Every time Capcom releases a new game in the Mega Man Battle Network
series, it's an opportunity to gripe about the company's insistence of recycling assets for a new game design. After all, the RPG series is in its fifth iteration and not much has changed since the beginning. And now, we get to gripe even further, as the company's gone one further: recycling the GBA design released in the summer as a DS SKU. It's clearly a quick-buck type of deal, and we'll let this one slide since the RPG game design is still pretty decent five versions in, even as a direct GBA port on the DS. But for Mega Man Battle Network's next dual-screen run, we're going to expect something a lot more original.
Mega Man Battle Network 5 took Game Boy Advance gamers, and now takes Nintendo DS owners into the futuristic world first brought to life in 2001's original Battle Network title. Since then, this universe has been embellished upon not just in sequels on the Game Boy Advance, but also in the GameCube's Network Transmission platformer, and, of course, the Mega Man NT anime currently airing on Kids WB. The world's hook is that culture is tied so closely into the Internet, that it's a part of everyday life. Everything from computers to toasters are wired into the net, and every member of society carries around a Personal Electronic Trainer to jack into this internet for their day-to-day living. And it's within this computerized world that players will encounter danger; viruses, corrupted programs, and other virtual threats need to be taken care of, and it's up to main character Lan and his own PET Mega Man to do the job.
Since the Game Boy Advance version of Mega Man Battle Network 5 shipped on two different carts of slightly different elements, the Nintendo DS edition combines those two games into one version. At the start of the game, players choose which version to play, so if players are looking forward to doing some item trading between DS systems, they might want to check with their friends to see which mode they're playing in. The DS version does support the GBA cart slot so players can pull data chips from those games into their DS adventure. A nice little perk.
The new game is entirely based on the version of the series that came before it, using many of the same graphic, audio, and interface assets to create a new adventure and storyline for its sequel. So, chances are if you're reading this you've already played through at least one of the games in the series, and since you have it's pretty safe to say that you won't see a whole lot of new elements in Battle Network 5 beyond another "rule the online world" storyline. For those of you who haven't experienced the series yet, Battle Network 5 is wise enough to offer up another rendition of its tutorial mode so that you can understand the unique battle system of the RPG series. Of course, the writers are clearly having a hard time coming up with new ways for the main character to "forget" everything he's learned from the past game, and in this case Lan's becoming quite the dumbass.
But the key is that the Nintendo DS version is simply a straightforward port of the Game Boy Advance game. All the visuals, backgrounds, and audio assets have been moved over in their entirety, which means you're getting a game that's not pushing the DS hardware to its capabilities. There have been some additions in the move from GBA to DS, including some seemingly random speech samples from the anime voice actors, but beyond that and the occasional visual effects added for presentation sake, it's pretty much what GBA owners have already experienced this summer.
What's been said about the past four games in the series extends into Mega Man Battle Network 5. It features an enhanced version of the battle system triggered by random events within the virtual world, combining action elements in a turn-based design. The strategy comes in the form of constructing a deck of moves, attacks and abilities, since each turn gives players the opportunity to choose from a random selection. By defeating enemies, players earn more of these moves to strengthen their deck. It's a cool design for a battle sequence, and it's what makes the series better than the usual RPG. And in the case of this sequel, it's been streamlined enough with plenty of stuff to do and experience.
The Nintendo DS touch screen does come into play to make deck organization a bit more intuitive, but the lower screen's functionality isn't all that impressive. In fact, during battle (which is more than half the game's experience), the lower screen doesn't even come into play. The touch panel could certainly have been used to streamline a lot of Mega Man Battle Network's fights, but instead it's nothing more than what the GBA game offered with some missed opportunities.
The new addition to the series, liberation missions, are still the game's weakpoints. They change the RPG into a strange strategy design where you'll move step-by-step through a "chess" like design to defeat the specific enemies. It's a way for the designers to change things up a bit, but it really segments the game harshly, and it's almost a hassle to go through these missions since they're artificially extending the length of the game by slowing things down considerably. The Capcom/Konami co-developed multiplayer mini-game that pit owners of Boktai 2 against owners of Battle Network 5 on the Game Boy Advance has been ousted for obvious reasons. In its place on the Nintendo DS is a much more fleshed out battle and trading for as many as eight players, taking advantage of the system's wireless functionality for the multiplayer functionality.
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