departure of series producer Keiji Inafune in 2010. With Keiji Inafune's spiritual successor Mighty No. 9 proving to be a failure, the situation was bleak for Mega Man fans. However, with the recent success of Mega Man Legacy Collection and Mega Man 11, 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.