This 'ere Mega Man Legends 2. It's in 3D. What's going on? Mega Man, one of the staples of the gaming diet, has been around in various guises for far longer than is healthy. Resisting popular trends, it took the team that develop his games about five years longer than the rest of the industry to convert him into 3D for the original Legends, but when they eventually did he was no worse off for it.. Nor were Capcom. Between our little blue friend and the Street Fighter series, it's little wonder to me that Capcom is still solvent and rip-roaring through new formats at a rate of knots.. It's definitely not thanks to innovation. Mega Man has been the same 2D platform/shooter throughout history; it's just a particularly competent 2D platform/shooter. Mega Man Legends 2 isn't all that different in reality. If anything, it takes a step or two back, discarding Mega Man's X armour and 'grown up' status and harking us back to the days when everything was happy and fluffy in Mega Man's world, and cute little animals wandered around more reminiscent of the ones that Sega's blue hedgehog went about saving.. Whether you like the idea of Mega Man in 3D or not though, you'll be enthralled by the complexity of the story in Mega Man Legends 2. It's not exactly Oscar material, but by Mega Man standards it's Tolstoy. The game is set just after the end of the first one, with Von Bluecher and the Professor holding a press conference to announce their search for the 'Mother Lode'. During the introductory sequence characters are introduced, including our hero and his sidekick Roll, and a suspicious-looking reporter warns the group not to explore the Forbidden Island, where few have gone before.
Naturally her advice is scornfully dispensed with, but she'll be back later to try and put a stop to them in a slightly different guise. Mega Man and Roll get caught up in the search for the Mother Lode (a device that many believe can make dreams come true) with the Professor as their guide, and the story told through the rendered 3D world of the game. Using Bluecher's ship, you fly to many different lands and visit towns and areas of devastation and war. It's pretty varied, with snow-capped peaks and valleys, as well as bushy areas of dense vegetation and the like. In terms of storyline, there's no useless FMV clogging up the CD, but even though this is a relatively joyless 3D environment by today's standards, no expense has been spared in delivering the details of the plot, with animated facial expressions and even lip-sync throughout the important bits. Visually on the whole Mega Man Legends 2 is quite something. It feels like an interactive cartoon for most of the journey, with some long drawn-out (but ultimately pretty interesting) in-game cutscene sections. One thing that I was slightly concerned about was that to keep the frame-rate steady Capcom would limit the size of creatures and bosses, but apparently this wasn't on their list of compromises, because the bosses are absolutely enormous and plenty of fun to play against. The frame-rate is consistent to the last, also, and unlike a lot of 3D PlayStation games I didn't notice my biggest pet-hate; wobbling textures. The colours are vibrant and it's a nice bright game to play through. Animation is for the most part seamless and doesn't distract you from the important tasks at hand.
It's almost role-playing
Although the graphics are pretty good, and the third person perspective works by virtue of decent camera positioning (which for some reason Capcom still can't work out for the rest of their PlayStation catalogue, but nevermind), the controls are a bit iffy. You can pan round your character Mario 64-style with the L1 and R1 buttons, moving him forward and back whilst strafing and turning as you go. It's similar to the controls for a console FPS, but for some reason it took me longer to get used to. At times the game must seem a lot like an RPG to read about it, but it really isn't. The gameplay sections are simply swarming with enemies, and Mega Man's arsenal is suitably impressive in dealing with them. You do have to concoct some original plans of attack for the larger enemies and bosses, although this is a given for the Mega Man series. Another feature that distinguishes Legends from an RPG (even an ARPG) is how truly frenetic it is. You cannot stand still, even for a second. The longer boss battles have you shifting in your seat to get comfortable and concentrate. There are RPG elements to it though, that's pretty obvious. The storyline sections look like they've been lifted from Breath of Fire at times, and the town sections are almost identical to those in the Nintendo 64 Goemon game (Legend of the Mystical Ninja) from Konami. Albeit with doors you can see. There are also some Goemon (and perhaps Zelda) -like puzzles from place to place. Keys are found here and there, but it never stoops to the level of blocking your progress with a simple door. Dungeons pop up from time to time, but they're easy enough to traverse thanks to Mega Man's useful map and compass unit. Battling bad guys in dungeons is a bit more difficult, because you can't simply lock on then circle strafe them as you can outside, but you get the hang of it. You'll have to explore a number of these dungeons (at least four) to get hold of keys and other vital bits and bobs, and you'll want to save as soon as you're out! Saving is quite an important part of the game, and is done via your monkey friend Data. Don't ask, just do. Unfortunately, although he's useful Data is a bit of a giveaway for what's to come, since if he pops up and you're not in the middle of town somewhere, it means there's a boss encounter round the corner.
I'm really nit-picking though at this stage. There isn't much to fault in the Legends series so far, and the games are a darn sight more interesting than their two-dimensional ancestors, if only because they dare to introduce a rolling narrative rather than a simple 'click the face, beat the boss, save the world' sort of cop-out. Mega Man Legends 2 retails for £19.99, and is being released at the same time as Mega Man X5. X5 was a pretty drab, boring two-dimensional affair that failed to do anything new to the Mega Man formula. If you would rather see our little hero in a new light, check out Legends 2. It plays pretty well on its own even if you missed the first game, and at £19.99 you can't really argue with it. There's plenty of game time here, much more so than some more expensive titles I've played recently, and it might be worth getting your teeth stuck into this spin-off series early as a fan, because its popularity is bound to lead to many more games in the same vein. Honestly though, I look forward to them. Top game.