Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Game Review: The Mega Man X Series, Part I

The Mega Man X series includes some of my favorite action games of all time. I enjoy the original, non-X Mega Man series as well in its various incarnations, but for me, the X series at its best (well, the first two) can be even more fun. It's Mega Man on speed, with a faster pace, more abilities, and a badass edge to it. Over the holidays I'll be replaying these games for the first time in years, and as I play them I'm going to do some mini-reviews of each one. I'm certainly looking forward to replaying these games...well, some of them. Some not so much. It's a hit-or-miss series, and the reviews will reflect that.

With the mild amount of resurgent interest in the series, possibly due to Gamestop's re-issuing of the game, it seemed like a good time to do this. I'm starting with mini-reviews of Mega Man X1, X2, and X3...in later installments I'll cover the rest of the X series up to X8 and Command Mission. Since CM is a big - and more modern - game, expect it to get more of a full-sized review than the mini-reviews the rest are getting.

For the record, I'm playing these (well, the first six) on the Mega Man X Collection. That is, the Playstation 2 version...do not, I repeat DO NOT get the Gamecube version unless you want a vastly inferior control scheme and a severely bent penis.

And to the women out there, don't think you can get away with playing that version just because you don't have a penis. Matter of fact, without penis assistance, I wouldn't even attempt to play Mega Man X with an unwieldy Gamecube controller in the first place.


Mega Man X

Not Mega Man 10

SNES, 1994; Various re-releases on other systems since

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Time to Complete: 1-3 hours

Launched on the Super NES in 1994, Mega Man X is one of the best games in the entire Mega Man pantheon. Back in 1994, it was a huge change for fans of Mega Man. The ability to dash, get armor upgrades, and save yourself from previously fatal drops into pits (via the awesome new wall jumping ability) really set it apart from the original series. In addition to all of this, it was the first Mega Man game to make the jump to the Super NES.

Since it is set well after the original Mega Man series, the various characters from that series won't be found here. No real explanation is given as to what transpired in the interim, except that a legion of machines under the control of the malevolent Sigma are trying to take over the world. Dr. Light appears in the form of holograms and offers insight to our hero, which is the only real attachment evident to the original series. There is no sign of Wily, but numerous hints are dropped throughout the X series that Wily is still around somehow and is likely the reason Sigma constantly returns from game to game in rebuilt, enhanced forms. For those of us who care about the plot of these games, the question of what happened to the original series cast is one that has gone unanswered for a long time.

Eight bosses. Some things just don't change

Aside from the general freshness, the game is just fun. Lots of fun. The pacing and the difficulty are just right, though plenty of people would probably say that it's too easy once you get the hang of it. Easy or not, it never stops being fun. This is one of the few action games out there that manages to be challenging without ever getting frustrating. It definitely does have a few difficult fights, like the spider and the final boss. The play control is spot-on, and doesn't get in the way at all.

The story begins X's eternal struggle against Sigma and his minions; it is simple and effective. The graphics are colorful and bright, and the music is perhaps the best in the X series. Much like the overall game, the only real competition in the music department comes from Mega Man X2. There are several standout tracks throughout the game, and by that I mean most of them.

Mining for fun and profit

No Mega Man game is complete without an arsenal of weapons to obtain. This one is no different. Every weapon in this game is useful and has its own properties that make it unique. No two weapons are alike, and because of this unique utility factor, it's possible that this game has the best weapon set in the X series if not any Mega Man game.

This game only has two negatives going for it. It's a little too short and it could be more difficult. I'd also have preferred if it started with the dash ability like the other X games, but that ability is obtained soon enough. Other than it being short and not too much of a challenge, there's very little complain about here and it's an awesome beginning to the series. It was one of the SNES' better games, and it is a huge part of what makes the X series compilation worth buying in this day and age.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10


Mega Man X2

Fast and Furious

SNES, 1995; Various re-releases on other systems since

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Time to Complete: 2-3 hours

Mega Man X2 was released less than a year after the first game, ringing in 1995 with a bang. The Super NES' run in 1994-1995 was probably the best two year run any game system has ever had, but I digress. Mega Man X2 takes the things that made Mega Man X great and largely repeats them, with a few slight differences one way or another.

The main strike against this game is that it's just TOO similar to the original. At times, it's hard to tell them apart. Considering how great the original was, this isn't a bad thing. However, it's a case of perhaps not advancing from what came before. That said, this game manages to stay on the same high level of quality as the first, improving on it in some areas and falling behind in others. The controls are, again, flawless.

The green biker meets his untimely end

The music in this game is excellent, and personally I would rate it as the best soundtrack in the series. The music is at least on par with that of the first game, with numerous standout tracks. The weapons in this game aren't as interesting, useful, or innovative as the ones in the first installment of the series, which is a strike against this game. However, X2 introduces an Air Dash that is entirely new to the series. This ability is not only useful, it's extremely fun (try flying circles around Morph Moth with it). These things balance each other out for the most part.

The X-Hunters are perhaps the most interesting addition to the game. With Sigma "gone", they take over as the new antagonists for our hero. Each of the three is particularly formidable and unique: Violen is strong, Serges is intelligent, and Agile, the leader, is...well...agile. Side note: Is it just me, or does Serges REALLY look like Dr. Wily?

Move your body! Every every body!

The aformentioned bad guys here are more proactive than most villains, warping in to challenge X after he defeats a few bosses. This is one area that X2 totally trumps X3 on (more on this in a bit). The X-Hunter fights are a lot of fun and entirely avoidable. The downside is that the X-Hunters warp into rooms that are off the beaten path. On one hand, it makes it tough to stumble in and be forced into a fight, one of X3's biggest issues. On the other hand, players who aren't totally familiar with the stage layouts can easily end up taking an unnecessary detour to end up at a sealed door, disrupting the flow of the game a bit.

All told, the game has both pros and cons over X1, and these things balance out in the end. As a result, the two games are basically tied in the grand scheme of the series. They are both great, great games; hands-down the two best reasons to get the Mega Man X Collection.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10


Mega Man X3

Day of Wreckoning

SNES, 1996; Various re-releases on other systems since

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Time to Complete: 2-4 hours

Mega Man X3 is a real hit-or-miss game. There are some definite things to like about this game, but there are so many huge flaws that it isn't just a step down from the first two; it's an outright leap down. There are numerous annoyances that end up amounting to a tedious experience, one that only hardcore X fans will get very much enjoyment out of.

This game continues to follow the trend of every Mega Man series in that a "new villain" has replaced Sigma. Now Doctor Doppler, a reploid scientist, is on the loose and wreaking havoc. In the original series, the first two games had Wily as the villain and most of the later installments had other villains who inevitably turned out to be puppets. The X series has Sigma front and center for the first game, but after that he's replaced by "new villains" in each game who, you guessed it, turn out to be puppets. The exception to this is Mega Man X5, but we'll get to that.

Oh, yeah...spoiler alert. Yawn.

Eyes subtly lurk in the background all over this game

The play control is about the same as the first two games. X has even more powers this time around, which is pretty cool. And the game's strongest point is easily the fact that Zero is now playable for the first time in the series. Unfortunately, Zero is limited in use; he can't be brought through boss or miniboss doors, and he can only be switched to once per stage. Also, later in the game when X gets powered up, Zero is clearly outclassed since he doesn't have powerups to obtain.

So what's the deal with Mega Man X3? Why is it so...tedious? Let me count the ways.

The stages are longer (and yet more boring) than the first two games, and checkpoints are few. Not only that, they're poorly placed. It isn't uncommon to get through the majority of a stage, beat a mini-boss, then die AFTER the miniboss and end up restarting way BEFORE the miniboss. Lovely.

Similarly to how X2 had the X-Hunters challenging the hero at various points, this game has Doppler's goons warping into stages to make life difficult for X. The difference is that this game outright forces these fights on you; you can't see what stages the goons warp into, and the fight rooms are right in the middle of any given stage, unavoidable. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure they're in a bunch of stages at once, since after they started appearing, almost every stage I'd try to do, they'd attack. What's worse, at the early stages of the game, without powerups or a variety of weapons, it's really difficult to actually defeat these guys. As a result, some major frustration sets in.

Energy capsules, especially large ones, are much more difficult to find in this game than in the first two. They were plentiful in those games, making the filling of Sub-Tanks an easy task. In this game, large energy capsules are practically a rare drop, and filling Sub-Tanks is a time-consuming chore. It contributes to the game's higher difficulty, which is good in some ways... but sometimes, you just want to fill your damn sub-tanks and get back to playing.

Finally - and this complaint is more of a personal opinion than something I can back up with cold facts - the music in this game is a huge step down from the first two games. It doesn't have any real resonance, intensity, or emotion compared to the great soundtracks on those games, and largely comes across as being just as soulless as the rest of this game. Most importantly, almost none of the tracks in this game are all that memorable. The intro stage theme is good, and Vile has a sweet guitar riff of a theme, but that's about it.

On the bright side... the ice stage makes a comeback in this game with Blizzard Buffalo's stage. Ice stages rock! Much like Chill Penguin in X1, it's a smart move to start with this game's ice stage. The crucial dash upgrade can be found there, as well as a sub-tank and a boss that (sigh) just dashes back and forth for the whole fight so special weapons aren't all that needed.

If they even got to Mac, what hope is there? ...Wait, who's Mac?

The bosses in this game are really hit or miss. While some provide a challenge, the majority of them have dumb-as-bricks AI. I lost count of the number of bosses in the game that just dash back and forth if you continuously jump over them. It makes for some pretty damn boring fights. It seems like the people behind this game pretty much cut and pasted the same AI for half the bosses in the game. The other half got generally predictable patterns, too. Vile (without suit) has a particularly unique attack pattern that stands out from the other bosses in the game... probably because it's cut and pasted from Mega Man X1.

Mega Man X3 is an alright game... but it's merely alright. It has many completely unnecessary problems, and has the misfortune of following two of the best action games of the 90's.

Finally, protip: Skip the four pink capsules in the game and get the final one in the first Doppler stage. Instead of getting just one of the four powers for the rest of the game, that one gives you all of them. This makes the final few stages of the game a lot more fun than those that preceeded them, as you can regen Sub Tanks to full as needed and dash twice in midair instead of once.

Rating: 6.8 out of 10

Tune in for the next installment of this retrospective review series, sooner or later, as the X series leaves the SNES for the Sony Playstation.