When people mention Mega Man, they often bring up Keiji Inafune as well. It’s easy to see why; Inafune worked on the series from the first game onward, and was the character’s biggest advocate in the years that followed. Fans frequently refer to him as the “father of Mega Man.”
But like most successful creations, Mega Man has many fathers. One of them is Akira Kitamura, who directed the first two Mega Man titles and came up with the character’s initial design. Kitamura opted to leave Capcom before development began on Mega Man 3, citing a desire for more creative freedom. He and another ex-Capcom employee, Shinichi Yoshimoto, co-founded a small company Takeru. Shortly after, they began work on their first Famicom title: Cocoron.
At a glance, Mega Man and Cocoron don’t appear to have much in common. Mega Man has always played up its action elements; in contrast, Cocoron looks almost sickeningly sweet. Even the game’s cartridge is bubblegum pink.
But anyone who spends a few minutes with Cocoron will see traces of its DNA. Players are able to tackle levels in any order, selecting their desired stage from a Mega Man-esque world map. It combines run and gun gameplay with platforming mechanics, requiring you to jump and shoot your way through a variety of obstacles and enemies. Once you reach the end of a level, you’ll be greeted by a boss, and once you defeat that boss, you can select the next stage you’d like to tackle.
Of course, Cocoron is far more than Mega Man with a pastel color palette. It’s a weird and wildly inventive title that takes Mega Man‘s mechanics in a fascinating new direction. Instead of simply harvesting new weapons from your enemies, you’re able to create a new character from the ground up. You can make a ghostly dragon, a robot with a pumpkin head, or even a pencil-wielding ninja. With over 3000 character combinations, the only real limit is your imagination.
Immediately after completing Cocoron, the Takeru team got to work on their next game. Although the Super Famicom had been released worldwide by this point, they opted to stick with the system they knew, developing a Famicom title called Little Samson.
Little Samson wasn’t as unusual or inventive as Cocoron, but it was an incredibly solid title. The action-heavy platformer allowed players to switch between four different characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
As with Cocoron, players can easily see the influence Mega Man had on the game. Although the game is more of a platformer than a run and gun, players will primarily rely on projectile attacks. Once the introductory level is completed, levels can be tackled in any order. As players progress through the game, they’ll collect various power-ups, which they can use to make their weapons stronger.
Because Little Samson was released so late in the Famicom’s life cycle, it was able to use the system to its full potential. The title is visually spectacular from start to finish, featuring jawdropping backgrounds and stunningly smooth animation. The on-the-fly character switching gave the game some strategic elements, and the gameplay as a whole is incredibly addictive.
Unfortunately, Little Samson wasn’t able to get the kind of recognition it deserved. Although it secured an international release, it was largely ignored in favor of flashier Super Nintendo games. Even most gaming magazines failed to acknowledge its existence. The title was a financial failure, and Takeru folded shortly after. Most of the company’s employees began working for Mitchell Corporation, and Akira Kitamura opted to leave game design behind entirely.
Technically speaking, Mega Man belongs to Capcom and Capcom alone; his very existence is in their hands. However, the men who helped shape him have ensured that Mega Man will live on no matter what. His legacy can be seen everywhere, whether you’re looking at a hidden retro gem or a modern title like Mighty No. 9. Keiji Inafune isn’t Mega Man’s only father, and the gaming world is better for it.