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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Capcom PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 11, 2003 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Drop that Bass! (Of course, he would then double-jump.)

Mega Man 8 had recently rolled out into the laps of PlayStation and Sega Saturn owners clamoring for a Mega Man game to call their own. It was an enjoyable experience, marred mostly by terrible voice acting and the inexplicable inclusion of a squishy sound effect when Mega Man would land after a jump. Mega Man 8 also represented a shift for the Blue Bomber to a non-Nintendo console for the first time. Fearing somewhat of an alienation, producer Keiji Inafune and his design team, wishing to reach out to those not fortunate enough to own one of the newer consoles, returned to the Super Famicom for one last hurrah featuring his favourite character. In April 1998, Rockman & Forte was released for the Super Famicom as a Japan-exclusive title. The SNES was already past its prime overseas, so Rockman & Forte was not brought over. But all was not lost for gamers worldwide: to celebrate Mega Man's 15th anniversary, Capcom ported Rockman & Forte to the Game Boy Advance handheld and localized it in North America and Europe under its anglicized name of Mega Man & Bass.

Mega Man & Bass was the first game of the "classic" series to feature two playable characters. Mega Man acts his old self, able to charge up his Mega Buster for powerful blasts, slide through tight passageways, and look handsome while doing both. For the first time, players could choose to take Bass through the journey. He has unique abilities separate from those of Mega Man, including a quick dash, a double-jump, and a rapid-fire cannon. He can't slide, however, and his shots are generally weaker than Mega Man's. They control differently, but you'll still need to guide them through peril. The game's storyline follows our dual heroes as they reach the Robot Museum, where various robots of the past are kept on display for the general public to admire. As each of them arrive (separately, not together), they discover that a new robot named King has broken in and has stolen blueprints for original robots, which he can then use to help him rule the world. Proto Man actually arrived first, but he was quickly subdued by King. Mega Man shows up and displays compassion for an injured Proto Man before heading after King. Bass, on the other hand, simply whines that he is the greatest, ignoring the sparking hunk of metal on the floor. That's Bass for you.

Unlike the previous couple of games before it, Mega Man & Bass doesn't exactly introduce anything to the established formula. This game serves more as polish than anything else: it has the look of Mega Man 8, a PlayStation game, yet the superior audio design of Mega Man 7. In essence, it's a combination of the finer points of both games. Mega Man & Bass also keeps the shopping aspect of the series; using Bolts picked up from defeated enemies, both robots can buy upgrade modules, though the inventory available differs greatly depending on the character.

There are unique aspects to Mega Man & Bass, for better or for worse. In Mega Man 8, trusty companion pooch Rush was relegated to minor duties, such as acting as a flying device when needing to zip through the sky or for dropping special healing items at a moment's notice. His presence has further diminished here. Rush's sole duty is now to dig up items wherever and whenever Mega Man commands. He no longer serves any particularly assistive function. E-Tanks, a staple of classic Mega Man games, are also missing in action.

No matter where you are, something wants to destroy you. What a life!

A couple of funky additions help round out the package. After completing the initial stage at the Robot Museum, you get to choose your Robot Master level to attempt, just as in every Mega Man game. However, you only have three available at the start, and by defeating each one, you open up new pathways to other Robot Masters. These pathways resemble all those circuits on a computer chip (perhaps that's what they were trying to emulate). This could have worked out well had Capcom not decided to always include the next Robot Master in sequence on the same path. For example, defeating Cold Man opens the gateway to Burner Man and Pirate Man. Cold Man's weapon defeats Burner Man, and Burner Man's weapon is ideal against Pirate Man. Not much of a guessing game here. Interestingly enough, two of the eight Robot Masters were recycled from Mega Man 8 (Astro Man and Tengu Man). I'm not sure why, but it seems like laziness...

Also, hidden within the Robot Museum and the eight Robot Master stages are CDs, many of which may never be found by casual players (or those who can't work GameFAQs). Each CD equates to an entry in Dr. Light's Database, offering information about every character in the series to date. It's great to learn about the, good/bad points, likes, and dislikes of robots! My only problem with this is the occasional strange translation error that pops up. Some entries are pretty straightforward: Fire Man, for example, likes summer camp and hates a rainy day. Fair enough. But when Flash Man's bad point is listed as "Miseryguts", I just have to scratch my head and wonder who was distracted by rotisserie chicken in that translation office. Ring Man prefers something called "deck quoit". Skull Man dislikes "beefcake". Frost Man dislikes "chilblain". Huh... Then again, most entries are downright unusual. Bright Man dislikes "unmoral districts". Gyro Man likes "Greek sandwich". And Freeze Man? Well, he's apparently "gaudy". Huh again...

And Mercury from Mega Man V (GB) likes communists. How about that?

Mega Man & Bass is a very rough game. In terms of difficulty, it definitely ranks higher than most games of the classic series, though this can be partially attributed to more punishing level design choices. It seems as though the developers had Bass in mind more often when designing the layouts. And with the Game Boy Advance's smaller screen, the situation gets a bit worse as you sometimes can't see as much of what is above or below you when it counts, resulting in injury from enemies you didn't see or, worse yet, death by unexpected spikes. The fortress bosses are particularly brutal, as though the designers were trying to give me a headache on purpose. I will openly admit that, although I was able to complete the game as Mega Man, I was not as lucky with Bass, getting only as far as the final battle. Had the game provided me with energy tanks, I would have been all set. On the other hand, the crisp graphics and fluid animations of the Super Famicom game have translated well to the Game Boy Advance, resulting in a relatively similar experience. The audio quality took a hit; some instruments in songs have been replaced with lower-quality ones, leading to inferior versions overall. It's not detrimental to the game, but it is noticeable to anyone who has played both versions.

If you're looking for a decent Mega Man game, Mega Man & Bass will deliver. Nothing, however, makes this game stand out over any other Mega Man title. But the quality is definitely there, and the inclusion of Bass makes for an added challenge. Of course, it's no walk in the park to begin with, so expect to sweat a little more than usual when playing. It's also a solid action title for your Game Boy Advance. Who can say no to Mega Man on the go?

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