X May Not Give It to You

Mega Man X Nippon Flex Handheld

There are any number of genres that I think would suit Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world.. Besides run and gun platforming games, and bullet hell shooters, and even RPGs, I'm sure you could find ways to make a 3D shooter for the Blue Bomber (more so than even Mega Man Legends), or a survival action game, or some kind of cute cozy game even (chibified Mega Man and his associates are adorable). Good old Megs is adaptable in any number of ways.

With that said, I really don't think Mega Man works as a virtual pet. I'm not ragging on the Mega Man Battle Network games, where Mega Man is literally a virtual PET in that RPG series. No, we're talking putting Mega Man into a little plastic handheld device akin to a Tamagotchi or Pocket Pikachu. Mega Man is many things, for sure, but a weird little critter hanging out in a plastic device that you have to care and feed? That feels more than a few steps too far from the core Mega Man experience to work on any level.

And yet that's exactly what we got with the licensed Mega Man X (or, really, since it was released only in Japan, Rockman X) handheld device from Nippon Flex. You can tell the goal was to make a Tamagotchi as it was released one year after those little plastic devices hit the market (and almost immediately became a craze). It has a similar profile -- small, plastic, with a chain you can hang it from -- and equivalent functionality. If what you wanted was Mega Man in your pocket, I suppose this device fit the bill. I just wonder how many people really wanted this thing.

The basics of the game aren't far off from what you'd expect from any virtual pet. You boot up the little Mega Man helmet and get prompted with options on what to do. You can head out and find some enemies to fight, or you can take your Mega Man and put him into some PvP scenarios (assuming you can find someone else with another of these little helmets). Fight, battle, level up, and then repeat. That's what this little device is all about.

Now, when we say you take him out and fight, that doesn't mean you actually get to play Mega Man in a standard action scenario. This devices was neither powerful enough for that, nor did it have enough pixels to pull off that level of detail. Instead, you'll have Mega Man go out in search of a fight and then, after a few seconds, some enemy will approach. From there you get turn-based battling as you and your foe shoot back and forth for a while until one of you dies. Succeed and you'll get a (meager) amount of EXP and then can do it all over again.

The battling really is dumbed down. You can shoot, or you can menu through to a couple of power shots that you can use. More damage means a faster kill, but you will still be engaged in a few rounds on simplistic combat no matter what you do. The one twist I actually could appreciate is that you only had so long to select a command before the enemy would shoot you. it might be turn-based but there was still an active component to keep you moving.

With that said, battles were still horribly slow. We're talking about fighting foes like Mettals and Battons and only doing maybe a fifth of their health in damage per shot. I can understand needing a while to kill something if you were, say, fighting a sub-boss or one of the Mavericks, sure. When you're shooting at a bat, though, and it takes multiple hits to kill something that traditionally dies (in the main series) from a single lemon, it feels pretty ridiculous. Battles shouldn't feel this boring.

Oh, and the most obnoxious part is that if you somehow lost one of these battles against random enemies, that's it. Mega Man is dead and you have to restart the game. Now, sure, death was a part of the various virtual pets you could buy, but for them to die you had to ignore them for a long period of time. Fail to feed them, clean up their poop, and play with them at length and eventually the creature would die and that would be that, time to reset. But here, the whole point of the device is that you take your Mega Man out and make him battle. Perma-death feels like a punishment for doing the one thing the virtual Blue was made to do.

Now it's possible that the PvP and other two-player functions might have been more fun (although with this kind of the battling system as the base, I somehow doubt it). If you could find someone to play this with (and a cursory search of these devices shows them going for about 70 bucks a pop on Ebay, at least) then you'd be able to fully explore. That assumes you not only have a friend that wanted to pair up, but also could understand Japanese (or were willing to bluster your way through blind until you just figured everything out). Since this game wasn't released in America there is no English version, and no way to patch it at all. It's Japanese or nothing, all to play this bad little game with a friend.

I will note, though, that the way you could link these devices up was pretty clever. The top of the little plastic helmet had a panel that would flip out, and on the end was a 2.5Mm jack, like a headphone plug, along with a port. Each helmet panel would plug into the other, and you were off and running with your two-player fun (and I use that term loosely). That's a pretty creative solution for linking devices up. No need to an expensive (at the time) wireless connection, and you don't force kids to carry around a link cable (that they likely would have lost). It's actually the smartest thing about the device, so points to Nippon Flex there.

Still, all these years removed from the virtual pet craze, there's little reason to play this thing now. It was pretty basic for one of these devices back in the day and time has not been kind. Most people that would be interested in this probably want it just as a collectible to have on a shelf (and it is a pretty slick looking little helmet, so I could see the appeal). For everyone else, any other Mega Man X game would provide a better experience than this.