Call of Duty debuted when gaming and TV were in the middle of a thematic WWII frenzy. Shooters were either sci-fi or taking place in Germany. The mini-series, Band of Brothers , was extremely popular. The series took off and captivated a huge portion of gamers who didn’t necessarily identify as such. Now it is practically a sci-fi game and still very popular amongst people whose primary gaming purchases are yearly iterations of the series. It’s hard to imagine that they would have adopted the Call of Duty purchasing habit, though, if the game had started off with exoskeletons and booster packs and what have you. Instead, people who were originally drawn to the game because of its realism have been indoctrinated into the more fantastic elements of gaming over time. This is the power of branding.
Meanwhile, on the Facebook page for Mighty No. 9, many commenters are panning Keiji Inafune’s latest project as a blatant Mega Man ripoff. It’s understandable; the game is a sidescroller featuring robots that utilize charge shots, energy sabers, and unlockable weapons to traverse unforgiving stages and defeat bosses. Indeed, it does look a lot like a Mega Man game, but it damn well should —Keiji Inafune was a well known producer and designer on the Mega Man games throughout the series long and fabled history.
Over the last decade, however, Capcom had seemingly retired the Blue Bomber, despite vocal protests from fans. Inafune, passionate about the series, left Capcom to start his own company, Comcept. Next, he launched a popular Kickstarter for a project entitled Mighty No. 9, advertising it as the Mega Man game we hadn’t gotten from Capcom. It’s hard to say whether or not it was a smart move at this juncture, but it is heartening to see him try to meet the demand of hardcore fans.
Unfortunately, not all Mega Man fans can be classified as “hardcore.” It can be easy to forget this at times, since those reading this are likely to engage with the news and interact with others like them; I’m guilty of this myself. But for many gamers, investing their time in reading about gaming news and culture is rare. There will be some who remember Mega Man fondly and would be willing to try a new Mega Man game if they saw the familiar franchise on store shelves. That won’t be the case, though, as Mighty No. 9 isn’t the familiar franchise. It is merely Mega Man in spirit.
A game that is practically Mega Man , even if it turns out to be somehow better than Mega Man, is, at this point, not nearly as effective as a game that is actually Mega Man. Any series would suffer the same curse. If Call of Duty hypothetically stopped calling itself Call of Duty, Activision might find it difficult to inform most of its fans about the title change, even with their gigantic marketing budget. For an indie company like Comcept, Mighty No. 9 might be a tough sell to a larger gaming audience without the Mega Man brand supporting it.