It is hard to believe but for a while there Capcom were hesitant to release certain Mega Man titles in the US. This was mostly due to the long lead times of cartridge manufacturing and being left with large volumes of Super Street Fighter 2 carts. Mega Man 7 barely scraped by so it should come as no surprise that Rockman & Forte did not. This 1998 release would remain a lost entry in the series until it was finally ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2004. The West missed out on a truly great game but a fan translation exists for those that want to see it in its original form.
It’s interesting that this could very easily have been Mega Man 9. What initially started as a port of Mega Man 8 became an original title in the end. Despite that it still shares many of the same bosses with that game. Chronologically Rockman & Forte takes place after part 8 but before the eventual 9th installment. A new robot named King breaks into the robot museum and steals data to create an army to rule the world. However Mega Man is not the only one after King. Bass decides to destroy King in order to prove he is the strongest robot in the world.
For the first time you have a choice of playable character in the series. Both heroes have different strengths and weaknesses leading to wildly different experiences. Mega Man remains virtually unchanged from prior installments. Unlike Bass he can charge his Mega Buster and takes less damage when hit. Sadly Rush is only present as an upgrade you have to buy in Auto’s shop.
Bass is a breath of fresh air in comparison. He has no charge shot but can fire in seven directions. This is a huge advantage when it comes to avoiding damage. It is necessary as he has weaker armor and will die in just a few hits. Bass can’t duck or slide but can double jump. The advantages of this don’t become apparent until the game’s second half. Where Mega Man has to use special weapons to get around Bass can bypass some of the tougher sections entirely. His weaknesses offset this however. It’s a very interesting dichotomy; easier levels (Bass) or easier boss battles (Mega Man).
The eight boss structure is different this time around. Rather than allowing free selection of any boss only Cold Man, Astro Man, and Dynamo Man are available from the start. Further robot masters are opened up in pairs of two from there. It’s a silly change and one that hurts the game immensely as the stage select is what made Mega Man so popular. It also adds another layer of difficulty to an already challenging game.
I don’t think most will be prepared for the large jump in difficulty. Mega Man 7 was noticeably more challenging than its predecessors and this represents a similar jump. The game is stingy with its energy capsules and its puzzles require some trial and error. The lead up to each boss leans heavily in Bass’ favor thanks to his double jump and multi directional shot. However the boss battles themselves are tough for both characters. The robot masters are very aggressive and require lightning reflexes. If you are not armed with their particular weakness it can seem all but impossible, especially Burner Man and Astro Man. Prior titles offered energy tanks that eased the difficulty but there are no such amenities here. It is far from game breaking and welcome in my opinion. But it will come as a bit of a shock to series veterans.
Overall Rockman & Forte is shorter than most titles in the series at thirteen or so levels. But there is plenty of replay value. Auto’s shop possesses numerous upgrades for both characters, some shared and some character specific. Some of these are mundane like increased power but there are some really cool bonuses. Bass can buy an upgrade that lets him shoot through walls while Mega Man can auto recover health slowly. The most prominent reason would be the data CD’s strewn throughout the game. There are 100 discs in total that profile every robot master and character in the series. You’ll need both characters to find every disc as some are really well hidden. It’s a nice bonus and extends the life of the game.
Rockman & Forte adapts the graphical style of Mega Man 8 and looks fantastic. It leans even heavier on the anime aesthetic than its direct predecessor and is better for it. The animation has been downgraded but the sprite work is largely the same. It is still a cut above most 16-bit titles however. Smashing a boss with their weakness will produce special animations such as Burner Man holding his ass when he hits spikes. The backgrounds are full of detail and small bits of animation that are easy to miss. The smaller robots in the back of Tengu Man’s stage impede your progress by dropping random objects in the level.
The music is incredible and uses a wider range of instruments than before. Not all of the robot master tunes are ear pleasing I’ll admit but overall this is one of the stronger soundtracks in the series. The extensive voice acting from part eight is missing which to some might be a step back. But considering how terrible the English dub for Mega Man 8 and X4 turned out it’s a blessing.
While familiar there are just enough new additions to Rockman & Forte to make it feel fresh. This is one of the best action games for the system and one of the better titles in the series. The Super Famicom game has a fan translation but the Game Boy Advance port is easier to track down. Either way buy this game.