Do you think Mega Man has a driving license? I mean, he's technically a kid, so you'd think that would prevent him from legally operating a motor vehicle, but then again he is a robot blessed with enhanced reflexes and a supercomputer for a brain. I suppose it would all come down to whether or not he's got a spare pair of legs he can wear when behind the wheel, because the oversized flared appendages he usually sports cannot possibly be safe for driving in. He'd be standing on all the pedals at once with those things. What? Oh, I started rambling about how Mega Man gets through day-to-day life again, didn't I? Crap. Maybe I can turn this to my advantage somehow... what if I wrote about Capcom's 1997 Playstation game Mega Man Battle & Chase? Yeah, that should do it.
Mega Man might not be able to compete with Super Mario's level of spin-off participation, but he's had his fair share of non-platforming adventures - he's been a football player, a 2D fighter and an RPG character, so there was a certain grim inevitability about him appearing in a racing game. That's what Mega Man Battle & Chase is, it's a racing game featuring vehicular combat. Yes, it is a lot like Mario Kart. In fact, it would be very difficult to discuss Mega Man Battle & Chase without mentioning Mario Kart.
It features big, chunky, low-poly models rather than the sprites of Mario Kart 64, which I think work rather well. They give the game an appealing sense of solidity, at least. This is the intro, where Mega Man faces off against his rival robot Bass. Just in case you're not a Mega Man fan that's Bass as in the musical term, not the fish. Mega Man and Bass have a lot of similarities: they're both wearing helmets with weird glowing earmuffs, they both have hands that can turn into guns and they both own pet robot dogs that can transform into vehicles, which will come in handy for all the racing. The big difference is that Bass is a whiny little dork while Mega Man, a simple household robot who was never meant to fight, gets on with the business of saving the world with the minimum of fuss. That's why he's the hero, Bass, and you're just some side character with a hat shaped like the McDonald's arches.
Once you've picked your game mode, with Grand Prix and Versus being the two main options, it's time to choose a racer from this motley crew of Mega Man favourites. I'll being going through the Grand Prix as Mega Man - it is his game, after all - but who else do we have? Well, there's Mega Man's sister Roll, a housekeeping robot and a window into Dr. Light's deep-seated misogyny. Their brother Protoman also competes, because even mysterious loners can't ignore the lure of the racetrack. There's Bass, as we've already seen, and the rest of the cast is populated by various Robot Masters from across the Mega Man series: Ice Man, Quick Man, Napalm Man, Shadow Man, Guts Man and Spring Man. I've got to say, Quick Man really stands out in that list as a character that you might want to consider playing as.
Napalm Man's car definitely has the best name, mind you. I think I saw Patriot Bomber open for Napalm Death once.
The selection of available Robot Masters is pretty good, although on a personal level I'm disappointed that you can't play as Shade Man because he's my favourite. It also seems odd that there are no Robot Masters from Mega Man 4, 5 or 6 included. (EDIT: Yes, Napalm Man is from Mega Man 5. Many apologies for the momentary lapse in my Mega Man knowledge there.) I would have liked the option to play as Charge Man, who is a literal train. Terrible on corners, but once you get him on the straight he's unstoppable!
Unlike in most kart racing games, there's not a lot of difference in the speed and handling of the various characters, for reasons I'll discuss later. Instead, the thing that sets each racer apart is their special moves. That said, Mega Man, as seems to be mandatory for this kind of thing, is the "all-round" character with average stats and the most basic special attacks. It would be churlish of me to call him "Average Man," but there you go.
Rather than racing against everyone else and competing for points, MMB&C's Grand Prix mode takes a slightly different approach. Each race pits your chosen character against one of the others, with a few generic enemies thrown in to make up the numbers. The first race is against Roll and a couple of Roaders. The manual tells you that Roaders enter races all the time but they've never won, so I don't think I'll have to worry about them, but later races feature the much faster Joes and perennial Mega Man miniboss the Yellow Devil.
We're off and racing! I don't have to explain the basics of a racing game to you, do I? Get round the track faster than everyone else to win. The first thing you might notice is that there are enemies all over the road: Mets, the hard-hat wearing series staple, wander around the course, but even more common are these cones. The cones challenge you to throw away the preconceived ideas built up from every other racing game you've played and to drive right into them. Drive into the Mets, too. Any enemy you see, drive into them. Why? Because that's how you collect items. Nothing so simple as driving over a big question mark for MMB&C - instead you have a counter at the top-right of the screen that decreases each time you hit an enemy, and when it reaches zero you're awarded a power-up. They're a familiar bunch of items that you'll have used some version of in other mascot racers, like remote-controlled bombs you lay behind you, temporary speed-boosts, invincibilities and a lighting strike that hamper all the other players. The only item that feels unique to MMB&C is the one that turns all the enemies into mines that make other players skid out if they hit them, a particularly enjoyable attack to use in Versus mode when your opponent is coming up to an enemy-infested section of track with dreams of collecting a nice new item dancing through their mind.
All these cones have eyes. Why do the cones have eyes? So they can see their impending destruction barrelling towards them? That seems a trifle unnecessary. As is so often the case in the Mega Man series, disturbing questions are raised about just how sentient all these robots are. How much do they think, how deeply do they feel? I get myself to sleep at night by telling myself that these cones are programmed to love being hit by cars, but deep down I know it's not true. That would defeat the very purpose of a traffic cone.
Ah yes, Residient Evil. One of my favourite videogame franchises. It's called Bioihaziard in Japan, you know.
Roll is not a difficult opponent to defeat, mostly thanks to her insistence on driving through the muddy portions of the track that slow her down, and Mega Man soon has his first win under his belt.
Don't get angry at me, Roll. Dr. Light was the one who hooked Mega Man up with combat capabilities but gave you in-depth floor-sweeping routines and algorithms for ascertaining the optimum method of doing the dishes, maybe you should take this up with him.
Guts Man is the next opponent, and in the screenshot above he's visible both in the distance and in the bottom third of the screen, which is given over to keeping an eye on the character you're racing against. It also illustrates the unique way the characters operate their vehicles - that is, by having their heads bolted directly onto their cars. That's one of the perks of being a robot, I guess.
Despite being well equipped for the off-road terrain, Guts Man's car weighs about as much a seven-storey block of flats and so Mega Man easily sped past him for the victory (once he'd realised that the red panels on the floor slow you down).
Here Mega Man is neck-and-neck with the ninja Robot Master Shadow Man, whose car is shaped like a frog. I'm sure this is because of the long association between ninjas and toads that comes from the legend of Jiraiya and not because Dr. Wily created this car by sticking wheels on a failed prototype of Toad Man.
Shadow Man's stage is crystal-filled cavern, which doesn't exactly scream "ninjitsu" but then Shadow Man's stage in Mega Man 3 was some kind of lava factory so he's never been thematically consistent. Unless the theme is "ninjas can strike anywhere, even in a crystal cavern or strange industrial plant that seems to exist just to move lava from one place to another." Anyway, it's a fun course, with ninja traps like the the big metal spikes that come out of the wall and some wildly undulating road surfaces, and Shadow Man might be the first racer to give you problems thanks to his ability to stick giant shurikens into you.
Ouch. That's one of Shadow Man's main attacks: as mentioned earlier, everyone can collect items to use but each racer has their own unique special moves too, and in Shadow Man's case it's a huge ninja star that slows down whoever it hits for a while. Mega Man's specials are rather more basic, just being his Mega Buster but on the front of his car instead of out of his arm. Pressing R1 as you race makes Mega Man fire a small projectile forwards, which is useful for knocking small enemies aside but not much else. However, if you wait for the blue bar at the top-left of the screen to fill up and then press fire, Mega Man launches a charged shot that will cause any racer it hits to spin out of control, which is very useful, like having an endless supply of green shells in Mario Kart.
Not all the special moves are as straightforward as Mega Man's, with some not even being attacks at all: for example, Quick Man has two different types of speed boost, and Proto Man can move the shield on his car to block attacks from either the front or the rear. Most of them are attacks, naturally, but there's quite a variety between them, from Roll's spinning move to Spring Man's short-range punches whose direction can be changed, and personally I think it's a good system that keeps each racer distinct and unique. The problem is a lack of balance: Roll's jump move is nowhere near as useful as, say, Ice Man's freezing power, but on the whole I think I'd rather have characters who feel different from each other than a cast of identikit participants.
Here's Mega Man making a mockery of his older brother Proto Man by storming into the lead even though Proto Man has a sports car and Mega Man's driving a big pink cartoon dog. This is only going to send Proto Man's brooding loner act spiralling into even greater depths. The way I managed to get in front of him was by using one of those metal plates on the track; when you drive over them, a metal pole pops up in their place, one of which Proto Man drove straight into.
MMB&C is a racing game, so I should really discuss the actual racing. It's okay. Definitely better than competent, although not exactly brimming with advanced driving techniques. This is mostly down to the increased emphasis on weaponry, both the items you collect by destroying enemies and each character's personal armaments. The biggest issue with the driving is that there's very little sense of speed - the HUD might say Mega Man's travelling at over four hundred kilometers per hour but it most definitely does not feel that way, and even on long straights you never get the impression that you're moving at anything faster than a brisk jog. Still, it's solidly put-together, with everything being pleasantly robust, cars bouncing off each other in a consistent manner and well-designed tracks that keep you interested even if you're not tearing around them like a whippet with a Rolls-Royce engine up its backside.
Especially attentive readers may have noticed that the Rush Roadstar is looking a little different than it did at the start of the game. This is thanks to Mega Man Battle & Chase's part harvesting system - whenever you beat someone in a Grand Prix race, you can choose a piece of their car to take for yourself, with each part having different attribute. You can take the tyres, engine or "wing" (the spoiler) - here I've got Gut's Man's tyres, which stop you losing speed when driving over gravel, and Roll's wing, which provides better handling. Once you've beaten someone four times you can take their car's body, which gives you access to their special attacks. So, if you were wondering how Capcom were going to work the Mega Man trademark of acquiring defeats enemies' powers into this game, this is how. It works really well, too; it's nice to get a reward after each race, and while some of the parts are more useful than others with a bit of forward planning they can all be used to your advantage
In fact, I've just realised that in addition to gaining the powers of your rivals, you also go through eight stages / races before taking on a pre-Wily area and then doing battle with Dr. Wily himself, so MMB&C is more faithful to the flow of the original games than you might expect.
This is Spring Man's course, and it's got a fun gimmick: most of the track is covered in panels that change function when someone drives over one of those big red buttons, cycling through ice, gravel, speed-up and deceleration zones. It sounds like could be a nightmare, but because the buttons change every floor panel on the track the conditions are the same for every racer and it's fun when the surface you're driving on suddenly turns into a boost panel and you go flying into a wall. I know that sounds sarcastic, but it's not meant to be.
Ice Man has a track that's covered in ice. This is hardly surprising, but his frosty home court advantage isn't nearly as much of a hindrance as you might think. Instead, it's all the holes in the floor you have to worry about. Ice Man doesn't seem to care that his glacial home is dropping to pieces.
He probably doesn't care because he's too drunk to know what the hell's going on. Just look at his face, that's not someone who's upset that they lost a race, that's someone who just drank a bottle of scotch and really wants to fight about it. "I'm not going to go home and cry yet, first I'm going to accuse someone of looking at me funny and then glass them!"
Well, this sucks for Quick Man - he probably would have performed much better in this race had it taken place on, you know, a race track, instead of in a half-pipe filled with rocks and water.
He might be underwhelming as a racer, but at least Quick Man has the best theme on the soundtrack:
Mega Man games are pretty synonymous with excellent music, and Battle & Chase is no exception - it's a score filled with up-tempo, energetic tunes in a mix of electronic and guitar-based styles. It's perhaps not the usual Mega Man fare, but no worse for it. As I say, Quick Man's theme is probably my favourite, Mega Man and Proto Man's themes are also good and honestly the whole soundtrack's worth a listen. Even if you've never played MMB&C before there's one tune you might recognise:
In the Japanese version, finishing the Grand Prix under certain conditions as Roll rewards you with a special ending song called "Kaze yo Tsutaete" that was later used as Roll's theme in Marvel vs. Capcom, amongst other things.
Okay, back to the racing with Napalm Man's track, a weapons factory filled with conveyor belts and narrow tunnels. Another fun course, this one's all about making sure you end up on the conveyor belts that are moving in the correct direction, as well as avoiding Napalm Man's bombs. That's a lot of bombs to avoid, too, because Napalm Man really likes bombs. Say what you will about Dr. Wily, but when he builds a robot he really commits to a theme, and Napalm Man isn't so much a fellow racer as he is a high-speed cloud of explosions that wants to destroy everything in his path. Dr. Wily didn't even see fit to give Napalm Man hands. He's got rocket launchers where his hands ought to be. What kind of psycho gives someone rocket launchers instead of hands? Imagine going through life like that, inadvertently triggering World War III every time you tried to dial a telephone or hail a taxi. Poor old Edward Missilehands here doesn't even have a robot Winona Ryder to teach him about love and not blowing everything up.
Mega Man wins the Grand Prix! His prize? 10 million Zennies, brought to him in a briefcase by a flying robot. I would definitely say that prix is tres grand; so grand, in fact, that Dr. Wily can't help but turn up and pinch it.
Imagine how many themed robot bosses with steal-able powers and a weakness against one of their colleagues' weapons you could build with 10 million Zennies! That'll be enough to keep Dr. Wily going through Mega Man 11, 12 and 13, surely. Mind you, he'll probably be running out of new ideas for Robot Masters by then, desperately flipping through a thesaurus so he can squeeze out another fire or ice-themed robot.
Mega Man isn't 100% sure that Dr. Wily stole his money, despite seeing Dr. Wily fly overhead in a skull-shaped car and steal his money. Good work on those logic circuits, Dr. Light. You have to admire Dr. Wily's brass neck, though, stealing from the one robot who has consistently defeated him. He's nothing if not confident.
This means there are a couple more races to go before you can truly claim victory. The first is against Bass, and because he's almost identical to Mega Man only in a purple car, he's not difficult to beat. There he is, spinning around because I zapped him with a lightning bolt. Then I shot him with a charged Buster Shot. Then he crashed into a barrier. C'mon, Bass, get it together.
Indeed you did. I put it down to a combination of your helmet being extremely unaerodynamic and your tendency to drive into barriers.
The final race is against Dr. Wily himself, and he's a much tougher prospect than his incompetent accomplice. A big reason for this is that he's immune to Mega Man's charged shots, allowing him to speed away with impunity as your attacks ping off his car. Maybe you should have used that technology when building your Robot Masters, hey Wily?
It's a tough race on a tough course, and unfortunately it seems that victory is more likely to be achieved through lucky item acquisition than any degree of driving skill, but after enough attempts you'll win through in the end to become the champion of Mega Man Battle & Chase.
Ever the weasel, Dr. Wily tries to weasel out of his upcoming prison sentence like the weaselly weasel that he is. Once you beat him you unlock his car for play in versus mode, where being immune to the attacks of his competitors is as useful as it sounds.
Mega Man was going to buy Dr. Light a new computer with his winnings, but Dr. Light fixed it himself so Mega Man has suddenly found himself independently wealthy. No doubt he will being the papers six months from now, complaining about how the constant stream of people asking for cash and the pressures of his new-found fortune have made his life a misery.
I really rather like Mega Man Battle & Chase. I know it's just another kart racer and that the actual racing is probably the weakest aspect of the experience but still, I have a fond place in my heart for it. Would I like it nearly so much if it wasn't a Mega Man game? No, I wouldn't, but that's because the colourful, carefree world of Mega Man is such a joy to be a part of.
I think part of the reason I enjoy it so much is that I actually own a copy, having picked it up from a games stall on an indoor market when I was a kid. MMB&C has an odd release history - it didn't come out in America until 2006, when it was included as part of the Mega Man X Collection. It did get a European release, however, although unfortunately it's inferior to the original Japanese version, with a fair amount of cut content such as interviews with the racers. The story goes that it was denied a US release by Sony, who considered the market for cartoony kart racing games to be over-saturated. It's a shame, because MMB&C is one of the better ones, and apparently Sony Europe had no such qualms because there were more kart racing games on the PS1 over here than there are knock-offs of Flappy Bird on iTunes.
There's certainly more to it than most mascot racers, what with the part-collecting aspect of it, each character having an (admittedly brief) ending sequence and some secret extras - legends tell of souped-up black versions of the generic racers, ready to put your driving to the ultimate test. There's even another character I couldn't show you: Duo is playable, but to unlock him you had to complete the game, write down a code, send it to Capcom and then have your name picked from a hat. If you got that lucky, Capcom would send you a memory card with Duo unlocked on it. So I hear, at least. I'm having to take other people's word for that one.
Mega Man Battle & Chase is a nice-looking game with a great soundtrack and solid, fun gameplay that might not be the most cutting-edge around but which is given an extra boost by the sheer charm of the Mega Man universe and the polish that Capcom so often bring to their games. Plus, you can play as a humanoid Slinky who wants to win the prize money so he can buy weighted parts that he hopes will stop him from thrashing around the place, and you can't say fairer than that.