Capcom knew how to milk a franchise dry, back in the day, didn’t they? After all, how many versions of Street Fighter II were there? When it came to the once-popular Mega Man series, it took six, yes, six instalments on the Nintendo Entertainment System, before Capcom finally decided that the Blue Bomber’s time on 8-bit systems would come to an end, and the series finally made the jump to the Super Nintendo.
Name: Mega Man X
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date: May 1st, 1994
The problem with the Mega Man series as a whole was that there were so many sequels and spinoffs, that even if each release was at the very least of average or above quality, franchise fatigue was a regular problem – Even by the time Mega Man X rolled around. Most of these games contained similar mechanics, visuals and narratives, so it became a rare thing for Capcom to bring something genuinely new to the table.
But even with that said, Mega Man X was the first in the series to really offer some real improvements to the formula laid down in the first couple of NES Mega Man titles. While X is set in the far, far future (at least a century past the original Mega Man series), the hooks very much remain the same. Playing as X, a drastically more advanced model of the original Mega Man, you pit yourself against a posse of maniacal service robots gone rogue, vanquishing them and taking their powers for your own. So far, so Mega Man.
On paper, not too much has changed. You’ll still pick your levels from the initial selection of eight Robot Masters (or Reploids, as they have been dubbed), before setting off for the final few areas, with the aim of tackling the X series’ Dr. Wily replacement, Sigma. As is Mega Man tradition, each Reploid is weak against a particular enemy weapon, yadda yadda – If you’ve played any game in the series, you’ll know exactly what to expect, but X does it bigger and ultimately better.
Thrown into that very first prologue level, that intent to be a whole new take on what had come before, was very much apparent. Placed in the role of X himself, he controls noticeably better than the original Blue Bomber ever did. While there’s still a distinct lack of crouching, other abilities have been added to compensate, such as the incredibly satisfying wall jump manoeuvre, that allows the player to cling to, slide down or even ascend vertical surfaces.
Narratively, it’s certainly a deeper tale than any previous Mega Man game could muster, even if it does employ some well-worn tropes – But what do you expect, it’s a 16-bit platform shooter from the early 90’s? Yet, it does the job of not being too intrusive, while still giving you some nuggets of in game dialogue and exposition to keep the pace going.
It’s a beautiful example of 16-bit graphical fidelity. While full of character, 8-bit Mega Man was always a little stocky and lacking in detail, and more cute than badass. Meanwhile, while X has a certain anime look to him, he looks determined and ready to get down to the business of kicking robot arse. With the additional power of the SNES, each level is a unique environment itself, from the industrial hazards of Spark Mandrill’s abode to Sting Chameleon’s bionic jungle. Beating bosses would also make small visual and layout changes to levels – An obvious example occurs when you beat Chill Penguin’s stage, which causes Flame Mammoth’s usually firey area to freeze over. Some of these changes even open new paths or easier ways to get the game’s collectables.
Of which there are many. Throughout many areas in the game, are a series of capsules, hidden by X’s creator, Dr. Light, and upon entering them, you’ll be granted an upgrade to your abilities. The easiest to obtain is the Leg Upgrade in Chill Penguin’s level, which allows X to dash around at high speed, but the other upgrades are well hidden but offer some incredible bonuses, including an extra super secret hidden capsule that gives X the power to unleash a Street Fighter-style Hadouken. I’m not joking, it actually exists and it’s the most powerful weapon in the entire game.
It’s the hunt for these abilities and extra items such as weapon and energy tanks that make the game an enjoyable one. The eight Reploid levels are replayable, so there are plenty of opportunities to tool up before you tackle the final few levels, and a built-in password system for saving, just in case you can’t finish this relatively short game in one sitting. There is a certain amount of familiarising yourself with each level, and of course figuring out the weaknesses of each Reploid, but it’s not a game that is going to take too long to figure out. Even though the final stages of the game can be quite tricky, well-prepared and full tooled up players will find their way through to the end.
And by the time you do reach the end, you’ll have every piece of background music embedded in your mind, because Mega Man X’s soundtrack is pretty damn great. From the balls to the wall hair metal of Spark Mandrill’s stage, to the synth-pop of Chill Penguin’s area, the music is absolutely memorable – There’s a reason why these songs have been covered, rearranged and remixed by so many fans.
Something that’s worth mentioning is how great those obtainable weapons are, and most of them have some sort of purpose, even if it’s down to some enemies being weaker against certain types. Weapons like the Storm Tornado are just awesome to wield on multiple enemies for sustained damage while using the Shotgun Ice to freeze enemies into makeshift sledges is incredibly cool (no pun intended).
Highlights: The fantastic music makes wonderful use of the SNES’ sample-based instrumentation. X controls great, and the new abilities are an awesome addition to the well-trodden Mega Man formula.
Low points: Like many games of the time, a little too short once you know which order to tackle Reploids in.
VERDICT: Arguably one of the best games in the series, Mega Man X continues to be a bonafide classic, updating a beloved franchise for the 16-bit generation, making full use of everything the SNES could handle.