You may have heard that Capcom is releasing, in some form or another, all 8 of the Mega Man X games on modern consoles and PC. The Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One will all get a taste of the Maverick hunter that has been absent for nearly 12 years, a series that often outshined its NES based counterpart. X was the evolution of Mega Man, in a way that feels similar to when most franchises shift from 2D to 3D. Mega Man classic has always been tightly focused and rigid, taking challenges on screen by screen. Mega Man X was more organic feeling, rarely using screen transitions and having terrain that had more hills and fewer blocks. X also obtained the ability to dash and wall jump, which did wonders for how the stages could be designed and, more importantly, what you can do with X. It really does compare to how Mario handles in Super Mario World to how he handles in Super Mario 64. In 64, Mario has so many more ways to traverse the environment with his wall jumping, long jumping, diving, and so on and so forth. X feels like that compared to classic Mega Man. So if X is clearly the superior character to control, then why do we keep going back to classic Mega Man? The last X game was in 2006, and even then, that was a remake of Mega Man X1. Classic Mega Man has seen two mainline entries since then, as well as a third that’s on the way. So, what happened? To answer that, we need to look at each of these games individually.
Of course, it starts with the original: Mega Man X. A game that many still consider the best in the entire series. Even with all the tune ups to the design of the stages and Mega Man X himself, the basics have remained largely intact from the classic series. Eight bosses to defeat, which you can tackle in any order you like, and each one you defeat gives you a new weapon that another boss is weak to. Rinse and repeat until all bosses are defeated, and then you tackle Sigma’s fortress, a gauntlet of four stages ultimately leading to Sigma himself. What’s new to X is upgrades. In the past Mega Man titles, you could find a few items in the stages, but nothing like this. When you start, X’s health bar is pretty small, but you can find health upgrades if you explore and use the right weapons. You can also find armor parts, the first of which is basically handed to you in Chill Penguin’s stage. X can increase his abilities with these, and the part you collect is reflected on X’s body, slowly turning the blue bomber into a white one. These parts can reduce damage, or add another charge to X’s buster, among other things. Instead of Energy Tanks, you can find these Sub tanks, in which all of the extra health you pick up (that would normally be useless if your heath was full), goes into these tanks for later use. You can have up to four of these, giving a maximum potential of fully recovering your health four times. There’s a ton of riffs to the classic Mega Man formula like this that makes Mega Man X stand out. It’s Mega Man matured, not just because it’s darker, but because it gets complex with how you play it. It works beautifully.
How do you follow up the equivalent of the Mega Man Revolution? Well, with the Mega Man War of 1812: a sort of minor repeat of the last one that doesn’t really get credit in the grand scheme of things. It’s pretty much identical to X with one more layer added to it. To spoil a bit of the plot from the last game, Zero dies at the end of Mega Man X, and now his body has been trifurcated. His head, torso and legs have all been distributed between the “X-Hunters” a group of Sigma followers that plan to revive him. In each of the stages, there’s a hidden entrance to find one of the X-Hunters, if you see the hunter on the map over that particular stage. To get the good ending, you must defeat all three and collect all of Zero’s parts. You also won’t have to fight him later on if you revive him, so it’s best if you do. As for everything else, what you expect is here. Eight stages, then the castle, all the upgrade armor parts, all the sub and heart tanks. Admittedly, it’s not as exciting as it was the first time around. The music is fantastic, the art looks great, and they even added these cool 3D Wireframe effects thanks to a special chip similar to Nintendo’s own Star Fox chip. But all in all, it’s another Mega Man X game. One that’s very, very good, but doesn’t push the series much.
Mega Man X3 tries a little bit more, but doesn’t really flesh out all the ideas it could. The main attraction this time is, after being rescued in X2, you can now play as Zero. There is not an asterisk in world big enough to attach to that statement, however. Mega Man X3 lets you play as Zero… selectively. You can’t enter boss or mid-boss rooms as him, which you’ll run into at least one of each per stage. Worse yet, if Zero dies, that’s it. He’s gone for good. Get used to loading up from your last password save the moment he kicks the bucket. Or better yet, treat him like the unwanted family pet and pretend he’s not there. The main gimmick of the game is about all new this game has. You get some cool visual flares if you play the Sega Saturn/PS1 version of this game in the form of animated cutscenes. There’s an opening, an ending, and introductions to all the Mavericks you’ll face. On top of that, the music was given a CD quality boost, though a lot of people still prefer the SNES electric guitar to a PS1 synth. Still, it’s something new, because if nothing else, this plays just like the two games before it. I appreciate the effort it took to put Zero in and all, so I feel it’s a step up from just adding three extra boss battles like X2. It’s still the fantastic Mega Man X experience, and I’m okay with that.
That’s about all we have time for right now, but join me next time when we look at the PS1 Mega Man X games and all of their shining CD quality glory. Until then, why not discuss your favorite Mega Man X SNES moments? Finding out what happens if you tackle certain stages before others? Beating Sigma fully powered up? Grinding endlessly for health pick ups in a vain attempt to fill your sub tanks because you keep getting hit by those god forsaken bats? Comment and let us know! Unless you’re a bat. If you are a bat, please go away and think about what you have done to countless 90’s children.