There were six games of the classic Mega Man series released on the NES, the last one arriving as late as 1994. That’s pretty far past the launch of the SNES and even came after the release of the inaugural Mega Man X game.
So was Capcom going to pull the same thing with the SNES and release up to Mega Man X6?
No. I guess the low cost of optical media or siren call of the 32-bit systems were too much for them, because disk based versions of Mega Man X3 were released alongside the SNES cartridge. The 32-bit versions weren’t improved by any degree, though. The only addition was some animated cutscenes that kind of sucked.
For X4, however, it was time to take advantage of all those extra bits and really push the series into the next generation. I guess.
NEXT GENERATION FIGHTING ROBOT
So, this time around X and his BFF Zero are up against an organization of reploid robots known as Repliforce. Repliforce got labelled as a maverick organization because… something to do with a crashed floating city. I don’t really get it.
Hey, do you think Sigma’s involved? Just a thought.
Anyway, X and Zero have to blast and slash their way through eight maybe-mavericks in an effort to stop Repliforce from claiming independence. Or something. There’s actually fully animated cutscenes in this one, and while the voices are legendarily horrendous, they somewhat make up for the fact that the plot is one huge burning trash compactor.
32-BIT WALL HUMPING
X4 marks the biggest evolution the series has seen since its inception, but less has changed than you may think. Largely, it feels like this was an attempt to translate the classic gameplay to a new engine.
It’s still a 2D side scroller, and no real 3D has been attempted. The graphics look a lot more detailed than the SNES, but I’m not sure I appreciate that. I feel like there’s a bit of a loss of precision that was present in the pixellated SNES. Mostly, this has to do with how the ground and platforms are slightly tilted in an attempt to provide a better illusion of depth, which I’ve never liked in sidescrollers. It’s just difficult to tell where the ground ends, specifically.
Yet it still contains all the buster charging, dash jumping, and wall humping that was present on the older consoles. The formula remains the same, so you can sing along. There’s eight mavericks that you must take out before you’re put through a final gauntlet that leads to the end boss. To help you, each level contains a heart capsule that increases your overall health, as well as two e-tanks, a weapons refill tank, and a third type that increases the number of lives you start out with after you game over. Even though there’s a tidy 16 items, they’re not evenly allocated to the stages. That’s fine, I guess, it at least doesn’t have as much backtracking as X3 did.
What is probably the most exciting addition to X4 is the full, unrestricted ability to play as Zero. Zero was available in X3, but he could only be called in for segments of stages, and would warp out the moment you hit a boss. Here, he basically get his own separate plotline, but goes through essentially the same stages.
His gameplay is a bit different, though. Whereas in X3, he primarily used a typical buster, in X4, he’s restricted to a Z-saber. This means that combat is entirely short ranged, and in a side-scroller where you’re not allowed to touch an enemy due to risk of disease, this can spell trouble. To be fair, Zero takes a bit of getting used to, but overall, he’s pretty fun to play. Instead of getting special weapons from bosses, he’s given new techniques for his sword. Not all of them are winners, but the progression that comes from building your repertoire and having the ability to execute them without manually selecting a different weapon is pretty enjoyable.
Once the thrill of a higher fidelity X wears off, X4 loses a bit of its luster. It doesn’t quite stack up well against the SNES trilogy, which isn’t to say it’s bad or anything, it just falls short in a few areas.
The level design is the worst it has been. One of the exciting changes that X had over the classic series was its added verticality, and it’s just not represented here as well. A few of the levels are essentially just straight, horizontal lines from start to finish, such as one that it limited to a train. There’s also a jet bike level, which can’t really be anything but a horizontal level.
This means that a lot of the power-ups are just kind of lying in plain sight. Seriously, some of the hearts are just lying there, coyly waiting for you to pick them up. The ones on the jetbike level are the worst, since you can’t turn around to take another shot at picking them up, so if you watch a heart go by as you speed through the level, you’ll have to plow into something and kill yourself to get another shot at it. It’s not the worst bit of design I’ve seen, but it’s kind of unwelcome in this series.
WHAT AM I FIGHTING FOOOOOOOAAAAARRRR!!!?
Graphics aside, Mega Man X4 isn’t exactly an evolution for the series. In fact, it kind of feels like a step back. Not a huge step back, but far enough that it’s less enjoyable to play than the entirety of the SNES trilogy. In the process of transferring the classic gameplay to a new aesthetic, it just makes too many sacrifices.
The inclusion of Zero is a nice touch, and the extra steps taken to flesh out the world are appreciated, but it doesn’t make up for the hindered level design. Again, it’s not bad. It’s a reasonable successor to the previous games, it just could have been more.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using the Mega Man X Legacy Collection. It was paid for by the author.