Friday, October 3, 2008

Megaman Starforce 2: BrotherBands Part 2 (Gameplay)

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, the mechanics behind the BrotherBand system make it so the player's own experience of the game matches with the basic theme of the Megaman Starforce games that having friends makes a person stronger. You just need to register a friend's copy of the game as a Brother over either a wireless link or a Wi-Fi connection, and you get some great benefits. The basic concept is simple, but it works elegantly. However, a lot of the details of this system differ between the two Starforce games, and many specific aspects of the system work better than others, so for the sake of having something interesting to write about I am going to examine some aspects of the system one by one.

The "On Air" System: This feature was only included in Megaman Starforce 1. It allowed a group of people who shared a BrotherBand to connect their games to each other wirelessly or over Wi-Fi so they were connected constantly during gameplay. In addition to allowing quick access to multiplayer battles, card trading, and the game's email system, this allowed special benefits such as free access to a Brother's Best Combo attack and improved power of chips that were equipped at the same time, making the single-player mode a lot easier. All of these benefits were very interesting, but the problem was that it could be very hard to coordinate, since it required two people or more to be playing through the single-player mode at the same time. Even organizing that with just my twin brother who I see all the time could get bothersome, and I imagine it was simply too cumbersome to bother with for many people, so I can see why this aspect was not implemented in Starforce 2.

Brother Cards: As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, one feature of the BrotherBand system is that you can access a Brother's Favorite Cards using a "Brother Card" that is created for each BrotherBand you form. In Starforce 2, these cards also allow you to transform. These cards are a bit unreliable, since the Favorite Card you get is chosen randomly, but they work well to make BrotherBands distinct from each other and important to battle.

Sharing Transformations: In both games, having a BrotherBand with a player using a different version of the game lets you use that version's unique transformation modes. Overall, this is a great benefit. I am pretty sure I already covered the rest of this system's details earlier, so I will move on.

Game Character Brothers: One of the notable improvements of Megaman Starforce 2's BrotherBand system over the original is the way it separates the "Game" BrotherBands from the "Real" BrotherBands. In both games, characters in the game can form a BrotherBand with the main character which gives very similar benefits to a BrotherBand formed with another player. In the first game, though, these Game BrotherBands took up the same limited number of slots that are also used for Real BrotherBands, which lead to some unnecessary problems and dilemmas. In Starforce 2, the four Game Brothers have dedicated slots, which leaves six slots completely free for Real Brothers, so there is no longer a need to choose between them. At the same time, though, they changed it so that Game Brothers no longer give the player Brother Cards, which I believe was a mistake. I can understand that they probably did not want Game Brothers to match or surpass Real Brothers, and wanted to prevent the player from utilizing an excessive quantity of Brother Cards (which may imbalance the Tribe On system), but there were probably better options that did not reduce Game Brothers to be merely sources of Link Power and nothing else.

Abilities and Link Power: This is another place where Starforce 2 brought nothing but improvement. In the original Starforce, special abilities that were mainstays of the Megaman Battle Network series, such as "Super Armor" (which prevents Megaman from flinching when hit) and "FloatShoes" (which negates harmful panels), were tied directly to the Game Brothers, so that they were in constant effect so long as the associated BrotherBand was still in effect. This was certainly interesting and appropriate, but there was no real trade-off being made other than the problematic dilemma of choosing between Real BrotherBands and Game BrotherBands. Megaman Starforce 2 replaced all of this with the Link Power system, in which every BrotherBand has an associated Link Power value that increases as the game progresses. This value is used as the maximum capacity for equipping Abilities that are acquired throughout the game. It preserves all of the important thematic elements of the original system, in which you gain power through bonds with friends, and also extends that to Real BrotherBands and adds a degree of customizability and need to make trade-offs, which makes the game that much more interesting.

Auto-Brothers: This is one of the additions made in Starforce 2 that I am not impressed with. Put simply, Starforce 2 lets you form a BrotherBand with an entity called an "Auto-Brother" that you name at the start of the game and is associated with the other version of the game that is loaded on the cartridge (so if you choose Saurian at the beginning of the game, your Auto-Brother is Zerker). This is an outgrowth of Capcom's change to putting multiple "versions" on the same cartridge, and allows a group of players to use the Tribe King form using only two copies of the game (or Double-Tribe using only one copy), so this system has a few very good benefits, but it suffers greatly because the Auto-Brothers themselves are incredibly generic characters that practically break the continuity of the game when they briefly enter into the plot. In my opinion, it would have worked a lot better if they simply gave the cross-version role to one or two of the Game Brothers.

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