Ghosts of Games Past: Mega Man X
Platform: Nintendo Switch (As Mega Man X Legacy Collection)
The video game business can be a very tricky one. After all, what gets an audience to buy into a game comes in ebbs and flows, given the fickleness of trends — and of course a game’s quality. So for a game to sell, let alone last long enough to have sequels, makes one wonder what’s going on under the hood. This year is the 30th anniversary for Mega Man; a series that lately has had a foul run of things; ever since series creator Keiji Inafune left Capcom for questionable Kickstarter pastures. But in its heyday, Mega Man was the standard for platforming for decades and of course for how many different sub-series you can cram into the base concept of rock paper scissors robots.
This year is also the 25th anniversary for what one could consider the peak of the series: Mega Man X. At the time, Capcom was making the jump to the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and this led to their making Mega Man X a sequel to the still-ongoing Mega Man series on the Nintendo Entertainment System. This led to certain distinguishing features like a new protagonist, a new villain, and a more modern anime-influenced style (as opposed to the original series’ more Astro Boy-esque stylings). What follows is a game that while at first glance is similar, is astonishingly different in more ways than one.
At its core, Mega Man X doesn’t deviate from the basics of the Mega Man formula. You start out with nothing but your blaster, you must fight through stages with eight bosses in order to gain their abilities, and you fight the villain in his multi-level headquarters. Therein lies what distinguishes the character of X from the original series. The mechanics that make up the underlying parts of the Mega Man series are altered in some way or another for this title, and it works. One of the earliest examples of this, is the Chill Penguin stage where you find an upgrade that gives X the ability to dash. From there, it becomes a whole different and faster-paced game. The ability to dash, combined with X’s ability to jump on walls opens a wider array of options — both in exploration and in combat — than its predecessor games.
Now, I’m no neophyte when it comes to playing Mega Man. I’ve played my fair share of the original series. Still, if you put a gun to my head, my gut favors Mega Man X. I love the somewhat more managed style of play and blocky graphics for the original games, but I’m fonder of the adrenaline-fueled enjoyment that Mega Man X provides. Moreover, it’s simply just more interesting to look through the environments.
That said there are certain frustrations attached to the game. Some of those (like the button mapping) are normal for a game of its era. Still, it’s hard also not to be annoyed by certain decisions on design. Take for instance, the typical underwater level drama. All of the levels were fairly well-designed, but Launch Octopus’ level provides some astonishing level of frustration. While it’s a bit annoying (if understandable) to have three bosses, Launch Octopus is just a pain in the butt as far as bosses go. It’s also hard not to be frustrated that the password function works… except for when you’re unable to take a breather during Sigma’s Castle; unless you want to start at level 1 again.
Overall, though, Mega Man X is a strong game and comparable with any in its era. While the game doesn’t bother to layer on characters that would become far more important like Zero (he barely has that many lines!) and Sigma, it really doesn’t need any of that. But still, it is interesting playing X as a blueprint for what was to come: both with the series itself and gaming in general. Even 25 years later, this is a classic that is leaps and bounds above its competition, and with any luck Capcom won’t continue to be content to let it languish and give it a restart like the main Mega Man series.
I miss playing the Mega Man games… I was actually (somewhat) good at those!
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