It's tough to keep up with all the Mega Man games nowadays. The franchise is headed in so many different directions with so many different titles, you're never quite sure what you're getting when you ponder a purchase. After two decades of divergent games, a little change can clearly be for the better, but there is always a risk of alienating your audience or just burning them out. Capcom has seen some success mixing it up by fusing an RPG with traditional Mega Man action in the Battle Network series. The latest title, Mega Man Starforce, is a spin-off of that successful franchise. Unfortunately, unless you're a hardcore Mega Man fan, you might want to skip this one.
In this iteration, Mega Man is the fusion of Geo Steler, a fifth grader, and an energy being, Omega-Xis. I suppose making the hero an everyday, regular kid might appeal to the younger generation and sell a few more copies. That line of thinking is also reinforced by the fact that Starforce has three marginally different editions: Leo, Pegasus and Dragon. Which version of Mega Man you can morph into isn't a solid selling point.
For a title that has 20th Anniversary plastered over the front cover, Starforce isn't so much a celebration as it is a remembrance.
Regardless of what version you decide on, the central gameplay is the same. You navigate through two worlds essentially, the real world and the EM wave world. You pulse in and out of the EM world in order to defeat aliens from the planet FM, who have a natural predilection to taking over electronic devices and just generally mucking things up. There isn't a whole lot of depth to it, and phasing between the two worlds is often a forced game mechanic. You end up doing something in the real world, which compels you to phase into the wave world, which lets you know you need to then head back to the real world. The process repeats and quickly gets tiresome.
While the story clearly isn't the focus, it still manages get in the way of having fun with the title The story is preachy in a terrible, smack you over the head with a shovel kind of way. There are life lessons about making friends, going to school and not falling prey to sadness and loneliness. At times, it feels like a quasi-religious edutainment title. Couple this with the fact that Starforce features some of the worst dialogue this side of a badly translated 8-bit RPG, and a headache ensues. To compound the problem, there is a lot of dialogue. In fact, it feels like you spend more time reading than battling. To top it all off, for no apparent reason, the dialogue scenes fade out and back in before you can resume control of your character.
You can keep things interesting when you're in control. Although far from fresh and new, the battling is at least an interesting mix of real time combat with an RPG card based system. You'll encounter a bunch of random battles while navigating through the wave world. Ultimately, however, each chapter of the game focuses on a specific FM alien that you need to take out. The battling is a rollercoaster ride of fights that are a bit too hard or a bit too easy, but it's fun to use the cards that you've collected to create combos.
When a battle begins, you select up to six cards from a randomly selected subset of your deck. The cards allow you to pull off different special moves or use more powerful weapons. When you've used up your cards, you must wait for a gauge to refill in order to have a chance to select new ones. Thankfully, you're not defenseless, as you can fire you're MegaBuster to continue to weaken your enemies and move to dodge their attacks. While some of the cards don't appear vastly different than others, there is enough variety to keep it entertaining.
Eventually, even the card element wears a bit thin. For a title that has 20th Anniversary plastered over the front cover, Starforce isn't so much a celebration as it is a remembrance. Of course, Capcom won't let you forget because the next Mega Man title is only months away.