Mega Man 9’s intruigingly “modern” pricing scheme

by Cory Birdsong on

apcom’s celebration of all things eight-bit, “Mega Man 9,” has been something of a darling in the games press since it was first revealed. It’s absolutely authentic 8-bit look-and-feel have been followed up with cheeky self-referential bad box art, seen here, as well as purportedly having the no-holds-barred difficulty common among games of the era. However, I wouldn’t know anything about that myself, as I am in essence boycotting Mega Man 9, as pathetically nerdy as that sounds. (It sure sounds lame as I type it out!)

The inquisitive Mega Man 9 buyer might notice, deep within its virtual manual, that the title has some downloadable content on the way. Apparently, for a mere 100 Wii points, or one embattled American dollar, you can have Hero (hard) Mode. Another $1 nets you Superhero Mode (double-extra-hard mode). Other purchaseable goodies include an endless survival mode for $3, a time attack stage for $1, and a new character and moveset for $2.

In what world is it okay for this stuff to not be included in the game?

Yes, “Mega Man 9” will only cost you $10, but that doesn’t mean Capcom should be able to nickel-and-dime you up to $18 for the whole package, especially considering the featureset of Capcom’s other retro revival, “Bionic Commando Rearmed.” It includes totally remade HD-era graphics and sound, as well as new mechanics that modernize and refine the classic gameplay without fundamentally losing what makes it great. You could have all of that for $10, or you can have the incomplete version of “Mega Man 9.”

Now, to be fair, the comparison isn’t 1:1. “Mega Man 9” is a totally new game, unlike “Rearmed,” which bases its level design on the NES version. However, level design is absolutely not financially comparable to “Rearmed’s” amazing looks. “Mega Man 9” also doesn’t have the ability to be used as direct marketing for the franchise’s upcoming big-budget sequel, which is one way Capcom’s execs reportedly looked at “Rearmed.”

However, this is Mega Man we’re talking about – one of gaming’s most enduring brands. The level of positive press and buzz generated by the sequel’s retro-revival stylings is probably the most attention the character has seen in years. This can be parlayed into profit, as Capcom is doing: “Mega Man” and “Mega Man 2’s” virtual console releases would’ve been news, but this way they can be used to make money, and at the same time, promote the new game and the brand in general.

The reason I bring up all this money talk is that Mega Man 9 could not have been an expensive game to make. It could probably have been made in Flash. It is low-tech in its very nature. It is also obvious that this set of downloadable content was not made after the fact. It’s tiny. Each package is either 2 or 3 blocks, hardly enough to hold anything at all. Many save games on the Wii are larger. It’s likely the files, once downloaded, essentially flip a switch in the game to show the content you “purchased.”

Capcom’s actions here are not unique. Other games have had large chunks of content compartmentalized into chunks (Lumines Live), or had their “downloadable” content be nothing more than smoke and mirrors (Ticket to Ride, Karaoke Revolution Party), but it hasn’t ever felt this cheap before – it feels like they crossed the line in the way that Bethesda did with their horse armor debacle. It’s worth noting that had Capcom been more upfront about the incremental nature of the game, it might not provoke such a strong reaction. We found out about all this only after someone had downloaded it and looked in the manual.

Keep in mind, though, that this is roughly analogous to Nintendo deciding that certain aspects of “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” should be locked away for “hardcore players only.” How would you feel if Mario was included, but Luigi cost a good $5? If Break The Targets and Survival were $8 downloads? If modes harder than “Normal” cost you $1 each? If, once you bought all the add-ons, it cost almost twice what you paid for the base game? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Is that really the standard you want to set going forward?