Review: Rockman and Forte (aka Mega Man and Bass)

You may think that the last game in the “classic” Mega Man series was the SNES game Mega Man 7, whose sequel (cleverly titled Mega Man 8) was released for the Playstation. But did you know that in 1998, Capcom released another game in the series, for the SNES no less? Rockman and Forte never was released in the US (and if it had, probably would have been renamed Mega Man and Bass), since by that time the SNES platform had long been dead and buried.

You can easily find people on the Internet who will bemoan the Japan-only release of the game, claiming it to be the best game in the series. Are they right, or is this opinion, like most found on the Internet, completely bogus?

[EDIT: March 4: Added an image of you-know-what.]

For those of you wondering why a Mega Man game would be called “Rockman and Forte,” Rockman is what Mega Man is called in Japan. I’m not sure why they renamed him when releasing the first game over here, but whatever. The Japanese name does show why Mega Man’s sister is named Roll, of course. Rock and Roll, get it?

Anyway, in this review, I’m just going to use the US names for the characters, and not call Mega Man Rockman, or Proto Man Blues, or Bass Forte, or Treble Gospel. (Can you see the naming convention?) Even though I played the game with a translation patch that preserved the Japanese names.

Anyway. Enough rambling. Is the game any good?

The first notable thing about the game is that it gives you a choice of two playable characters: Mega Man and Bass. You pick one at the beginning and play the entire game through with him. Since both characters have different abilities, the choice does affect gameplay. Mega Man, as expected, can slide and charge shots, so he’s good at maneuvering in tight spots and against enemies without a weakness to a particular special weapon. Bass can dash, double-jump, and rapid-fire in seven directions, so he’s works best with a lot of maneuvering room, and can attack either by hit-and-run attacks or standing still and pumping a stream of shots into an enemy.

Some stages have areas where only one or the other will be able to get into. Why does this matter? In this post-Pokémon era, of course a Japanese video game is going to have something to collect. In this case, there’s 100 CDs lying around the eight main stages. Each one unlocks a little artwork and background info on a character from the Mega Man series. Some of the character bios are, well, odd, so perversely it almost serves as an incentive to find them, just to find out what crazy thing’s going to be on the next one. For example, Flash Man’s info reveals that he “sometimes uses his Time Stopper to peep on women in the shower,” and that he hates “wig ads.”

Or maybe that’s just the translators screwing around. But yeah.

There’s also bolts dropped by enemies that you can give to Auto, and he’ll build upgrades for you, like better armor or a faster recharger for your cannon. And some fairly useless items, like a communicator that lets Roll give you worthless “hints” for the stages. Also, you can buy extra lives.

The graphics are more cartoonish than you find in the classes NES Mega Man games. They generally don’t look too bad, but they’re nothing special. When Burner Man (more on him later) strikes his pose — you’ll know what I’m talking about — is it just me, or does it look like he’s buck-toothed? Also, Mega Man’s jumping animation is a bit odd, like he’s having to prep himself before lifting off. It’s distracting when you’re trying to make a precisely timed jump (more on that) later, until you compensate for it. But you shouldn’t have to compensate for it in the first place.

Sound? Meh.

And the plot? Well, nobody in his right mind plays a Mega Man game for the plot. (And if there is anyone who did, I’m sure they gave up on the series once they saw the intro to Mega Man 6. Oh, yeah, this “Mr. X” guy totally isn’t just Dr. Wily in sunglasses and a fake moustache. I’m not making this up.)

Here, the game starts you off in the Robot Museum, a stage with several references to previous Mega Man games: the annoying drill things from Metal Man’s stage, the annoying things that jump out of the pits in Fire Man’s stage, the tide-going-up-and-down part of some stage I can’t remember, and the annoying rain-that-pushes-you-backwards from Toad Man’s stage. OK, three out of the four of the references are of things that annoyed me in previous games. That’s a nice start, isn’t it?

So, at the end of the museum/death trap, you encounter Proto Man confronting King. Yes, King, a big yellow robot with a shield and an axe, is this game’s main bad guy. Creative naming there, Capcom. Apparently, King took over Dr. Wily’s lab (nevermind the fact that Dr. Wily tried to take over the world on no less than eight separate occasions, apparently they still haven’t revoked his license for building killer robots), which I guess explains why Bass (one of Dr. Wily’s creations) would be after him. Anyway, King dispatches with Proto Man, boasts that with the data he stole from the museum he can build his own robot army, and despite the fact that he could easily finish you off right now, he’ll leave you do the Green Demon, which a trained monkey could beat.

But apparently two minutes is all it takes for King to build eight new Robot Masters (well, apparently, six new ones and two retreads from Mega Man 8, or so I’m told). Unlike most Mega Man games, you don’t have your pick of any stage to start off with. Instead, you have a choice of three, and clearing them opens up some of the others for you.

So who are these robot masters that definitely aren’t rehashing the same themes we’ve seen time and time again in the series?

First up is Ice Man Blizzard Man Freeze Man Frost Man Cold Man, the obligatory ice-elemental robot. His weapon is the most useful in the game, though you probably won’t even use it for a weapon very much. It makes a block of ice you can slide around, or stand on to reach high platforms, or use as a floatation device in the event of a water landing under water.

Then you have Fire Man Heat Man Flame Man Burner Man, who has an, um, interesting pose. He’s the only enemy in a Mega Man game I can thing of that you can damage by pushing him (with the ice wall) onto the spikes in his room. You get a blowtorch from him.

Next up is Pirate Man. Yes, Pirate Man. Capcom really dropped the ball on this one — the game is just begging for a Ninja Man, so we could finally settle the age-old “pirate v. ninja” question once and for all. Pirate Man dresses like a pirate, though his stage is generic “underwater stuff.” Apparently your flame weapon acts as a water jet underwater, which lets you burst Pirate Man’s bubble (literally). And Pirate Man gives you remote-detonating mines, just like real pirates use.

Next is Ground Man, whose stage has more sand and temple-looking stuff than Pharaoh Man’s stage did. And annoying things that dig out the ground you’re trying to walk on. Man, I hate those. Ground Man’s a wuss once you realize that any mines you stick on him will blow up automatically once he tries to burrow underground. Enough of that and you’ll get his giant bifurcating drill.

From the ground up to the skies for Tengu Man. I don’t know what a tengu is, besides that it’s apparently bird-like and was one of the enemies you can fight in EarthBound. Which is still more than I can say about what’s so yamato about Yamato Man. Tengu Man has the second-most annoying stage in the game — an autoscroll section where you get to leap across little platforms and balloons that pop if you stand on them too long, lest you fall into the pit below. Also, there are clouds that will grab you and keep you from jumping. And the autoscroll! Grr! The drill easily knocks Tengu Man out of the skies since it can take up most of the screen’s height, and you’ll get his cutter weapon. I guess tengus also like curved knives?

Next, let’s remember our heirarchy: Legitimate Theater Man, Musical Theater Man, Stand-Up Man, Magic Man, Mime Man. It’s a a fun house and a carnival rolled into one! Magic Man can make birds appear out of thin air to attack you, shoots energy balls that release toy soldiers, and can steal your very life energy with his deck of cards. Use the cutter (cut the deck, get it?) on him to steal his cards.

Then you have <obscure reference>Man… or Astro Man?</obscure reference>. Remember those annoying appearing-and-disappearing-block jumping puzzles in previous Mega Man games? Remember how they made them easier later on in the series? Here we have some particularly evil ones. They’re fast, there’s spikes below them, they show up in annoying places, and it’s vertical! So evil! And so is Astro Man, who flies around just out of Mega Man’s reach and makes copies of himself that shoot at you. He doesn’t like card tricks, though — magic once again triumphs over science! Now you too can create a decoy of you that draws enemy fire and keeps shooting!

Finally, all that’s left is Dynamo Man, whose stage features accelerating conveyor belts and dark rooms with a roving spotlight that sounds annoying. Dynamo Man likes to trap you in a semicircle of energy balls, but they’ll go after a decoy. Dynamo Man also likes to recharge his energy, and the longer you take to destroy his charging harness, the more health he regains. Finally, you get his hit-everything-on-the-screen lightning attack.

Well, not finally. Before you can get to King’s fortress, there’s a special stage with eight rooms. Each room has a block you need one of your special weapons to destroy. The only annoying one — and man, is it annoying — is the one where you have to thread one of Pirate Man’s mines along a twisty narrow corridor to get it close enough to the block. It takes me a couple dozen tries to get it, at least.

Now you’re at King’s multi-stage fortress! Stage 1 is notable for its boss. A monkey. A robot monkey. A robot monkey who slaps his butt. A butt-slapping robot monkey that flings poo coconuts at you. Actually, I lie; the monkey is but a decoy; hit him enough and win $20! he’ll fall from the top of the room for a while. No, your target is the guy that peeks out the bottom of a heavy barrel, which you have to lift by jumping onto the platform connected to the barrel via a pulley (whose cable the monkey climbs around on), and from there fire shots so they hit the barrel guy’s head. Oh, and remember that you don’t land on the platform once your final shot kills the boss, because otherwise you’ll ride it all the way into the lava pit it’s above and die yourself. That’s aggravating.

Oh, and since Google Image Search didn’t turn up an image of the monkey, I felt it to be my duty to do so. Behold:

The butt-slapping robot monkey from Rockman and Forte.

Stage 2 is a series of boss fights connected by relatively short mini-stages. The first boss is a tank with several different armaments, each of which you have to take out individually. He’s pretty annoying. The second boss is a hovering ship you fight over a gaping chasm, hopping from platform to platform as the screen autoscrolls right at a pretty quick pace. The ship has nice attacks like releasing lanterns that, if you hit them, blind you for a couple seconds, and a fist that will destroy the platforms you’re madly jumping along! Don’t think you get off easy if you’re playing as Bass, either, since then the platforms are spaced farther apart. So annoying!

Then you confront King who, after fending off another of Proto Man’s attacks, duels with you. Once you beat him — and if this weren’t after all a Mega Man game I might be tempted to put a spoiler alert here — you find out that it was Dr. Wily who had created King all along (gasp!). Dr. Wily ups his attack power and King runs off into the next room. Follow him and King will combine with the other two bosses from the stage to form Voltron a giant tank with the combined attacks of the three of them, and who is really hard to hit if you’re playing as Bass (since you won’t get the floating platform that’s there as Mega Man).

Finally, Stage 3 is an assault on Wily’s newest fortress. This stage barely counts as a stage, since it’s mostly copies of the eight Robot Masters in a row will very brief stages in between. Finally, you fight Dr. Wily in one of his giant skull-themed machines, and then as he appears and disappears in his flying saucer around the room (didn’t we do this several times in the series already?). If you’re playing as Mega Man, the reason for fighting Dr. Wily is obvious. As Bass, you’re apparently angry that Dr. Wily gave up on you as a way to beat Mega Man, or just want to show how powerful you are, or something.

And then the ending(s), which I won’t spoil other than to say that Mega Man’s is way sappier than Bass’s is. (Also, try saying “Bass’s is” aloud.)

So, what’s the final verdict? Generally, the quality of the games in the classic Mega Man series can be graphed as a concave-down curve. The original Mega Man was OK, Mega Man 2 was quite possibly one of the greatest NES games ever, Mega Man 3 was a worthy successor, and then things started going downhill from there as the Robot Masters became more and more contrived, or shameless rip-offs of older ones, until you get to uninspired tripe like Mega Man 7. Rockman and Forte defies the curve. It’s a decent game, though quite a bit harder than most of the other ones. It’s not great, but if you like the Mega Man series, it’s certainly worth a try.

Besides, it gave me an excuse to break my near-silence on this site and to excessively use strikethrough tags to poke fun at the game. Holy cow this is a lot of writing. I mean, seriously.

So there you go. Rockman and Forte isn’t as great as the fanboys may lead you to believe, but at the very least it beats the curve.

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