Welcome back to our look at the Mega Man X franchise! Mega Man X had a strong showing on the SNES, with three games that can generally be considered great. But now that the series is heading to the PS1, how does it stack up? Well, any Mega Man X fan will most likely tell you this was the beginning of the downfall. Capcom had shown up until now the worth of having a series like Mega Man X around. Not only was it a tonal shift towards a more mature Mega Man experience, but a gameplay shift too. Mega Man classic appeals to kids from 1 to 92, but Mega Man X has a certain hardcore vibe to it. The completionist that burns inside gamers; that willingness to explore and desire to make your character the best they can be. With that certain gamer appeal, Mega Man X was a god among the hardcore crowd. But now, he’s gone, sitting in some bar somewhere, probably chatting it up with Mighty The Armadillo and Earthworm Jim about the glory days. It begs the question I’ve been trying to answer with these articles: What happened?
If you were to look at Mega Man X4, it seems impossible that X was going anywhere near an armadillo infested bar. X4 is one of the series best because it stripped out the complexities X2 and 3 tried bogging the series down with. Now, it’s just two separate characters with two separate campaigns. Complete with animated cutscenes and voice acting. The visuals have been upgraded, doing away with the sprites seen in the SNES games and replacing them with some good old 32-bit polish. The music is a step up in terms of quality, though I still prefer the SNES soundtracks as a whole. A little less synth and a little more guitar would have helped, but hey, it was the times. It’s about as difficult as ever, with the final boss being a particular thorn in the side side. But again, the most important thing here is that it’s simple. The innovation is just a fully realized Zero campaign, and that’s it. Same upgrades to body and armor, same sequence of stages, all just as fun as ever. It’s a joy to get through this game, even when it gets particularly difficult. It’s about as good as Mega Man X ever got.
Mega Man X5, however, is the turning point where the series began its barrage of screw ups. It should be noted that X5 was intended to be the last game in the series, so I believe that the team at Capcom tried to cram it with as many new ideas as possible. If we have learned anything from the looks at X1-4, it’s that X benefits from being as streamlined, yet complicated as possible. It’s a tricky balance, and X5 does not balance it. Introduced is a slew of new game mechanics, the most prominent being the time limit. You have 16 hours until this space colony crashes into the Earth, and you have to defeat all the Mavericks in that time limit. Once you exit a stage, that takes up one precious hour, so you have to make sure you make each trip into the stage count. If you defeat four of the Mavericks, you can launch a cannon that can either succeeds in destroying the colony before it hits earth, or knocks it out of the way to give you eight more hours. In any case, you will need all the time you can get, as you can find your usual assortment of health upgrades, tanks, and armor parts. Except now, there’s two armors you can make, each with their own unique characteristics. Not to mention the rescuable reploids, stat upgrades, and the ability to choose whatever character/armor before going into a stage. If this is starting to sound like a bit much for a series that revolves around solid platforming, you wouldn’t be alone. Now, I’m all for a game adding in something to keep its sequels feeling fresh and new. All the X games have done something to do that up until now. But as the last game, the team decided to shove whatever ideas they had left into one grand finale. Sounds good on paper, like what they did in Mega Man V for the Game Boy, but in practice, it does not pan out. All of these inclusions seem to distract from the game itself. You’re not just playing Mega Man X, you’re playing Mega Man X plus stat management simulator. It’s, of course, mostly optional stuff, but there’s so much of it you can see the good game underneath struggling to get out. Think of it like playing Pokemon Go, but every time you stop at a Pokestop or catch a Pokemon, something comes up to remind you that you can totally buy things with real money. X5 feels like that kind of intrusion to fun. You’ll most likely do all the extra fluff because it’ll make the game easier in the end, but by the time you get there, you’ll feel drained by all the work you did to get to that point. It’s much more satisfying to not have to deal with all the nonsense, like in X1-4. There’s a good game underneath it all, but let’s just say this is a sign of things to come.
Once one slips on the banana of failure and falls down a hill, it’s hard to stop midway, get back up, and put your dignified face on. Not even a full year later, Mega Man X6 was released as the finale of the PS1 trilogy, made behind Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s back. With such little development time, it appears that Capcom didn’t have time to process how X5 was doing and have changes reflected in X6, because all the problems I have with X5 get worse here. They dropped the time limit, but introduce a “nightmare”, where stages you play will affect another stage by making them harder. Let me be clear: Mega Man X6 is a hard video game. One of the hardest in the X series. Not because it’s cleverly designed to be that way, like something like Cuphead. It’s more like the developers were mean spirited, like something like I Wanna Be The Guy. See, now the chip upgrades have to be gotten from Reploids you rescue. There are 128 of them in total, but some have special parts that only they have. Better act quick though, because if they die, they’re gone for good. No re-entering a stage to try again, they die once, they’re gone. The two armor system is back, unlocking Zero because I guess canon is something only nerds worry about, and all of this shoved into stages that were clearly QA tested by a team of dead cats. The platforming is particularly flat, and the challenge comes from the stage constantly beating you down with enemies that are placed unfairly and a love for seeing you suffer. The deal breaker for me is that the game decides all that extra fluff is mandatory. Yes, mandatory. You cannot progress to the end of the game until you pretty much 100% it. For example, in one of the final stages, you need a certain armor to progress. In order to get that armor, you must first have a chip equipped so you can dash farther to get to it. But in order to even equip that chip, you must have rescued a certain number of Reploids to reach a certain rank. But before you do that, you have to drink some water because you were just screaming at the TV for the ten minutes you wasted tracing all of this back. In the original Mega Man X, you just go through the stage, beat the boss, and you’re done. By the time I met all of the requirements, I was frustrated, but really what seals the deal was that the final few bosses are total punches to the face. All the upgrades and customization in the world doesn’t help unfair attack patterns that deal far too much damage. I put this game down for two years, and only just completed it about a month ago because I felt cheated. It’s beginning to end frustrating, but in a way that’s simply not fun. At some point, you have to draw the line between “challenging” and “poorly designed”. I tried so hard to like this game the way I liked all the Mega Man games I’ve played before it. But the more I died, the more I said to myself “You know, maybe this game is just bad.” and that seemed to clear basically everything up.
Like I said earlier, this is the turning point. We started off with a game that is probably the best in the series, and ended with a game I consider just on the threshold of truly bad. But we haven’t crashed and burned yet. The X series had a strong presence still, leading to a couple more sequels that I will get into next time. Right now, there’s still hope for the series. Every franchise has its high and low points, and Mega Man X6 just seems like a typical low point for any good game franchise. Mega Man X6 is generally bad, but the can of worms has yet to be opened. So please, check back later for our grand finale in Part III, where we go over Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8. Maybe then, we can answer where this masterpiece of game franchise went to. Perhaps X left the bar name in the credits of X8? What do you think? As always, comment to let us know what you think! Do you love X6 and hate X4? Tell me why I’m right or wrong regardless! And thanks for reading!