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Battle Network’s DenTown Area Shows Why Building Cities Around Cars Sucks

Published on Apr 16, 2024

This post was published simultaneously on Welcome to the Cyber World.

In the MegaMan Battle Network series, you spend most of your time running around the Cyber World and battling as MegaMan. But you'll also spend a good amount of time running around the Real World as his human operator, Lan.

While the Cyber World is often labyrinthine, with paths twisting around into dead ends, or looping back onto themselves, the Real World is mostly straightforward. There's lots of open space to move around, and clear landmarks to help orient yourself.

This is not the case in DenTown, a mid-to-late-game Real World area in the first MegaMan Battle Network game.

Lan travels to DenTown to save Mayl, who has essentially been trapped on the bus from Speed by the evil WWW organization. The solution to this scenario involves activating a series of crosswalk barriers in an attempt to stop the bus. The scenario itself is fine, but the area built around it is easily the most unpleasant to traverse in the entirety of this series.

DenTown is supposed to be a busy, metropolitan, downtown type of area, with tall buildings, busy streets, city blocks, and — crucially for our pedestrian protagonist — crosswalks. In order to introduce the mechanic that will eventually save Mayl from her Speed bus death trap, the crosswalks are made functional, complete with traffic that trades right-of-way with the player at predetermined intervals. As such, they bring with them one of the most annoying parts of living in a city that one could translate to a video game: waiting for your turn to use the street.

The crosswalks in DenTown aren't just lights. The game needs to make you wait, so it employs physical barriers that block the crosswalk when the traffic light is green to prevent pedestrians from crossing against the light, and which block the street when the traffic light turns red, to prevent any cars entering the crosswalk. This is a pretty cool idea on its own, and fits into MegaMan Battle Network's near-future aesthetic and occasional kid-friendly safety-mindedness.

But it also makes moving around this area a nightmare to navigate, because all of the points of interest are at the edges of the map, sequestered away from each other on different city blocks, and the only way to move between them is to wait to be let through these designated chokepoints.

Working in conjunction with these chokepoint crosswalks is the fact that everything in DenTown looks the same. The streets all look the same, the sidewalks and crosswalks are all the same, the buildings and shopfronts all look extremely similar.

DenTown also takes up (if memory serves) four separate screens. There are so few things to interact with for that amount of space, and they are all spread so far apart. I could not tell you on which block on which screen any given point of interest lies if you dangled my loved ones over a pit of lava. So the process of navigating DenTown becomes, for me, one of trial and error. Which is miserable.

For some reason, it is also extremely unclear where one screen ends and another begins. These games are usually very good at telegraphing to the player which edges of the screen will take you to the next screen. Again, not the case in DenTown. I am perpetually getting turned around.

One might argue that this is merely the game indulging in a fun inversion of formula, wherein a Real World area is made labyrinthine instead of its Cyber World counterpart. This is false. For one thing, this area's Cyber counterpart is still as twisty as other Cyber areas, and for another, the game's Cyber areas, labyrinthine though they may be, always communicate a pretty clear path forward. You might get a little lost in the Cyber World, but not like this.

This is, however, a perfect analogue for navigating your way around an unfamiliar car-centric space in our world. The reality of living in a modern city, at least from an American perspective (I suspect also from a Japanese perspective, given the game's provenance), is that the vast majority of public space is ceded to cars.

Pedestrians are guests on the road, forced onto the tiniest strips of unprotected walk, so that bigger and bigger internally-combusting monstrosities can drive and park wheresoever they please. If you make a wrong turn while walking and see the place you mean to be on the other side of the street, sorry buddy! Better find your way back to the nearest crosswalk and wait your turn!

Except, DenTown is actually a little worse than the reality in which we live because, from the top-down, isometric viewpoint of the Battle Network games, you can never see past the bounds of your GBA's screen. So if you don't know where you're going, you'll always be guessing and doubling back. At least in the real world, I can look into the distance for some kind of landmark to latch onto.

That said, if any significant portion of my time spent outside my house were as open and car-free as the rest of the areas in the Battle Network series are, I would live a truly blessed life. The world of Lan and MegaMan is utopian by comparison, thanks to this one metric alone. I would gladly take a couple of world-ending threats from the same old man and his gang of thugs if it came with a side of free rapid transit and walkable cities.

Hell, the Battle Network world is utopian based purely on the fact that everyone agrees that the bad guy is the bad guy, and tries to stop him. But that's a different blog post.

In terms of gameplay, DenTown is a slog. I hate being there. I had to look up a map every single time I went there. That is a wild thing to have to do for a Real World location in a MegaMan Battle Network game.

In terms of infrastructure critique, I say, why stop there? Let's dial it up and give the people something to talk about!

If they ever make another Battle Network game, it should feature one absolutely miserable chapter in which Lan (or his son, I guess) is stranded in a suburban town with no access to public transit of any kind, and has to rollerblade down a tiny strip of sidewalk, approximately 32 GBA screens long, to get to the nearest Thing To Do. It'll be a hit.

In conclusion, fuck cars. And fuck DenTown.