Okay, everything is back on track.
Hey, get this. There are 8 robots and Mega Dude is gonna get 'em! Right!? Good stuff all around with that. The major issues is we've seen this rodeo many times already. Is X actually gonna give it to us, or have we tread the same path too often?
Changes to the mechanics of the game do not show up until parts of the X armor start to be acquired, since we always throw the armor in the trash after the defeat of Sigma. A change out of the gate though, is that you can play as Zero because he's not dead this time. That's fun up until you immediately die and can never play as him again. Zero cannot fight bosses and only lasts for maybe a third of the level. Zero can charge his buster longer and use the sword as the third shot on the full charge. This is totally just fine. Where the mechanics get "interesting" is the X armor legs, which allow X to now Dash up when in the air. This feels awful, is terrible to execute, and happens on accident when trying to go left or right especially when off of a wall. The chip upgrades (we will get to these later) allow X to dash twice and can help for recovery from these accidental inputs. The dash up is useful eventually, especially in sigma stages where one dash to the left or right too far will result in death.
The X armor continues to be some of the best in the business with the addition of the changes made to the helmet. Gone are the days of head butting weird blocks as X can use the helm to figure out what stages a collectable has not been found, and an approximate location when starting the stage. This is a quality of life change that is one of the smartest additions to the game. I could see from the stage select if I had found the health upgrade or ride armor in a given stage. I cannot stress enough how enormously helpful the helmet is. I love it.
The game adds even more collectables than just E tanks, health upgrades, and X armor, with the addition of the Robot Ride Armors. These are summonable version of the robot armor X can ride in from this and previous games in the series. There are smart additions and cool new features with the ride armors, such as the frog armor being able to go in the water and the hawk armor being able to hover for a brief instance. The issue with the ride armor is that it isn't used enough to feel vital. They can only be summoned on specific platforms in a stage and inevitably abandoned. The ride armors do feel rewarding when presented with the right armor for the right situation and I just wished it happened more often.
X3 also expands what collectables are available for the X Armor with upgrade chips. These chips can only be used for an ability which X already has the armor collected for. For example, once X collects the armor boots to air dash, then the chip will let X air dash a second time. As a player, you can only have one of these equipped at a time, unless you get the gold X armor in the Sigma stages. These allow for more customization on a playthrough than previously offered in former titles as well as offering more stuff to look for in each stage.
The optional Boss fights from X2 return to X3 but they aren't a chore to find. Each stage forces X through boss doors in the middle of the stage and sometimes Bit or Byte will be there based on an in game "bosses defeated" timer. They have their own weaknesses which they must be destroyed with, or they show up as bosses in the Sigma stages later in the game with some additional changes. This is a welcome improvement as these fights are actually fun (looking at you Serges) and feel rewarding when they are defeated and do not return. Vile is back as well and that's great because Vile is great. He has the same criteria as Bit and Byte where he must be defeated with his weakness or he will show up later in the game. Vile gets the bonus treatment of being hidden in stages via an X armor-like capsule and gets his own small stage once you enter.
The Mavericks themselves are huge improvements from X2 as they no longer feel like knockoffs from X1. Each boss now deals an increased amount of damage to X then in previous titles as well as they now take much more damage from their weaknesses. This makes getting "started" with defeating a first boss with the X Buster challenging but, the experience of taking out the next one with their weakness very rewarding. The challenge curve really rewards the discovery and utilization of the weapon weakness mechanic more so than previous games in this series.
The stages play well enough with Toxic Seahorse in particular feeling really fun to platform through with all of X's abilities. Crush Crawfish offered a little more room to explore and platform in some larger areas as well. I also found the 4 sub-bosses presented in the game to be challenging but easier to deal with than those encountered in X2. The soundtracks for each stage are some of the worst in the series. Most of the music has dropped the fake guitar rock for some more defined pieces, and doesn't fit what I want out of a Mega Man X game, which is all of the fake guitar or ripping double bass rock songs.
The final Sigma stages presented included some garbage with a spike-wall-snail-platform-riding section that was a real pain to get through without the leg chip or gold armor. Nothing in the Sigma stages stood out for rewarding specific abilities encountered earlier in the game. I also didn't enjoy the last Sigma fight as it was really tough to only deal damage with the charged X buster when you have the upgraded X buster. This is not the worst way an X game has ended up to this point but, still not my favorite. The escape scene after defeating Sigma was also just fine.
Mega Man X3 is an excellent return to form and expansion of the formula after a weak entry with Mega Man X2. The amount of collectables and fun challenge they provide are miles away from the tricky and unrewarding boss fights offered in X2. This game is much easier to recommend.