Version tested: DS
If you tried counting how many games Megaman has appeared in, your head would explode in a messy shower of pink goo. That's a fact. It's likely that not even Capcom knows exactly how many there have been, preferring instead to deal in highly technical terms such as 'shitloads'. And considering just how much Little Boy Blue puts himself about on the console scene, his strike rate is pretty low - for every truly great game that bears his name, there are at least five or six titles that try too hard to be 'modern', simply don't work properly or involve kart racing. One of the few current Megaman franchises that actually commands some degree of respect is the much-overlooked Battle Network series and while you'd have to be some kind of nutcase to have collected all five versions in little over four years (the last three having two versions a piece a la Pokémon Red/Blue), this DS debut for the series marks the perfect time to grab a piece of the action.
What you have here are enhanced versions of the latest Battle Network duo on a single card, and, as with most games of this sort, there's really very little difference between the two variations other than allies and the odd chip here and there. The main raison d'ętre for this package is the newly added use of the DS' functionality. Organising your chips and navigating menus is a cinch with the touch-screen and aside from having to shout support at Megaman through the mic when he gets glum, there's a noticeable lack of the usual gimmicky elements that pollute so many DS games. Good news all around.
The game itself is a strangely compelling card-based action RPG lite. By building a deck of 'chips' that govern attack capabilities, the in-game battles involve moving Megaman about a grid and despatching foes with either card attacks or - if you're particularly fond of pissing into the wind - using your rather weak Buster shots. The real ingenuity comes when you start to build a hefty collection of chips and put the fact that they're lettered to good use. You see, you can normally only pick one of the five chips 'dealt' to you each turn, but by picking chips of the same name or chips that sport the same letter, you can combo several in a single turn for major damage. There's a definite strategic edge to the combat, moving to avoid damage and bait static foes into attacking before striking back with your own powerful counter. You'll later learn to fuse Megaman with other Navis through sacrificing elemental chips and switch characters mid-battle, both helping to add variety and yet more strategy into the mix.
In a new twist for Battle Network 5, Liberation Battles are introduced so you've got even more to think about than the logistics of grid combat. These are even more strategic still, requiring you to liberate dark panels (through fights with difficulty determined by the number of further dark panels nearby), close gates to stop enemies spawning and ultimately reach and defeat a powerful rival to free the area. Victory in limited turns yields great chips as rewards but rushing in recklessly can be tricky - you're better off simply trying to win and replaying the battle later with more powerful chips to get the rewards. These big battles allow you to pick the right Navi for each situation, drawing on their powers to clear multiple tiles or fly over to distant items in order to quickly and effectively resolve the situation at hand.
With plenty of advantages over the GBA versions (plus the fact that you get both editions for the price of one), Double Team is easily one of the better thinking man's games for the DS. A simple and linear story ties the whole thing together but it takes a back seat to building up a potent chip collection and just having fun with the simple and individual combat system. There's as much potential for individual play here as in any other card-based game you might care to mention, but the game benefits from the solidity of having the whole affair tied together by an active and engrossing battle mechanic. You could opt for a reliance on cannons and bombs or play a sneakier deck that works by changing tile properties and copying damage onto other foes while healing yourself. As the fifth entry into the Battle Network series, it's not going to win any awards for originality but this will most likely be the best game in which Megaman appears this year.
7 / 10