Perfect Platforming, Evolved.
- Perfect evolution of the Mega Man formula from the NES
- New additions dashing and wall jumping add a whole new level to the series
- Stages are a perfect blend of difficulty and reward
- Replaying stages to find secrets is an absolute blast, especially since the stages are dynamic based on who you've defeated
- Controls just like the NES Mega Man games, which is to say...perfectly
- Absolutely incredible soundtrack
- Gorgeous graphics
- One of the finest platformers I'e ever played
- Stages can be a bit easy and short, while the final fortress is a massive jump in challenge
- Story is sort of non-existant
- Sigma's fortress can be a bit unfair at times
- What the heck is a "Kuwanger?"
Mega Man's back, baby!
I have a very embarrassing confession. Despite my oft-proclaimed love for the Mega Man series, I never actually played a single Mega Man X game until only a few months ago. While I'd blitzed through all the Mega Man NES games and even the GBA Zero series, for some reason I'd avoided the Mega Man X bunch. Maybe it's because the later games looked so...weird that I avoided the whole batch all together.
I am an absolute idiot for that.
You should listen to this during the review.
Mega Man X is a rare game. One that, all these years later, even a newcomer such as myself can only stand back in awe and sort of bask in its glory. As far as platformers go, it's one of the finest I've ever played in my entire life. As a gaming experience, it's almost transcendental.
But enough of my flowery soliloquies and blanket statements, let's explain why Mega Man X is downright phenomenal and the very best Capcom could have done to bring it's beloved series to the 16-bit era.
Dr. Light's dead, long live Dr. Light.
The story for Mega Man X might be it's only real weakness. Capcom made a big deal about it when developing the game and promoting it back in the day, saying they were "rebooting" the franchise with a heavier emphasis on story. In a sense, sure, there's a little more story here than the regular Mega Man games (which tend to just have an intro movie and...that's it), but in reality it still is hardly anything substantial.
Mega Man X takes place several hundred years after Mega Man 6. Dr. Light has long since passed away, and Dr. Wily isn't even mentioned. Light's final and greatest creation, X, has been revived because a new baddie, Sigma, hasa awoken and created several robot mavericks (aka Robot Masters) to cause trouble. X and his new ally Zero have to stop Sigma by sucking up the powers of the mavericks, yada yada yada.
There is maybe one or two cutscenes that deal with the idea that Light wanted X to be a friendly robot with the freedom to choose a peaceful path (though if he really did that I don't know why Dr. Light put a freaking GUN ON HIS ARM), but it doesn't get any deeper than that. Minus a few in-game scenes there is little to no plot, and the story seems just tacked on. It's nice it's there, but in truth it adds a minimal amount.
Luckily, Mega Man X don't need no story to rock!
The core gameplay of Mega Man X is extremely similar to the NES Mega Man games, and anyone familiar with them will be able to jump right in and feel right at home. X moves at a very similar clip as Rock did, all the way down to jumping, fire rate, and charge time. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But Mega Man X does mix things up in two very crucial ways: wall jumping and dashing.
Wall jumping is something you unlock from the start, and it completely changes the way the game is played. Rather than simply jumping and shooting, X can traverse walls and do tricky jumps by clinging and sliding off walls (as well as jump off them). This allows more levels to have trickier jumps, having more vertical-based stages that rely on climbing, and completely changes strategies for end level bosses. Being able to leap up boss walls like a monkey adds a whole slew of new strategies.
The second ability, dashing, is also a rather dramatic change. Unlike wall-jumping you unlock it in a stage (though everybody does that particular stage first because it's the easiest boss anyway), and it in turn allows for a bunch of new changes. Dashing increases distance of jumps, can be executed any time you are on the ground (it's a short burst, not a prolonged run), and is necessary for many tricky leaps of faith. The only downside is that, since you have to get it, no stages actually require it until you get to the final Sigma stages, which feels like a slightly wasted effort.
Plus you ride a giant punching robot suit. AMAZING.
The stages are also different from the original Mega Man. In Mega Man, each level was broken up between sets of screens, each providing a unique but brief challenge before it would pan to the next one. This was obviously a design choice and not a hardware limitation (or so I'd think; games like Mario 2 had massive scrolling worlds), but it made the series unique. Mega Man X chucks this for a more traditional style of level: a long, streaming world to explore and backtrack. It does feel a bit weird at first, but it still has the boss doors (and you can still jump through them) so it's forgivable.
The expanded real estate also allows for yet another great improvement: replaying stages with new powerups to find secrets. As you progress, the powerups you get from bosses (and find in the world) allow access to new areas you might have missed before. Mega Man on the NES (specifically 2) did this (use Crash Bombs to get secrets) but it didn't allow you to replay it, and that wasn't part of the core experience regardless. In Mega Man X, replaying stages is almost completely necessary, as there are a plethora of secrets to find. This would be tedious in any other game, but Mega Man X plays so smoothly and the controls are so incredibly responsive it's an absolute joy to replay levels. Plus, you're all powered up, so you can stomp everything with your new weapons.
Burn, baby, burn.
I'm going to take a second to gush about something that's hard to express in words, and that's how incredibly good this game feels to control. Again, that's really something you can't describe but have to experience, but when a game gets it right the experience becomes so much more enjoyable. Mega Man X is probably the best controlling game I've ever played, hands down. It's so incredibly responsive, I never felt like I died or failed on a jump because of the game's fault. Jumping and falling all feel exactly how they should, momentum from your dash perfectly translating into far jumps, and wall slides are easy to master and darn satisfying when you do a tricky leap from one tiny spot to another. It's a Super Meat Boy kind of feeling, except perhaps even more so. After just a few minutes of playing I knew I was gonna love this game based on feel alone.
He's just mad 'cause he looks like a purple Boba Fett.
The formula here is a standard one: burn through the game, kill mavericks, get their powers to kill other mavericks, replay levels to get secrets, face the final fortress. If there's anything I can complain about it's that the stages themselves (for the mavericks) aren't nearly as difficult as the ones found in the NES Mega Man games (Mega Man 2 excluded), and seem to have a weird variance in length. Some are super short, while the underwater stage feels like it drags on and on. Overall, however, they feel a lot shorter, which makes sense since they were designed to be replayed.
All this changes when you get to Sigma's fortress, which completely beats the everloving crap out of you. If you don't know the secret to charged Armored Armadillo's power, you are going to get very frustrated. Extremely hard wall jumps, plethoras of respawning enemies, and long checkpoints make it genuinely stressful to beat. However, it never reaches a point where I felt it was unfair, just challenging. Plus, if you've spent the time to prepare and find all the secrets, you'll feel vindicated as you plow through it without having to worry too much. It's several stages up in difficulty when compared to the rest of the game, sure, but the fortress is a good finisher for those wanting an old-school Mega Man challenge.
In the year 200X, Dr. Wily created eight...hey, wait!
Graphically, Mega Man X is beautiful. It pushes the SNES to its limits with excellently designed enemies, stunning environments, and awesome effects. It does stutter a bit with framerate drops on some stages (specifically when riding the mine carts), but when it matters the game is smooth and looks absolutely incredible.
The sound design is also phenomenal, with punchy sound effects that really make you feel like you are making an impact with your mega buster. But the show-stealer is easily the fantastic soundtrack. It's just straight up insane how good this soundtrack is, rivaling anything released on the NES (even the show-stopping Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3's soundtracks). If I had any complaint it's that it is heavy on the midi-synth electric guitar (a sound I always felt the Genesis did better than the SNES), but that's really a very minor complaint for what is easily one of the best soundtracks on the system.
We're talking "Squaresoft" levels of music, here.
As I said at the beginning, I can't believe I waited this long before finally picking up a cart of Mega Man X and giving it a spin. While it almost hurts me to say this, I really think it completely outshines the NES Mega Man games in nearly every aspect. While those games are still mind-blowingly incredible, Mega Man X is an evolution of that framework that does everything right. From the perfect controls, the satisfying levels, the gorgeous graphics and phenomenal music, Mega Man X is downright masterful.
This is easily one of the finest platformers ever made, perhaps even the best. I'll be honest: writing this review right now I'm having difficulty thinking of one I would consider better. So, considering you can get this game at a decent price of around $20 for an SNES cart, or at the absolutely absurd price of $10 on the Wii's Virtual Console, if you are any fan of the 2D platforming genre you need to get this game.
It'll mega bust(er) its way into your heart. Yeah...I don't know what that means either.
Five out of five stars.