If Capcom is looking for a way to reinvigorate their now-dormant Mega Man franchise, might I suggest a return trip to the world of Mega Man X? Released in 1993, Mega Man X is the embodiment of the over-the-top, extreme nature of nineties entertainment. Mega Man X was tougher, edgier, and more action-packed than any of the previous NES or Game Boy installments. Unlike many similar reboots of the time, Mega Man X was more than just a cosmetic upgrade; it was a bona fide evolution of the NES series’ play control and game design.
When Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune began developing Mega Man X, his intention was to create a game that could rival the popularity of the RPGs of the day. Inafune felt that the use of experience points and level/class specific attacks in these RPGs were making the original Mega Man series seem dated. Thus, he and his team set out to use the SNES’s increased horsepower to update Mega Man for this new, burgeoning audience.
To that end, did you know that not only was Mega Man’s ally Zero intended to be playable in Mega Man X, but was also supposed to be the star? Inafune asserts that he wanted to break from the “nice guy” mold that Mega Man had been wedged into, and nearly pitched the design for Zero as his new look. Needless to say, Inafune had a strong instinct that both fans and management might not take to such a shift. Instead, he let fellow designer Hayato Kaji create and submit his more traditionally-themed version of Mega Man. Once Inafune’s bosses said yes to Kaji’s Mega Man, he knew it would be easy to slip Zero in as the “sub character”, which he did. This micro-drama actually ended up benefiting all of us, as both characters are totally awesome.
All this talk of design wouldn’t mean a thing if the game didn’t play well, and luckily Mega Man X does. The basics of Mega Man remained for the X series; along with the 2D shooting/platforming, you start off with eight Mavericks (think Robot Masters) that you can tackle in the order of your choosing. With each subsequent boss you defeat, their weaponry is assimilated into your armory. Inafune and company were cognizant enough to realize that though Mega Man was in need of a jolt of adrenaline to stay relevant, the core mechanics of the series were sound. If Inafune’s crew were smart in retaining the basic structure and combat of the original games, then their additions were downright brilliant.
The graphics in Mega Man X are bottled electricity. The sprites are detailed, vivid, and in some cases, huge. As impressive as the NES Mega Man games were, the X series took everything to a new level. Many of the enemies tower over Mega Man or simply dwarf him in girth. The SNES made it easy for Inafune’s team to take their excellent character and environment designs and realize them more accurately than ever before. What I enjoy in particular about Mega Man X is that some of the environment is actually destructible. Crafts and enemies can be destroyed and crash through the floor, revealing new paths to items and powerups. Along with some destroyable objects and structures, you could also completely alter a level’s look (and parts of the environment) by beating a boss from another stage. For instance, beating Chill Penguin will freeze Flame Mammoth’s factory and remove the magma hazards. It’s touches like this in X’s world that made it feel like more than a simple backdrop and actually helped to further the gameplay. Plus, this more varied geography inspired the team to give Mega Man a new ability, a handy wall-kick that would let him scale sheer surfaces and increased the scope of exploration.
Part of Inafune’s plan to make the series seem more advanced was to implement a secondary upgrade system for Mega Man’s armor. His entire body can be overhauled, which allows him to break blocks with his head, reduce the damage he takes, and most importantly, speed dash across the ground (this move replaced Mega Man’s sliding ability). This final (well, first, if you’re playing the game right) upgrade is invaluable, as it literally transforms the game experience. As opposed to Mega Man’s usual trot, you can zip and fly through stages delivering an onslaught of destruction unlike anything in the previous titles. It was an ingenious decision on the design team’s part and dramatically improved the flow of combat. I love the NES-style games, but the speed infused into the series with Mega Man X was a true breath of fresh air.
For all the bluster and shoulder pads the nineties brought to our comic books and videogame characters, Mega Man X was a necessary evolution of the series that helped keep it relevant for many years. While a great deal of the quality dipped once the series transitioned to the PS2, overall the entire X series is worth playing, and more importantly, worth revisiting. I love the look of the Playstation games, but I’d be hugely in favor of Capcom bringing us X9 with SNES-style graphics and play control. Mimic the soundtrack of this game and make Boba Fett-esque villain Vile a bigger part of the action, and Mega Man will be back in business.
This game’s available from a variety of services nowadays, but the closest to the true experience can be found on the Wii’s Virtual Console (bonus points if you play it with an original Classic Controller and not the Pro!). You can also hunt down a copy of the Mega Man X Collection on GameCube/PS2/XBox if you want to play the whole series. The PSP remake is a solid version of the game, but for people who are new to X, try the SNES version, first. No matter what, make sure you play Mega Man X!
One more thing; did you know that you can make Mega Man do Ryu’s hadouken in this game? It’s true! Once you’ve beaten all the bosses and collected all powerups/items, return to Armored Armadillo’s stage and proceed until you reach the point where you ride the spiked rail car that leads you to the boss’s entrance. Jump off the cart at the height of it’s flight and wall-kick until you reach the top of the cliff over the boss door’s entrance. Collect the large energy capsule there, then throw yourself to your death in the pit below. Repeat this process five times, and on the last one you will meet Dr. Light, who grants you the ability to perform the hadouken when at full power! HADOUKEN!!
Released 1993. Developed and published by Capcom.
Mega Man X is available on the SNES. It is also available on Wii Virtual Console/GameCube/PS2/XBox/Mobile/PC. PSP and Game Boy Color remakes also available.