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RELEASE DATE (JP): October 28, 1999 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

This Rockman fails to rock.

At a time when you could only consider yourself a member of the "big leagues of gaming" by having a Mega Man game on your console, in walked the Bandai WonderSwan, a cheeky little handheld designed to be in direct competition with Nintendo's Game Boy line and the Neo Geo Pocket, SNK's portable version of its home Neo Geo system (with far inferior graphics and sound, of course). One of the earlier titles for the WonderSwan was Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chōsensha. It's not exactly a sequel to Mega Man & Bass for the Super Famicom/Game Boy Advance (known in Japan as Rockman & Forte); it's definitely its own game, but clearly Rockman & Forte had a strong influence on its development. Sadly, it's also far from perfect.

Just the storyline itself caused me to scratch my head a bit. There's a new clan of robots called "the Dimensions". That sounds more like a 1960s R&B group than anything else. The Dimensions have come from the future to overtake the peaceful Symphony City, a town that just spontaneously appeared in the Mega Man universe. The leader of the Dimensions is a character who calls himself "Rockman Shadow", basically an evil doppelganger of Mega Man (known as Rockman in Japan). He looks much like Mega Man... well, actually, he looks more like Rocman X from that horrible Rocman X unlicensed game. Anyway, Mega Man has to rush out to see what's going on. Dr. Wily notes the presence of Rockman Shadow as well and orders Bass (or Forte in Japan) to investigate. Oddly enough, Rockman Shadow also closely resembles Quint from Mega Man II for Game Boy, who was a version of Mega Man retrieved from the future. We learn directly from Rockman Shadow, however, that Quint was used as a weapon against Mega Man instead of Rockman Shadow, who was tossed aside like the shriveled lettuce under a steak dinner.

Rockman & Forte for WonderSwan feels... strange. This could attributed to the fact that Capcom did not directly produce this game; it was instead developed by Lay-Up (makers of... uh...) for Bandai, maker of the handheld itself. I imagine the designers looked at Rockman & Forte on the Super Famicom and tried to draw from that game. What resulted, however, is not quite up to par with Mega Man's previous outings. For one thing, the sprites for Mega Man and Bass don't look right. They have massive legs but tiny torsos. Plus, their faces look too non-descript, lacking character. I know it's on a handheld, but Bandai has made Mega Man look more generic. You suddenly feel removed, as though this is not a Mega Man game anymore. They're not terrible sprites, mind you, but you can definitely tell that this was not a game made by Capcom. Capcom wouldn't settle for Mega Man looking like this. Er, uh, moving on...

It's true, though, that the little things do make a difference. For example, when you successfully complete a stage, normally your weapon energy for all those sweet weapons you acquired from Robot Masters is instantly refilled before you head to the next area. In this game, that's not the case! This is the only Mega Man game I can think of that strays from this trend. It's nothing particularly major, but this does require you to spend more time trying to refill it, thus detracting from the pure action experience! Another issue, minor though it may seem, is that there are no gates. Mega Man jumping through a gate to get to a boss fight is a legendary aspect of the series since its inception. To omit this is practically criminal! Instead, Mega Man just walks through a corridor and then the wall seals itself behind him. Where's the dramatic entrance?

Blasting through everything is the Rockman way.

Rockman & Forte is still far from a terrible game. The basics of the Mega Man formula are still in effect. He's still the classic run'n'jumper he always was. And Bass has kept all of his abilities intact: the dash, the double-jump, and the rapid fire. You get to take down Robot Masters one by one and steal their powers. This game features only six Robot Masters, and because it's a Japan-only title, they all have strange names like Kamusoman, Airconman, and Danganman. Also featured is the very first instance of a PAIR of Robot Masters: Clock Men! That's right, there are actually two of them! They act fairly similarly to Gemini Man from Mega Man 3 for the NES, but they are marketed specifically as two separate entities. Mega Man and Bass can also shop for enhancements using Bolts dropped by enemies; the only problem is that Bolts seem rather rare in this game, so you're really going to have to be frugal. This game also takes advantage of the WonderSwan's ability to be played horizontally or vertically; one stage requires you to turn the handheld sideways so you can see higher above you. That's a neat touch (and you're advised to turn it before you continue playing). And, above all else, the game is challenging. That's what we look for in a Mega Man game.

The graphics are fairly standard. Nothing in particular stands out as being overly creative, although the designs of the new Robot Masters are assuredly eye-catching. The new enemies are strange; they messed with the classic Met enemies and now they look droopier. Unfortunately, the environments suffer from a lack of creativity. Heck, the NES games trump these areas in spades. The little touches are appreciated, like how the Robot Master portraits change to them looking sad after they are defeated. The audio is another point of contention. Every song in this game is recycled from Rockman & Forte for Super Famicom. Of course, due to hardware limitations, they sound much, much worse with far more high-pitched grating instruments. Furthermore, why does Mega Man now make a clinking sound whenever he climbs a ladder? That's not right.

As I said before, nothing really stands out as being excellent in Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chōsensha. Had it been made by Capcom, where the heart of the series lay at the time, the end result would have been much different and of much higher quality. It looks like SOME effort was put into this, but not enough. The fact that, after the six Robot Masters, you are just sent to one final level for a showdown with Rockman Shadow, as opposed to the multi-stage castles that have been a part of every main Mega Man game prior, demonstrated that this may have been a rush job, rather than a labour of love. For Mega Man enthusiasts, it's worth your time, but there are better ways to profess your affection for the Blue Bomber than this.

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