We Are Rock-Men! :: Review by Chris
2011 was a tragic year for Mega Man (aka Rockman), with the departure of its esteemed creator from Capcom and the cancellation of three high-profile games. But while the future of the series' games appears uncertain, thankfully Capcom's sound team and record label still seem to value the franchise. Three resident composers decided to form a rock band dedicated to the franchise, namely Masahiro Aoki on guitar, Yasumasa Kitagawa on bass, and Mitsuhiko Takano on drums. Their name? The Rock-Men. Their debut album? We Are Rock-Men!
The album opens with a brief anthem to mark the entrance of the Rock-Men. Reprising his role from Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars, James C. Wilson offers a catchy rap performance here that captures the spirit of Mega Man. While underdeveloped, the funky rhythm track and various chiptune sounds reinforce the 80s hip-hop vibe. Subsequently, listeners are greeted with a rendition of the game start fanfare from Mega Man, complete with bold guitar and bass performances. But the album only really gets going with the remix of Mega Man 5's Darkman. Masahiro Aoki transforms the feeble chiptune original into an exuberant rock performance that might just make Van Halen proud. The catchy melody of the original is preserved on his electric guitar, while the succession of solos from the 1:40 make the track all the more exuberant and enjoyable. It's still on the short side, but pretty sweet regardless.
For the most part, the arrangements match the moods of the originals. Following a formidable introduction, Aoki captures the heroic feel of Mega Man X's opening stage with his bright, lyrical guitar leads. In contrast, the edgier feel of Mega Man X2's equivalent is emphasised by the hard rhythm guitar and drum kit performances, which have more in common with heavy metal than the glam rock that dominates the rest of the album. Both tracks adhere a little too closely to the original and could be better balanced. However, the rock band performance ensures the melodies sound robust and stylish. Another clear highlight is Zero's theme. The track matches the quality of the greatest rock anthems in game music, right up there with Street Fighter II's Ken or F-Zero's "Big Blue". The punchy rock organ introduction certainly raises expectations and the dazzling guitar lead that follows doesn't disappoint.
That all said, the selections on this album rarely reach their full potential. The main problem is that the rock-focused arrangements are underdeveloped and tend to rehash the same ideas during their playtime, rather than offering new sections or interesting solos. Mega Man 6's "Boss" repeats the same chord progressions ad nauseum and yet another prolonged guitar performance by Godspeed doesn't add any creative value. Another incredibly linear arrangement is Mega Man X's Armor Armage Stage, which is nothing but fast-paced guitar leads against bass guitar and drum kit. There's not a single variation in tempo, texture, or volume to keep listeners interested. Even relative highlights such as Mega Man X's opening stage barely make it past the 2:30 mark, while the piano solo at the centre of the album ends up being a random interlude rather than a fully-fledged item.
Perhaps feeling they have exhausted their potential as a rock band, the Rock-Men shift the final third of the album from rock to techno. Yasumasa Kitagawa definitely injects plenty of energy into Mega Man 3's "Stage Select" with his dance remix. While it has a slightly generic quality, its liberating melody and retro references ensure it constantly entertains. Following the rock remix and piano solo, there is also a third variation of the Darkman theme that is more electrifying and brooding than the rest. Mega Man 2's Cutman focuses more on chiptune dance beats and this matches the original much better than the guitar-heavy arrangements of Tohru Iwao or Masahiro Aoki. However, the track once again lacks the elaborate quality of those in Chiptune Rockman and instead lazily fades out after two minutes. At least the well-layered and rhythmically compelling remix of Flashman provides some compensation.
There are a few other additions that add to the diversity of this increasingly erratic album. The acoustic arrangement of Mega Man 3's ending theme brings a more soothing quality to the album and is bound to inspire plenty of nostalgia. This style is also explored by Reo Uratani with a bonus track dedicated to Mega Man Legends. Whereas most bonus tracks have an upbeat quality, the guitar leads on this track are actually very mournful and reflective here. Could this be an elegy dedicated to Mega Man's possible demise? Or perhaps a lament that his score for Mega Man Legends 3 will never be heard? While such tracks are bittersweet highlights on the album, it's a pity that few of the rock remixes attained the same emotional highpoints.
Featuring numerous fan favourites and a range of styles, We Are Rock-Men has quite a bit to offer. However, it's a pity that most remixes labour the same ideas both in and of themselves and the album doesn't come together cohesively. It's a great pity that the Rock-Men don't seem to be able to create arrangements that are as expansive, emotional, or polished as favourites such as the J.D.K. Band and The Black Mages, and they across somewhat amateurish as a result. It was a superb idea for Capcom to create a rock band dedicated to the Mega Man franchise, but the Rock-Men currently don't seem to know quite how to rock. Let's nevertheless hope this album represents the start for this still promising band and not the end for this franchise.
Overall Score: 6/10