We all have at least one game in our collection that we aren’t particularly proud of. Not that we’re ashamed, of course, just maybe a little embarrassed. I mean, it’s not the BEST game by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s okay – we love our ugly ducklings and we care for them as much as any AAA title in our collection. As part of the Charming and Open event, I have been asked the reveal the identity of my personal guilty pleasure game. Not familiar with the Charming and Open event? Click here to get involved! This question was posed to me by Hundstrasse, and you can use this link to check out his blog. Hundstrasse has also answered my question to him, which is all about the first game he ever beat!
So what is my guilty pleasure game? That game, adventurers, would be Mega Man Star Force. It’s really more a series, but I’ll focus primarily on the first one as it puts the guilty in “guilty pleasure.” To fully appreciate the enjoyment I get from this game, it’s good to understand my background with Mega Man.
My childhood experience with Mega Man was limited to the SNES game Mega Man X. But just because I only played the one game didn’t mean that I had no love for Mega Man. This robot was one of my favorite game characters as a child, right there with Link and Mario – to me, I didn’t understand the concept of first party versus third party games and couldn’t imagine that he was somehow “less” of a popular character than them. This was the only Mega Man game I owned for a long time until the release of the GameBoy Advance. My cousin and I got our new handhelds at the same time: I got Mario Kart and he got Mega Man Battle Network. I enjoyed Mario Kart, sure, but seeing that he got a Mega Man game – knowing there was another one out there – I had to have it.
To this day, I have never played another game in the X series, and while I have some limited experience with the main series Mega Man titles, I never really took to those games. But Battle Network – THAT was my jam (do people still say that?). And during the GBA era those were some pretty solid games. If you’re not familiar with the Battle Network series, it doesn’t have the sidescrolling shooter or platforming elements that Mega Man is typically known for. It’s much closer to an RPG – you fight on a grid-based map where you move about in real time shooting at enemies and using battle chips against them. These chips have unique effects depending on the chip type and its element, and have differing levels of power and range. Battle Network is a more strategic game than typical Mega Man titles, and that playstyle always appealed to me more.
Now while Battle Network is somewhat respectable as a series (although I’m sure there are some hardcore Mega Man fans turning up their noses at me right now), its spiritual successor did not enjoy the same respect. Mega Man Star Force takes place in the same universe as Battle Network, but in the future. Technology has advanced to where NetNavis (presumably short for internet navigators) are a thing of the past and most of society runs on technology based on EM waves. You play as a young man named Geo who has an encounter with an alien being that is composed of these EM waves. The two must work together to stop an alien invasion and save not only Geo’s hometown, but the world.
Star Force falls behind the Battle Network series in a couple of different ways. Mechanically it represents a return to the bare basics of the system. Instead of fighting on a 3×3 grid, you fight on three “lanes” and can only move left or right – no vertical movement in this game without the help of chips. They threw in a shield and a targeting feature, but they don’t really feel like enough changes to what is essentially the “seventh” game in an ongoing series. More recent Battle Network titles featured a number of abilities that allowed you to transform in combat, giving you different strategies that favored one chip type over another and even changing the effects of your charge shots and armor. Battle Network 6 had something like five different forms you could take, plus another unique type of transformation that could happen alongside those for 10 different form changes with different abilities to apply in combat. Star Force stepped that back down to a grand total of one. One alternate form for you to use, down from ten.
It may seem unfair to compare what are essentially two different series, but Star Force is such a continuation of Battle Network from a mechanical standpoint that it really feels like the game mechanics should have been more than what they were. Star Force also dropped the ball when it came to storytelling. The aliens that are attacking Earth are known as the “FM-ians,” and the ones they destroyed on the way there are known as “AM-ians.” Each chapter of the game ends off with a moral of the story moment where someone very obviously learns a lesson that’s kind of hammered into your face – even the final boss works in this way. Most characters are stereotypical in nature, making these moments quite predictable and few characters really stand out in this game. Objectively, Star Force was a step down from its predecessor in both gameplay and storytelling.
Yet I love it!
This series is my guilty pleasure. Objectively worse than what came before, geared towards an age group much younger than my own, it somehow struck a chord with me in a way that makes me come back to the series every now and again just to play through one more time. It’s hard for me to say what draws me to the series – maybe it echoes Battle Network just enough that it works as a substitute for them, since I can no longer play games from the GBA era. Maybe I love being able to turn off my brain and just sit through a goofy, simple story about kids being kids and doing the right thing. The combat is strategic but still fast-paced, so I don’t have to think hard the way that I might in a Fire Emblem game, but I’m not mashing buttons either. And even though the story never takes off in the directions that my writer’s mind wishes it would, the potential of it to become something more than what it is – the lore of it all – draws me inexplicably back in.
What about you, adventurers? Is there a game you love to play that you can acknowledge isn’t objectively great? What’s YOUR guilty pleasure? Let me know in the comments and make sure to keep checking back this week for more of my answers to your questions as part of the Charming and Open event!