As much as I love writing these Post Game Wrap-ups, when I started playing the Mega Man X Collection on the Gamecube, I just couldn’t justify doing three different posts for the first three games, even though it would have given me a week or two worth of fodder. I’ve decided to, instead, break down the X series into the Super NES era, the PlayStation Era, and then do the two PS2 games separately as they’re designs are so different from one another (this is assuming I actually do play through the whole series again). There will be spoilers here, but then the Mega Man X series has never been known for it’s groundbreaking story-telling.
You are Mega Man X. Approximately 100 years after the era of the original Mega Man, a capsule is discovered containing an extremely advanced fighting robot, Mega Man X. Mega Man X bears many similarities to its namesake, while at the same time distinguishing itself enough from that series so that it never feels at all like a rehash, but like a familiar, yet different game. Whereas Mega Man generally focused on precise timing and meticulous platforming, Mega Man X focuses on fast paced battles with more open platforming levels, due in large part to the simple yet brilliant addition of the wall-jump and the dash.
Capcom seems to live and die by the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” creed, because the general story of the first three Mega Man X games are right in line with the original series. Robot fights other robots, robot fights evil creator/leader, creator/leader seems to be taken care of, rinse and repeat. Yes, the story is rather predictable, but as I said in the opening, these games were never about the narrative. Besides, Capcom really stopped even trying to hide it, showing an outline of Sigma and referring to him as [Sinister Voice] in the opening scenes.
Now, as for the actual story of the first three games, after Mega Man X is discovered and activated, his discoverer, Dr. Cain, is so inspired by X’s advanced design that he creates Reploids, modeled after X. Predictably, this goes very wrong as many of the Reploids go “Maverick,” meaning they become violent and endanger humans. The Maverick Hunters, a group which X joins, work to capture/destroy these Mavericks, including their leader, Sigma. Sigma is the Dr. Wily of this series, being defeated only to return as the “surprise” manipulator behind events in future games.
Dr. Cain serves as the Dr. Light of the series (well, except for the dooming humanity with Reploids stuff), giving X advice and directing he and Zero throughout the first three games. His role was very minimilized in X3, however, and was also his last appearance in the series. There was never an explanation for his whereabouts (though the PSP Mega Man X remake has a scene suggesting he was killed in the Reploid attacks).
Whereas Mega Man had Proto Man as a sometimes ally, X has Zero, who is clearly designed with Proto Man in mind. Zero plays a supporting role throughout X, drops in for a few moments in X2 for plot purposes (although some of your time is spent hunting his parts so Dr. Cain can rebuild him), then becomes a sometimes playable character in X3. I say sometimes because you can switch to Zero once per level, but he is unable to fight any bosses or mini-bosses. Throughout the first three games, there are hints that Zero has more of a backstory than we, the players, know. While this is never fully explained by the end of X3, the next three games shed quite a bit of light on his history and creation, and create yet another link between the X series and the original Mega Man series.
Really, for Mega Man X, there were only a few minor tweaks to the Mega Man formula, but those tweaks are what makes X-X3 so much fun to play and escalates them to the elite status they enjoy in the gaming world. While the usual moves return (including the Mega Buster, but sans the slide), Mega Man X’s moveset was modified to give X a wall jump, meaning that those days of plummeting down sadistically placed holes are gone. While this could have sucked the difficulty from the game, the designers instead implemented the wall jump to make the platforming that much more interesting. In addition to this, you can also locate well hidden Dr. Light capsules in each game that grant X a new ability for his helmet, body, legs, and buster. Most notably among these is the dash move, which allows X to dash for a short distance, and allows him to leap further (when leaping from a dash, of course). This move is absolutely required to complete the game, which is most likely why it’s impossible to miss the capsule that gives you this move in the first game, and why X has it by default in the sequels.
As per the formula, there are eight bosses that you get to pick from and, upon defeating the boss, you will receive their weapon. Then, you try to pick the next boss based on which is vulnerable to that weapon. Rinse and repeat. There are no true positives or negatives to this system. It worked for six entries on the NES, and works perfectly for the Mega Man X series. One wrinkle to the formula is that the bosses are no longer “Men,” but are instead, usually named after animals (Spark Mandrill being one of the exceptions). Chill Penguin, Flame Stag, and Volt Catfish replace the likes of Ice Man, Heat Man, and Elec Man. This is a minor change, but does help to further distinguish the X series from the original Mega Man series.
One thing that is lost with the addition of special moves such as the dash is the brutal difficulty that Mega Man is known for, though this isn’t a negative. Mega Man X is still a challenging game, but it becomes challenging by forcing you to navigate tricky platforming sections using those new moves. There’s not much of the twitch/reaction platforming that the made the original games so difficult. And I’m not saying that the original games were unfair or bad games (they’re some of my favorite games on the NES), just that the expanded moves in X-X3 allows for more room for error by allowing you more ways to recover from something like a missed jump. Also, because you can carry four subtanks (energy tanks) and find a heart in each stage (which increases your life gauge a bit), the game is made easier via exploration. I truly can’t imagine beating this game with only one subtank and a couple of the heart upgrades. Yes, you can rush through this game, but in doing so, you’re increasing the difficulty on yourself. Therefore, you can actually manipulate the game to be as difficult as you wish for it to be.
Mega Man X really just feels like a grown up Mega Man. Whereas Mega Man was always light-hearted and a bit cheesy, X feels much more serious. And, again, I’m not denigrating the original Mega Man series, but commenting on the plot narratives of the game. Dr. Wily never feels very sinister, but is more of a cartoon villain. Sigma actually does feel sinister, as do the other bosses. The story just feels much more serious, which I’m certain was a design choice, and a very good one as it allowed the X, X2, and X3 to set their own tone apart from the Mega Man series, which would see two more entries on the Super NES and PlayStation, respectively. The game also looks a bit darker, due in part, I imagine, to Capcom having more power to work with on the Super NES. The sprites are all very detailed, and the change in look when X gets upgrades from Dr. Light are a great touch.
Still, with any Mega Man game, the heart of the game is the platforming, and X never disappoints. As I pointed out above, the designers truly took X’s new moves and ran with them, creating some amazing and very memorable levels. Do the first three X games surpass the original series in quality? I’m not sure I’d say that exactly, but I will say that they do, at the very least, match those games. And saying that a game matches a Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 in quality and design is high praise indeed.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.