The Mega Man Battle Network series is one that I had honestly never heard of until a few years ago – originally released for the Game Boy Advance, and later the Nintendo DS, the games were never on my radar as I had taken a very long hiatus from portable gaming. I luckily got a copy of Mega Man Battle Network 3 (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) in a GBA lot at a rummage sale, but never got around to actually trying it out.
The game starts with you at a field trip for your school to a network security company. There is a lot of text in this game, and almost all of it is jargon – my guess is the designers assumed the player had experience with the previous title and would feel right at home. I didn’t and was a little overwhelmed. From what I was able to glean from my friends and teacher, most people in this future society lead dual lives – one in the real world, and one in the net. You have a PDA (this was before the ubiquity of smart phones) which has a digital assistant who becomes your avatar when you ‘jack in’ to the net. In the net you can randomly encounter viruses and you need to fight to eliminate them in semi-real time battles. As the player, your assistant/avatar is none other than Mega Man himself. During battles, you select a number of chips to send out with Mega Man – these include attacks and special items like heals or buffs. You can only send him out with chips that are of the same type. On the grid, you move Mega Man up and down and can attack with the mega buster using the B button (which does little damage) – but you can use a chip action with the A button. Once you use a chip, it’s gone for this round. You can send out more chips but have to wait for a meter to fill up before you can open the menu to select them. This all sounds fairly complex, but in practice it was intuitive with the chips sort of representing cards in a hand. If I have any complaints about the game it’s that knowing what the game wants you to do next is not very clear, and navigating the net was – well, not intuitive to say the least.
Graphics and sound are something I normally break out into two sections, but for this I don’t think it’s necessary. Graphics are quite nice for a GBA title and run at a solid frame rate. Sound was pretty good for a title on the GBA, with music fitting the tone and sound effects matching well with the graphics they represent. Not the best looking or sounding game on the system, but above average.
I feel I need to address the elephant in the room. The game really feels like it’s stealing from Pokemon, but any resemblance is really at the surface level – this is a card battling game wrapped in anime/jrpg tropes with a strange amount of mid 90s cyber punk terminology. It’s an odd combination, but I can’t deny that it does work on some level. It also does seem to be trying desperately to get a slice of the Pokemon audience – and I’m not sure how successful it was at that.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. While this is well made, and I can see the appeal, it didn’t click with me at all. I can see an alternate universe where this released when I was 10 or 11, and I would be obsessed with it.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb