I often regard the six original Mega Man games as sort of one single game. They were all basically the same title, with small tweaks and additions made throughout. You get a power-slide in 3, a chargeable buster in 4, and so on and so forth, but otherwise they were essentially interchangeable. This ended when Mega Man X hit the Super Nintendo, and introduced small changes to the formula that had a tremendous effect on how things were played.
Then Mega Man X2 came out and it was essentially the same game. Looked like the digital apple doesn’t fall far from the video game tree.
So with that logic, it would seem like Mega Man X3, still on the Super Nintendo, would also be the exact same as its predecessors. Well, you’d be mostly right, but unlike X2, there are a lot of caveats.
THE DOPPLER EFFECT
So, after Sigma was defeated for the second time, peace reigns once again. A reploid named Dr. Doppler (I have so many questions about how a robot has a doctorate) creates a way to prevent reploids from turning on humans, a process referred to as going maverick. He even creates a city specifically for reploids to live in peace. I probably don’t have to tell you how this turns out. Doppler goes maverick and turns all the reploids under his command against the humans.
This means it falls to maverick hunters X and Zero to defeat eight maverick bosses and save the day. The formula hasn’t change. Once you beat the eight stages in whatever order you feel like, you then proceed to a final gauntlet to the last boss.
So what’s different this time around? Well, the coolest feature is the ability to play as X’s BFF, Zero. You can only use him for non-boss segments of stages. The moment you transition to a boss battle, he warps out and leaves it to X. This can make things a bit easier when you’re starting out and you’re underpowered, but the fact that you’re forced to use him sparingly can be a bit of a drag.
The other big change is in how upgrades are handled. Like in its predecessors, a number of armor and weapon upgrades are scattered throughout the levels, but while X and X2 evenly dispersed the items to give you a clear idea of what each stage holds, as well as avoid unnecessary backtracking, X3 is a little more slapdash. Previously, you’d find on heart capsule and either an e-tank or an armor upgrade in every level. X3 seems to go out of its way to stuff upgrades into its levels.
In addition to the previously listed upgrades, there are four special chips you can find that further expand your armor upgrades, but you can only use one at a time. There’s also four ride armors that you can get; armored walking suits that have various strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, the level are rarely designed to make good use of these, and often you ditch them a short distance from where they were picked up. Otherwise, they’re used essentially as keys to reach places where the other upgrades are hidden. So imagine the backtracking required when you not only need boss powers to reach certain upgrades, but also one of the various ride armors.
It’s so messed up that the helmet upgrade literally projects a map to the remaining upgrades. The fact that the other games didn’t need a map for you to find all the upgrades, but this one does, tells you a lot about how poorly handled they are.
It’s not all bad, though. One of the most interesting additions has to do with how you approach the optional bosses. Through the game, you’re attacked by a duo of guards, Bit and Byte, as well as the resurrected Vile. How the last level plays out is largely dependent on if and how you defeat them. Play your cards right, and the last area might be extremely simple, or it may be packed to the brim with bosses. You might not directly know how to change your fate, but the prerequisites are simple enough that you may stumble across them accidentally.
On the other hand, the level design is not super great. The music is also perhaps the worst in the SNES trilogy, though there is the odd track that is worth opening your earholes for. The visual diversity is lacking, taking you through a number of industrial looking areas, and a military base. Blizzard Buffalo’s level is perhaps the best looking of the bunch, but the actual design of the stage doesn’t live up to that.
THE FIGHT CONTINUES
Still, all the fast and fluid gameplay of the previous games is still represented here. All the dashing, charging, and wall jumping is present and accounted for, and it’s still a joy to play. I’ve got more to complain about here than I did with X2, but there’s still no getting past that it’s essentially the same game as its predecessors, for better or worse. The additions that were made, aren’t well executed enough to be sufficient.
So, if you liked what you saw in Mega Man X or X2, then you will mostly likely still enjoy X3. It’s safe, comfortable, and a lot of fun. Just don’t go into it thinking there’s going to be some grand evolution, because, really, it isn’t.
This review was performed on an SNES using an original cartridge copy of the game, as well as a Nintendo Switch, also using a cartridge version of the Mega Man X Legacy Collection. All of the above was paid for by the author.