Even if it has been mentioned before, it bears repeating: I love Mega Man. I hold the NES titles in such high regard that I view them as a benchmark for similar titles on the console. In terms of challenge, control, and length, I feel it’s those games were the absolute sweet spot. They’re not perfect, but I think they’re at the level that other games should strive for.
While the original NES titles were finishing up in 1993 with Mega Man 6, it was time to move the series to the next generation of consoles. Mega Man X marked the start of a new sub-series on the SNES, taking the aging series and injecting a fresh dose of ‘tude.
THE REPLOID REBELLION
The story, such as it is, takes place over 100 years after the events of the original Mega Man series. Mega Man X, Dr. Light’s last creation, has been left dormant as diagnostics are being run on him to ensure that his incredible ability of thinking and making decisions on his own are safe for humanity. Dr. Cain finds X’s capsule and reverse engineers his thought system to create a race of thinking robots called reploids. That’s the background, anyway.
The game itself sees X as a member of a force of Maverick Hunters, who are tasked with eliminating reploids who have turned on humanity or have “gone maverick.” You’re helped along by a fellow reploid named Zero, and are working to eliminate the maverick leader, Sigma.
The story has a lot of problems to it. For one, if X is the first robot capable of free-will, what does that say about Mega Man? Didn’t he have a strong sense of justice that implies free-will? If reploids have such a widespread issue with turning on humanity, why don’t they have some sort of fail safe that can remotely shut them down? Mega Man X creates a universe that just doesn’t hold up against the slightest scrutiny, and it only gets more muddled as time goes by.
On the other hand, very little of the plot is told within the game.
THE WALL HUMP JUMP
The setup to Mega Man X will be pretty familiar to anyone who has played the classic series. After an introductory level, you’re given a grid of 8 robot masters (or, I guess, mavericks in this case) to topple, each with their own stage to traverse. Toppling a maverick nets you their special weapon. Each maverick is allergic to another maverick’s weapon, so it’s helpful to be able to match the ones they’re weak against. Once you’re done the basic levels, you’re then put through a final gauntlet before facing the end boss. Minus the intro level, it’s the exact same setup as the classic series.
Where it begins to differ is with the wall hop, which allows you to scale vertical surfaces by repeatedly jumping your way up them. This mobility is further expanded by picking up the dash boots upgrade from Chill Penguin’s stage, which allows you to add a little bit of kick to your jumps, sending you further, faster, and higher than a standard jump.
These may seem like minor changes, but they greatly impact the flow of games. Levels have a greater degree of verticality to them, since now, free of the NES’ constraints, they can scroll in four directions, and can be traversed without having to place ladders and elevators.
Dodging in boss battles amounts to more than simply hopping over projectiles, since you’re now able to cling to walls to stay clear of any area effects that boss attacks may have. The boss patterns have been changed with this in mind, so now they cling to walls, attack from the ceiling, and pursue you as you attempt to stay out of the danger zone. It’s a tremendous difference that makes everything feel more thrilling and exciting as you leap over bosses, and wait for the perfect moment to unleash a charged shot.
With the increased mobility, and the verticality of the stages, an effort has been taken to give incentive to exploration. This takes the form of upgrades, which take the series’ character building beyond collecting boss weapons. Each stage includes a heart capsule that increases your overall health, and either a refillable e-tank or an armor piece. The thrill of finding these power-ups is akin to the feeling you get when you put on your winter jacket for the first time that season and find $20 in your pocket. It’s incredible.
The armor is the most exciting addition, even if most of the upgrades don’t really add an appreciable effect. Just the visual change to X’s armor is pretty satisfying. A lot of the upgrades are hidden behind barriers that require you to have a specific weapon are armor upgrade to reach, and seeing them held just out of your grasp is so tantalizing.
BLUE BOMBER’S RETURN
Add to this some excellent music and pleasing graphics and you have an extremely solid game. I have some complaints, most of which are related to the characters and the plot, but I there’s nothing that really harms my overall appreciation for the game. I just love Mega Man X. I love it at least as much as I ever loved the classic series.
It takes everything that was good about the classic NES games and then layers on small changes that have big impacts. It’s faster, stronger, and better. It really feels like an evolution of the old games. If you had any appreciation for the series, or just feel a bit hungry for a fast paced side-scroller, then you owe it to yourself to give Mega Man X a try.
This review was conducted on both an original SNES cartridge, and through the Mega Man X Legacy Collection on Nintendo Switch. All of the above was paid for by the author.