After Keiji Inafune, Comcept, and Inti Creates announced Mighty No. 9, a spiritual continuation of their work on the Mega Man series, it seemed inevitable that a similar project would eventually appear in relation to Mega Man Legends. After all, Legends 3 was Inafune's white whale: A project he mulled and expressed interest in for years, and whose prototype version collapsed immediately upon his departure from Capcom.
Moreover, the Legends 3 project and its grassroots campaign to involve the Legends fanbase served as the foundation for the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter campaign. So when Inafune announced a crowdfunding campaign for a 3D spinoff of Mighty No. 9 called Red Ash: The Indelible Legend, it didn't exactly come as a shock. What has been surprising, however, has been the game's failure to find traction over the past few weeks. Where Mighty No. 9 blasted through its goal within hours and came close to setting a Kickstarter record for video games, Red Ash took three weeks to limp past its halfway point and, with four days to go, remains more than $300K short of its $800K objective.
The Internet has quite an array of theories as to why Red Ash has been so slow to advance compared to its predecessor. Some are wary of the fact that Mighty No. 9 still hasn't launched, or don't like the way it looks, or resent the fact that Comcept went back to the crowdfunding well for add-ons despite the campaign's Kickstarter success. Other blame the fact that it launched during Shenmue's III unbelievably profitable campaign, which largely overshadowed other game projects for a month.
But nearly everyone agrees that Red Ash would have fared far better if Comcept had launched a stronger campaign. The Kickstarter's goals seem peculiar in their structure — the fact that a physical copy of the game is only available at the $89 pledge level or higher seems to be a particular chafing point — and the pitch video consisted entirely of concept art, with no real indication of what the final game will look like. Even I hesitated to back the project, and I have an unreasonable degree of affection for the Legends games and desperately would love to play the next project by so many of the series' original designers.
My relationship with Legends has been fraught with disappointment from the very beginning. Not because of the games — they're great — but because of all the frustrations surrounding them. The very first thing I ever bought on eBay, all the way back in 1998, was an early import version of Legends, because I just couldn't wait for the U.S. release to arrive. I still have that copy of the game, and I do mean copy...
...and I climbed aboard the 3DS train early in large part because I was determined to play Legends 3 after waiting a decade for a sequel to Legends 2. Obviously, that didn't turn out so well. Red Ash seems like the closest we're ever likely to come to a proper follow-up to the Legends games, and even that is increasingly looking like a fizzled dream as well.
The one hope that something might actually come of the project comes in the form of the Red Ash Unity demo Comcept released last night. Playable in a browser, the demo offers a tiny pre-prototype slice of the game. It's painfully primitive, though, and I have to assume it will do very little to entice newcomers to invest in the campaign. You can control Beck or his sister Call in a small, L-shaped segment of alley, where you can jump around, talk to people, or interact with a handful of objects. Visually, it's primitive beyond belief, and the controls seem just as rough as the graphics. There's no combat or structure to the demo, either. It falls somewhere short of "proof of concept."
At yet, I can see a glimmer of what I miss about Legends in this little snippet of game. Beck's jump physics are nearly identical to Mega Man's. The primary interactive element of the demo is an aluminum can, which you can kick around as a callback to the good/evil morality device in the original Legends games (in which properly disposing of cans littering the shops would net you extra cash, while punting them behind bakery stands would nudge Mega Man toward looking "bad." The dialogue, minimal as it may be, has the same trailing naïvety that defined so many of Legends' conversations and caption. Even the characters' footsteps sound identical to Mega Man's in Legends.
In other words, the flesh of this demo may be weak, but the spirit seems more than willing. Unfortunately, the funding also seems weak, and I'd hate for Red Ash to end up as nothing more than another disappointment surrounding the Legends games. Inafune has stated his intent to pursue the Red Ash project even if it doesn't hit its Kickstarter goal, an outcome that seems increasingly inevitable. Just once, though, I'd really love to see both the Legends series (or imitators) and its fans to get a break.
Update: Surprisingly, shortly after this article went live, Comcept announced that Red Ash has been greenlighted for development by publisher Fuze, targeting PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. The Kickstarter procedes will now go toward game extras. So, at least for now, it looks like fans get that break after all.