I’m used to game cancellations. They happen all the time, and without them, developers would get mired in unproductive efforts. But when word got to me last week that Capcom had cancelled “Mega Man Legends 3,” my gut reaction was just a hint of despair and befuddlement on top my usual, pragmatic acceptance of “well, I suppose they’d know if their game sucked.”
With a bit of reflection, I can see why the headline hit me that way. The “Legends 3” cancellation caps off a couple years’ worth of Capcom mishandling the “Mega Man” franchise as whole, and I’m starting to wonder if an awkward, transitional phase could stretch into the series’ long, slow death.
“Legends” and its offbeat sequel became cult hits in the truest sense – just take a look at the user score on the otherwise abysmal Metacritic page for “Megaman 64.” The third game continued that legacy with a wink–wink, nudge–nudge announcement from creator Keiji Inafune and a ton of ways for gamers to give input on the direction for the game, from voting on character designs to a (never-released) “prototype” version of the game. I’ve never seen fan service quite like that. But I’ve also never seen such a poorly handled cancellation.
Capcom somehow figured that the best time to shatter fans’ dreams of a 3DS threequel was at the start of last week’s Comic-Con in San Diego, one of the planet’s biggest gatherings of geekdom and a hub for Capcom faithful. Talk about a buzz kill. After inviting fans to take part in the process like never before, it felt like a stab in the back.
Then they twisted the knife. Rumors went around that Capcom was denying “Mega Man” cosplayers entrance to its Comic-Con booth, and a tweet from Capcom Europe “explained” the cancellation by blaming fans for not participating enough in development. An awkward and roundabout retraction of the statement a day later did little but suggest the company’s growing misunderstanding of its fans. The explanation should have clear and unified; it was anything but. Capcom USA’s Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development Christian Svensson essentially shrugged his shoulders at the Capcom Europe comment, and as far as I know, Capcom Japan has said nothing. I realize that community managers and not developers run Capcom’s Twitter accounts, but that’s not an excuse for a botched breakup from fans’ unfulfilled love affair with “Legends 3.” To be frank, it looks like the company doesn’t have it together.
That brings me back to the befuddlement I mentioned earlier: since at least when Inafune left the company in a huff last October, Capcom has pushed Mega Man in all kinds of directions while ultimately going nowhere but into a downward spiral. When I list out all the ideas Capcom has flaunted, scrapped and missed, I can almost distill it to a single, metaphorical board meeting that represents the Inafune-less company’s panic. Should they move Mega Man further into the downloadable space and champion user-generated content? Maybe, one bigwig says. They seemed awfully keen on the “LittleBigPlanet”-esque “Mega Man Universe” before sweeping it aside under “various circumstances” last March. Then another suit wonders: should they return to the series’ roots? Nope. After rebooting the original 8-bit games with Mega Man 9 and 10 in the last two years, the company has kept mum about a possible 11th entry. Hmm. What about expanding their fan-favorite side story and taking advantage of 3D hardware? We know the answer to that already – they delayed “Legends 3’s” prototype version and, of course, awkwardly scrapped the full game on Comic-Con eve.
If only Inafune-san were here, I’m sure they were thinking.
The latest head-scratcher is more subtle, but no less concerning. Capcom left “Mega Man” fans in the cold when it didn’t include the Blue Bomber in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” (“McC3”) last year, and most assumed the company was priming its most beloved character for a money-grubbing downloadable-content pack some months later. Irritating, but acceptable. Imagine the confusion, then, as fans pored over the recently leaked roster for an updated version of “MvC3.” No Mega Man to be seen. Really? 12 new fighters and no Mega Man? That’s a major snub, like Nintendo releasing a “Smash Bros.” game without Mario.
As much as I’d like to, I’ll never be privy to exactly what’s happening in Capcom’s boardrooms right now. For a moment, it seemed like Mega Man’s resurgence was spearheading the company’s iterative and innovative efforts, staying true to its roots, its fans and its legacy of excellence. But just as quickly, Capcom swept Mega Man under the rug. The easy explanation is probably the right one: with Inafune gone, the company doesn’t have a clue what to do with his old cash cow. The franchise is adrift in the ocean and caught in a storm of ideas from people who weren’t around when the series started, not unlike “Leno” or “Lost” during a writers’ strike.
Inafune’s departure may have left Mega Man’s inheritors in the dark, but they’re only dimming the lights by neglecting their fans and over-regulating the blue boy’s appearances in games he belongs in. With the cancellation of fan-centric titles like “Legends 3” and “Universe,” I wonder if Capcom has concluded that Mega Man’s future should come from the top down, even without Inafune. I’m okay with that, but I hope they don’t keep acting like the best decision is to stop making Mega Man games altogether.