Monday, September 7, 2015

The Mega Man X Series Retrospective

One of the greatest action platforming series of all time, entry by entry.

Over the summer, I had the joy of replaying the entire Mega Man X series. I really had no specific reason as to why I chose Mega Man X in all honesty, but it just hit me one day. I woke up and felt an urge to play through the entire series. It made sense on the surface, since I haven't played a variety of the games in nearly a decade, but when I actually sat down and played the series, I was wondering why it's been so long since I touched even a single game in the series. Most of the series is fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone.

So with this retrospective, I'm going to try something a little bit different. I'm going to talk about every game in this one article, and then give a series analysis and rank each game at the very end. Not only is this going to be simpler for me and easier for me to handle, but also much more convenient for the reader. No more will you have to read seven posts to get my opinion on the whole series! Now it's easy to find, read, and enjoy!

Just so we're all clear on this, I'll be covering each of the main series X games (1 - 8), as well as the RPG Command Mission and the PSP remake of the original game, Maverick Hunter X. I will not be covering the Gameboy games Mega Man Xtreme or Mega Man Xtreme 2, seeing as how those games are just remixes of the first three Mega Man X games. So with that in mind, let's take a look back at the entire Mega Man X franchise.

Mega Man X (1993) - SNES
The original Mega Man X is a classic in every respect of the word. It's simple, fun, and most importantly, it stands the test of time. I can't begin to explain how revolutionary this game was back in the day. It was fast paced, had much more of a focus on action, was darker than the original Mega Man series, and even had a harsher and more rock themed soundtrack. It was a grown up Mega Man, and people loved it. The game was challenging, but not in an unfair way. When you died, it was your fault, but it allowed the player to create better strategies to solve their problems. Armored Armadillo causing you headaches? Figure out his weakness and his attack patterns and he'll be a piece of cake. It's a game that you can master and blast through in a single sitting if you worked hard enough.

This is one of those games that you could make a legitimate case for being a perfect game, it's that good. To me though, while I really do love the platforming, the graphics, and nearly everything about this game, I'm not as in love with it as other entries in the series. It may be because the game is too simple, but its simplicity is what makes it great. In all fairness, no reason I could give would be satisfactory besides the fact that I just think other games in the series expand upon the phenomenal foundation. Still, there's no denying that Mega Man X may just be one of the best video games on the SNES, if not for all of retro gaming.

Mega Man X2 (1994) - SNES
There's just something about X2 that seems like it took a step back in the franchise for me. Of course it would be difficult to top the original Mega Man X, but X2 just feels unimpressive. It feels like it tried to have more of what people like in the original Mega Man X, but in the wrong areas. More of a focus was placed on story, but the story wasn't that interesting. The soundtrack was even harsher, but the music wasn't as good. And most importantly, the game was even harder than the original tot he point of frustration. Some levels were hard enough, but adding on incredible hard to find heart tanks, power ups, and sub tanks made the game a nightmare to complete. It just seemed like a misstep for the series.

There was no wow factor in this game for me. Nothing was memorable in the game and seemed like a quick way to appease fans of the original, but try to capitalize on a trend without knowing what the trend was. Later X games found their flow just fine, but this game was just bizarre to play through. Add on to that a weak final boss fight, yet surprisingly hard Sigma Palace bosses (the final four areas of the game), and you have an uneven, unfocused mess of a game.

Mega Man X3 (1995) - SNES
Now this was a much better return to form. The levels were brighter, the soundtrack was better, and the game just felt much more livelier than the drab that was X2. Admittingly, X3 din't do much to advance the series besides letting you BRIEFLY play as Zero, but it didn't need to advance anything. It just needed to perfect return to what was already in place in the original. The game was hard, but still fair, and in fact it was a bit harder than the original game. There were optional challenges that you could do to make the game a bit easier, but those challenges were hard as well. Yes X2 had optional challenges, but those were much harder than in X3. It was simple a simple expansion and a return to form at the same time.

The only complaints that I can muster about the game are some of the optional elements in it, keyword being optional. There's a bit focus in this game on Ride Armors, mech suits that give extra strength during levels. There are three Ride Armors to use and each one needs a corresponding chip to use, but you can use them in each level. Personally, I never found them all that useful and actually taking time out to find them never really seemed like it was worth the effort. Also, Zero was playable, but he couldn't fight bosses and was inaccessible if he died once in the whole game. It barely deserves mentioning that he's in the game and the only reason I remembered that I could play as him was when I looked at a walk through for some of the trickier parts. However, it wouldn't be long until Zero had a legitimate campaign...

Mega Man X4 (1997) - Playstation
X4 was the big leap forward the series needed. It gave the series a new coat of paint, new abilities, a story actually worth caring about, and an actual campaign for Zero! You could choose to play as X or Zero, and while both of them went through the exact same levels, the order and difficulty was changed somewhat. While X's campaign was a bit easier, Zero's was much harder and needed new tactics to defeat bosses. Zero had to fight bosses at close range, so you couldn't just stand far away from the boss and peck away at their health. Plus, Zero had an actual storyline that advanced the X series as a whole. Then you had the moral arguments behind Repliforce and their search for independence, and you have a game that was a shot in the arm for the series.

X4 is a bit easier than the other X games, to the point where if you know what you're doing you could beat it in only 2-3 hours, and there was less room for exploration, but X4 didn't really need to be more focused on exploration. It was a more action oriented X game that didn't need hours to explore and learn. You learned through trial and error, not through exploration. Different approach, but gave an impeccable entry in the series. Oh, and the voice acting. Sheer, terrible, genius. Everything is so bad it's amazing. The General sounds bored, Colonel is Australian (?), X sounds like a whiny teenage girl, and Zero's classic "WHAT AM I FIGHTING FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOR?" line will always be remembered in the annals of video game history. Simply classic.

Mega Man X5 (2000) - Playstation
Mega Man X5 was meant to be the conclusion to the X series. It wrapped up existing storylines, had characters reach the peak of their development, and just had a huge sense of finality to it. Looking back on it, I liked some things about this game and while I do think it's good, it's just scraping along that threshold. There's a lot to not like about this game, but I will say that I loved the new graphical overhaul the game had. It looks much crisper with defined backgrounds and animation. The enemies are designed very well, and there was an actual challenge in collecting all of the heart tanks, subtanks, and armor parts. You could now have two different armors for X, and there were two different endings that players could receive. It was advancement in all of the right ways.

So why does this entry irk me? Simply put, the bosses here are absolutely awful. Without a doubt, these are the worst bosses in the series because of how difficult they are and how useless your weapons are. Not only do the bosses have ridiculous health bars while yours is so small, but any weapon you use against them is paltry, even the weapons that are supposedly their "weakness". Take for example Mattrex, a flaming dinosaur. His weakness is a wind based attack where you give the enemy an uppercut tornado. You can only use this weapon in close range, so of course, Mattrex is a boss that attacks by ramming himself into you. You take damage when you hit him, and it'll take about 25-30 uses of your special weapon to fully beat him. If you're megabuster is a more effective weapon against bosses than their actual weaknesses, you're doing it wrong.

I know a lot of people like X5, but I'm just okay with it.

Mega Man X6 (2001) - Playstation
Mega Man X6 is awful. It's one of the worst Mega Man games ever made and is a slog to get through. It's cheap, unfair, is poorly designed, has too many random elements, a difficulty curve that does not exist, and one of the worst storylines in the whole series. Almost everyone I talk to hates this game, and with good reason. There are elements I like, like the polished sprite art and how some of the bosses are actually challenging even with their items, a change that I've been clamoring for in nearly every game in the series, but that's about it. This game is just a mistake. It shouldn't exist, and I mean that quite literally. X5 was supposed to be the end of the series, but X6 went into production with Keiji Inafune's awareness. Because of that, he publicly apologized for the way the game turned out. It's that bad.

As I've made it abundently clear, there are many points to harp on with this game, but the biggest stickler for me is how unfair it is. The camera does not move with the player and enemies will swarm you without delay. This is the one game in the series that you can feel overwhelmed like a bullet hell shooter. But the game thinks that's okay because it gives you a metric ton of lives, only to take them away from you. It's the illusion of challenge, but the challenge is not there when it's just the game beating you consistently. Then it has the gall to give you frequent checkpoints so you can get right back into it, except that those checkpoints work when you have to continue the game. So instead of starting at the beginning of the level, it just starts you at the last checkpoint where you died... the same point where you would have spawned if you lost one of the dozens of lives you get. Death has no meaning, and instead gives the game an excuse to be as hard as possible just to punish the gamer.

I could go on for ages about why I hate this game, but I don't need to. Just look at the general consensus for this game and you'll see that everyone hates it. No one wanted it, but we sure got it.

Mega Man X7 (2003) - Playstation 2
X7 is... weird to say the least. I wouldn't call it bad, but I wouldn't call it good either. Far from it actually. As a little fun fact, this was my introduction to the entire Mega Man franchise, so this is where I fell in love with the gameplay and style of play. That being said, man this game has some problems. While the game looks fine and has some decent levels, the controls are sluggish beyond all comparison and the game loves to have its framerate slow to a crawl. Technically, this game is just on the cusp of being broken. Several stages work in theory, but in execution are just a mess, whether it is from the game not functioning properly, or dying because the controls are working against you. It's not hard, but the game is fighting you the entire way.

I will say that Axl, a new Maverick Hunter introduced in this game, at least has some decent abilities. He fires guns at a much more rapid rate than X or Zero, offering a nice alternative to them. He's faster than X, but not as strong. He has a copy ability, but outside of maybe one stage it's worthless. And you better like Axl and Zero, because you cannot play as X until over halfway through the game. Your main character... is unavailable for most of the game. Not only that, but all of the characters seem incredibly out of character. X whines at nearly everything and preaches non violence even when he's destroying Mavericks, Zero is Sasuke Uchiha, and Axl, though new, comes off as trying way too hard to prove himself. I will say I like that the bosses and characters have full time voice actors, but some of them are barely passable. And don't even get me started on the 3-D stages of the game. Bottom line, a flawed, flawed, flawed game that was swiftly forgotten in the X lore.

Mega Man X: Command Mission (2004) - Gamecube, Playstation 2
It's not inherently odd for the Mega Man series to cross over into the RPG genre, but it is weird that Command Mission feels so not like Mega Man X. Essentially this is a non-canon spinoff with the only character we would recognize being X, Zero, and Axl. There's no Sigma, and only the briefest mention of Mavericks. Looking at the game as an RPG, it lifts several elements from Final Fantasy X and gives it a tech spin. You wait in turn, you can affect turn order, and you grind, level up, and learn new abilities. However, what sets Command Mission apart from previous entries is that the game is linear. There are no ulterior routes to take. There are 10 chapters and you must play through them in sequential order. That makes sense for an RPG, but it clashes with the basic principles of the X series. It's like if you took Castlevania and made it into an RTS. Yeah it may be a solid game, but it clashes too much with what we expect to fully enjoy it.

On that note, I can't fully recommend this game either. It just has too many little quirks that rub me the wrong way. First off, this game is hard. Like, hardest in the series even though it's an RPG, hard. The bosses are designed to be hard and challenging and almost requires grinding to beat them, plus a final chapter that is beyond punishing to the uninitiated. Combat is slow and random encounters are frequent, which is never a good policy. The saddest part of all is that it just doesn't feel like a Mega Man X game. It feels like a knock off. The tone is off, the combat is off, it's just an off game.

MegaMan X8 (2005) - Playstation 2
It took us nearly a decade, but we finally got another great Mega Man X game! With a simple return to basics, X8 was a shot in the arm that the series needed. It was a 2-D platformer with X, Zero, and Axl as playable characters, all of whom control very differently. It was everything that people missed about Mega Man X, but with a slick coat of new paint. Nothing in this game was unfair, and every bit of it was fun. Stages were long and comprehensive, usually taking about 15-30 minutes to complete, and yet you could go back to each stage constantly to get new items. All of the stages require multiple playthroughs to get everything. 

The best advancement X8 gave was the use of metals as a money system. Instead of searching each stage for specific powerups and subtanks, you could instead buy them from a shop and power yourself up in shops as well. The more powerups you get, the more expensive they become. Bosses were colorful and difficult, and even had desperation moves where they use all of their power to try and kill you once their health is at 25%. Mix in an adjustable difficulty, multiple rewards for new game +'s, and you have a fresh twist on the franchise that it desperately needed. Of course though, because the game was so good, no one talks about it and it was the last chronological entry in the franchise. We would receive a remake though...

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (2006) - PSP
As far as remakes go, Maverick Hunter X is one of the best remakes I've ever played. It takes the original game, gives it a new coat of paint, and makes it one of the best titles in the PSP's library. It's a simple game in the 21st century, but with an adjustable difficulty and visuals that look this good, I'm hardly one to complain. But complain I shall. 

Technically speaking, the game isn't a shot for shot remake of the first game. Some stages have different layouts, even though they may be aesthetically the same, and the game committed the horrendous sin of being easy. Even when playing it on hard mode, I never once lost all of my lives. I died many times yes, but I never had to replay the stages unless I went back to get more powerups. The Sigma battle at the end is much easier than the original, and bosses seem to be much more vulnerable to their weaknesses. Again, it's Mega Man X, but for the 21st century, easy difficulty and all. 

There are some added modes to the game, like a playable campaign as Vile, which is alright, as well as a simple OVA o what happens before the intro stage, but that's all for new content. However, when you have a remake of such a great game, all you really needed was to pretty up the visuals, polish the sound, and let a new generation enjoy the game for the first time. It did its job, and it did it well. 


I love the X series. It was great to finally go back and explore the series after so long. I've experienced the highs and lows, but thankfully, the X series is mostly highs. So where does each game rank against each other?

#10 - X6. I can deal with shoddy controls, but when the game is as fundamentally broken as it is, then I just cannot enjoy it. 

#9 - X7. The game had some interesting ideas in it, but the execution was all wrong. It's just a very sloppy game for the series.

#8 - X2. Nothing about the game was memorable to me. There were no sequences, bosses, or weapons that impressed me or stayed with me after I beat the game. It felt like the game was on autopilot at all times. 

#7 - Command Mission. As an RPG, it's an alright game. As an X game, it could have been so much more than what it is. 

#6 - X5. Design decisions aside, I enjoyed a lot about X5 and thought that it was a proper sendoff for the characters and the series as a whole. 

#5 - X3. I don't know why so many people overlook this game! It has great bosses, a stern, yet fair difficult, and the stages are some of the best designed in the whole series. 

#4 - Maverick Hunter X. It's an enhanced remake of one of the great action platformers of all time. What more do I need to say?

#3 - X8. This game was able to breathe life, action, and a sense of energy that was lacking in the franchise for several entries. I don't know why so many people overlook X8, but my God do more people need to play it. It's one of the most underrated games in the Mega Man franchise.

#2 - X. The game that started it all, Mega Man X was everything that a sequel series should be. It took the original series and gave it a harder edge and cemented the X series as one of the best, if not the best, platforming series on the SNES. 

#1 - X4. This is everything I could have wanted out of an X game. The story was great, playing as Zero was a welcome addition, the bosses were sublime, the difficulty was balanced, the graphics were a huge leap from what they were before, and everything just flowed beautifully. This is probably one of my favorite games on the Playstation and is what I associate most with the X series. When I say this game is good, it's very, very good. 

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