One of my favorite series on the Game Boy Advanced are the Mega Man Battle Network games. This series takes a unique approach to the Mega Man concept. Instead of being about robots, it’s focus is shifted to computer networks and AI’s. The most important concept in this setting is NetNavis, AI who live in their user’s Personal Terminal (PET) to help them navigate the internet, fighting off viruses, as well as general assistance in life. You take on the roles of Lan and his NetNavi MegaMan.exe as they explore the real and virtual worlds respectively.
The games utilized a typical JRPG structure with exploration and battles being separate modes. The overworld exploration elements are divided between real world and internet locations. The game utilizes the interplay between the real world and internet through puzzles. For example, in an early area in MMBN3 it is too dark in the computer area for Mega Man to see, requiring Lan to flip a light switch in real life. Later in that same game Lan goes to a robotic zoo, when an evil NetNavi causes the robotic animals to go berserk. His path will be blocked by these animals, requiring MegaMan.exe to hack the animals to get them to move.
The battle system of MMBN is the most unique and fascinating aspect of the series. It works like a hybrid of an action RPG and a card game. The field of battle is broken down into a 6×3 grid. This grid is divided in half, blue for Mega Man and red for the enemy. Characters can move freely from space to space within their area of the grid. Positioning is very important as battles are conducted in real time, allowing you to dodge attacks, but requiring careful aim for your own.
Mega Man has many options in combat. Pressing the B button causes MM to fire his Mega buster, a medium speed attack that deals 1 damage. The most common low-level enemy has 40 HP, so the Mega buster is an inefficient weapon. Your primary source of firepower are Battle Chips. Battle Chips act like cards, you build a deck of 30 chips, draw a random set during combat, and after use they are discarded. In combat Chips are weapons like swords, guns, bombs, plus other wackier stuff. The most basic cannon chip deals 40 damage, significantly more powerful than the buster. The tradeoff is that it can only be used once per combat, so be sure not to miss. MMBN3 has over 300 chips, providing a lot of variety in combat builds.
To access chips in combat you must wait until the custom meter fills. Once filled you can open the menu and add chips to your “hand”. The catch is that you can only add chips with of the same type or letter code. You can hold [Cannon A + Cannon B] or [Cannon A + Sword A], but not [Cannon A and Sword B]. It’s important to build your deck around these restrictions to allow for more options and combos in combat.
There are 6 main games in the MMBN series, not counting alternate versions (think Pokémon) and spin offs. Each new entry added new mechanics, mostly relating to character development. But, the core gameplay remained largely unchanged. Despite having many chance to inject new and interesting ideas to the core gameplay, it mostly remained stagnant.
There was a spiritual successor series for the NDS called Star Force, but I never tried that one. It featured similar combat, but with a shifted, behind the back perspective that looks disorienting. Star Force also had a beyond bizarre setting that I can’t even begin to describe.
The last original MMBN game came out in the US in 2006, and outside of a remake/crossover with Star Force, has remained dormant. Fortunately for those of us wanting a new take on the series, indie developers alpha six productions has got us covered.
Card Witch is an upcoming computer game that draws its inspiration from the MMBN series. Not much is currently shown about the setting or story. What’s clear now is that you take on the role of a Witch named Julia Morgan, who fights using card based magic. The recently released demo takes place in a “pocket dimension” used as a training exercise for Julia. Most of her magic takes the form of swords, guns, or fireballs. There are a couple of interesting ones, like a vine whip that pulls enemies towards you, as well as spells for summoning or transforming into imps.
While Card Witch’s setting is very different from MMBN’s, the gameplay is very familiar. The basic setup is the same. 6×3 grid divided into blue and red halves. You move around in real time, dodging and aiming spells. The Z key corresponds to her Revolver, which is a rapid fire single damage attack like the Mega buster. I feel like the revolver shoots way faster than the mega buster ever did, and is therefore a much more powerful weapon.
Spells work a lot like chips in the first game. There is a 30 card deck you build before combat, which you will draw from randomly in combat. You must fill a meter to assign them to your hand, then are a one-time use once fired off. Once assigned press X to fire off a spell.
The differences lie within in the way the meter charges, and how spells are assigned to your hand. The meter is broken into 5 sections. The more sections filled when the button is pressed, the more MP you will have to select spells. Spells lack the letter codes of chips, instead they have MP costs. When selecting spell cards for your hand there is no restriction on what cards can go together, if their total MP cost is equal or less than the MP you charged.
The net effect is much less restriction on which cards played together. Pulling off cool combos is much easier. An example from the demo is using Vine Whip to pull an enemy in, then slashing for heavy damage with the Hayabusa sword. This more open-ended system is currently the main distinction between MMBN and Card Witch. I really like the idea of this system; especially as more interesting spells are added.
As it currently stands, it does have some problems. The enemies in the game are mostly based off those from MMBN, which were meant to be played against in a slower, more restrictive card system. This makes them very easy to beat. In a future version, I’d like to see more complicated and interesting battles. I’m especially excited about the idea of a cool witchy card duels…. and maybe online multiplayer?
On a final note, the main character and the monsters are all great looking. They all have unique and interesting designs. Plus, what animations are there looks great. Overall, I’m super excited about Card Witch. I hope you all check it out, it’s an interesting project whether you’re a fan of MMBN or not.