Capcom’s Blue Bomber turns 25 this year, and although Capcom has spared no expense in marking the same milestone for Street Fighter, disillusioned Mega Man fans have questioned the company’s affection for its unofficial mascot after it cancelled three games in the space of two years. Street Fighter X Mega Man, a fan project developed by Seow Zong Hui and a free download from Capcom’s website is, by the company’s own admission, a mea culpa to the fans.
This is 8bit Mega Man as you remember him: he jumps, shoots, slides and stubbornly refuses to duck exactly as you’d expect him to. Chiptune composer Luke “A_Rival” Esquivel’s 8bit remixes of familiar Street Fighter tunes are a perfect fit for the action, and the pixel art recreations of Ryu and the rest of the cast, and their stages, are brilliantly realised. Street Fighter’s influence isn’t merely aesthetic – many of the game’s projectiles break from tradition and cancel each other out on contact – but this remains a Mega Man game first and foremost. That a fan-developed game looks, sounds and handles so authentically is admirable.
The Street Fighter cast replaces the usual selection of Robot Masters, acting as suitably tricky end-of-level bosses. Defeat one, and you’re rewarded with access to one of their signature moves, along with a brief cameo from fan favourite Dan Hibiki to show you how it works. These boss battles are a consistent highlight, from Ryu’s muffled midi shouts of “Shoryuken!” to Urien’s Aegis Reflector sending your Buster shots back at you. In a further nod to the source material, bosses have a super meter that fills as they take damage, allowing them to activate signature super combos that trigger the familiar sunburst screen explosion if they land the killing blow.
Regrettably, some inconsistent level design and limited functionality betray the game’s roots as a fan project. Mega Man veterans expect a stern test, of course, but the game veers erratically between challenging and frustrating, with traps that players could never be expected to see coming the first time, and unclear routes that make some stages a chore. You’re left with little choice but to plough on through, though, thanks to the game’s inexplicable lack of a save function. Ardent Mega Man enthusiasts, starved of new releases, may be willing to keep plugging away until the end, but this feels like too much to ask of curious Street Fighter fans, or those picking up a free game on a whim.
This lack of polish can perhaps be attributed to Capcom picking up the game so late on in its development: it’s difficult to see what its blessing has added to it aside from increased exposure and some splash screens on boot. Although it appears to be the ideal release to celebrate this double anniversary, it quickly becomes apparent that Street Fighter X Mega Man was not originally developed for the purpose. Embracing and supporting a community project like this is still a commendable move, and one that Mega Man’s passionate fans may see as encouraging. But only his most die-hard followers will be willing to overlook such unwelcome, avoidable flaws.