The Mega Man series left a sizeable footprint on the NES after 6 titles in total were released on it. That’s pretty extreme. What amuses me is that they were all essentially the same game. Each had similar graphics and spritework, minutely improving after each title, and each had the exact same framework. Not that I’m complaining, Mega Man is great.
Mega Man X on the SNES was the first attempt to shake things up slightly. It was still largely the same framework, but it layered on small changes that had a huge impact on how the game was played. It introduced new characters, established a plot that was a bit deeper and made even less sense than the classic series, and essentially revitalized the series while classic Mega Man went and played soccer.
Mega Man X2 follows the trend started by the classic series by being essentially the same game as the first. Take whatever you want from that statement, but since I love Mega Man, and I loved Mega Man X, I’m always up for more.
RETURN OF THE REPLOIDS
Mega Man X2 picks up the story a while after the first game. Sigma was destroyed and X and his crew have been working to wipe out the remaining Mavericks; robots who have turned against humans. Everything is business as usual until X is challenged by a trio of mavericks who goad him into fighting by dangling the pieces of X’s old friend Zero in front of him. It’s still a pretty minimalistic plot, but I find that both the trio of mavericks specifically targeting X, as well as the journey to resurrect Zero, are fun wrinkles to the narrative.
Aside from plot and the trio of X hunters, there isn’t too much that is different about X2. The setup still involves an intro mission, eight mavericks that you can take on in any order, and a final gauntlet to the boss. Each stage contains a variety of permanent upgrades, one of which is a heart capsule that minutely increases your maximum health, then either one of four refillable E-tanks, or a piece of armor. It’s really second verse, same as the first.
Okay, so really, what is different? I’m really straining to come up with a way of explaining the game without just referring to my review for X1. The two games are very similar in the same way that Mega Man 5 was really similar to Mega Man 4. The games are relatively interchangeable.
After completing a few levels, the X Hunters will come after you and hide within the stages, waiting for you to stumble upon them. They’re mostly optional until the end, but if you want to reassemble Zero, you’ll want to go rough them up. Also, on top of the “ride armor” walking suits, one level has you riding a hoverbike, which is very brief but also pretty memorable and rad.
Aside from that, the boss weapons have different effects, and so does the armor pieces you pick up. One particular part allows you to dash in mid-air, which doesn’t have as pronounced an effect on movement as you may expect. The fully charged buster is also different, but not in any way that I found significant.
It has a lot of the strengths seen in X1, like gameplay that flows like a river of oxygen. I honestly can’t get enough of the X series’ movement system, which gives you the control to hop over dangerous situations and scale walls with ease. The series’ added exploration is another appealing facet that’s represented here.
One unique thing that X2 brings to the table is a specialized co-processor (technically a digital signal processor) designed by Capcom: the Cx4. The chip theoretically was supposed to bring in a lot of pseudo-3D effects, but it’s really only visible through use of some 3D wireframe objects. It’s no FX chip, nor does it help the game match the visual fidelity of the Donkey Kong Country or Earthworm Jim games, but there’s a certain dopey charm to its use of wireframe.
It’s perhaps easier to focus on where X2 is deficient in relation to its progenitor. It’s not really a long list, either.
For starters, the level design is a smidge lacking. Nothing substantially wrong with it, but a lot of the levels seem too brief and lack challenge. The secret items are trickier to obtain, but technically the backtracking for upgrades hasn’t been increased any. There’s still a heart in each stage and either an E-Tank or armor upgrade. Unlike X1, I’ve never been to great at getting them without having to repeat stages.
THE PRICE OF PEACE
If it seems like I’m struggling through this review, it’s because I am. I honestly could have pasted huge swaths of my previous Mega Man X review, because things are basically unchanged from there. Oh sure, there’s new levels, new weapons, new bosses, and all that jazz, but in the bigger picture, that makes little difference. I often talk about the classic NES Mega Man series as though they’re a single game, because they’re all so interchangeably similar, and X2 appears to be carrying on that legacy into the newer console generation.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. Really, X was a terrific game, and X2 is similarly excellent. Some of the first game’s luster has rubbed off, but it’s so slight. If you haven’t played any of the Mega Man X games, maybe start with the first one. Then, if you loved X, you most likely will love X2. Just don’t expect anything new or exciting.
This review was conducted on both an SNES with an original cartridge, as well as on a Switch using the Mega Man X Legacy Collection. All the above was paid for by the author.