Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Classic Review - Mega Man X

Back when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System came out in the early 90s, companies quickly rushed to the new piece of hardware to begin development on new games. Unlike the NES, the SNES was a 16-bit console, and because of that it allowed developers a lot more freedom. The game cart size was increased, and the new graphical power allowed for higher quality sprites. While many companies decided to use this new technology to release new IPs, Capcom decided to take a different approach. Capcom's plan was to bring one of their best selling series, Mega Man, to the new platform, but in a way never before seen.

Mega Man X is the second Mega Man series, and it was the first Mega Man game to change everything. For the first time since the initial release, a Mega Man game featured a completely brand new character, it took place in a future world, it featured a brand new enemy (besides series regular "Dr. Wily"), and it was also the first Mega Man game to take a darker approach to the game's story. So, just how was this brand new Mega Man game? Was it really a good idea to make so many changes to the already well known formula? Well, lets find out... Shall we?

The Story of X:

The year is 21XX, and the world as we know it has changed. Back in 20XX a scientist by the name of Doctor Thomas Light had a dream of creating a new type of robot that would be able to think for itself and have true human like emotions. In order to see this dream through, Doctor Light began work on creating a new robot which he dubbed "Mega Man X." While Mega Man X appeared similar in design to his previous robot "Mega Man," he was built with the ability to follow his own heart rather than commands per programmed.

Although Mega Man X was Doctor Light's greatest achievement, he felt that the world wouldn't be ready for this type of robot yet. A robot that wasn't much different from a human could be very dangerous, and as a precaution X was sealed away only to be released when the time was right. It wasn't until one hundred years later when Doctor Light's old lab was found by a man by the name of Doctor Cain. After freeing "X" from his capsule, Doctor Cain began work on a new breed of robots based off of X's design. These robots were dubbed "Reploids," and just like X they had the ability to act on their own. This was when problems started to occur.

The first law of robots state that a robot must never harm a human, and that is a law reploids still must follow; however soon reploids began to go "maverick," and before the world knew what hit it, they had become a threat. In order to fight against maverick reploids, a reploid force known as the "Maverick Hunters" was formed. Lead by the most advance reploid for his time named Sigma, the Maverick Hunters quickly began to crack down on maveirck crimes, and slowly bring the world back to peace. That is until it happened. One day out of the blue, the Maverick Hunter Leader Sigma went maverick himself, and with him many of the Maverick Hunters. After releasing devastation onto the world, X realizes that it is up to him and his new leader "Zero," to put an end to his actions, and hopefully return the world to peace once again. As X stands on the ruins of a highway overpass, he knows that his long battle with Sigma was about to begin.

The Gameplay of X:

Although Mega Man X is a Mega Man game, it does not play quite like the original games. The X series is a completely new series within the Mega Man timeline, and with it comes a wide verity of changes to its core gameplay.

Just like the original games, Mega Man X is still in fact a platforming game. You play as a young reploid named X as he battles the maverick forces. At the start of the game you have your basic left and right movements, you can jump to make it over gaps, and you can also shoot bullets out of your X Buster (which can be charged up to shoot stronger shots). A lot of these features do come from the classic games, but X also has a lot of new moves up his sleeves as well. First of all, X can actually climb up walls and slide down them. By jumping up against a wall and holding the d-pad toward it, X will grab a hold of the ledge and slowly begin to slide down; however he doesn't have to slide all the way down if you don't want to. By pressing the jump button as you slide, X can pull off a "wall kick" which allows him to kick off the wall, jump higher into the air, and grab the wall once again. By jumping repeatedly, and by grabbing a hold of the wall while doing so, you can actually climb up the wall to get to higher ground. This is a move that becomes key in the Mega Man X series, and your survival depends on mastering it (especially during boss fights).

Besides having the ability to climb walls, X also can gain new moves as the game progresses. Hidden in four stages of the games are "capsules" which allow you to download armor data left behind by Doctor Light. While one piece of armor simply makes it so you take less damage, another piece (the leg piece) actually gives X the ability to dash. Just like the wall kick, dashing is a key move that must be mastered. While on the surface it may seem like a movie that is simply there to help you travel faster, but the truth is that it actually has a lot of uses. By combining a dash move with your jump moves, the "dash jump" can be used to reach far away ledges that are normally out of your reach, and it can also be used to dodge enemy attacks faster as well. Unlike the original Mega Man's slide move (which was simply used to duck below attacks or other objects), the dash in the X series is based around mobility, and it allows X to do things that were completely impossible in the original series.

Although Mega Man X does have an intro stage that the game always starts on, the rest of the game isn't linear at all. There are 8 stages to pick from, and they can actually be played in any order. Each stage is based around a different theme (for example one is based around snow and nice, while another is based on water), and each one has their own unique boss waiting for you at the end. As you make your way through these levels, hidden life up items can be found, armor capsules can be found, and your platforming skills will be tested. Enemies attack with everything they've got, and it is up to you to do whatever it takes to take them down. Learn enemy attack patterns, strike back with your own moves, make your way through some high speed platforming sections, and finally reach the boss at the end. This is the basic pattern you will follow for each stage, but at the same time each stage will offer you a completely new experience. Once you reach the boss however; that is when the challenge really begins.

Each boss has their own unique attack patterns, and it is up to you to learn how to fight them. Some bosses will require you to make use of the walls, others will require you to make use of your dash ability, and some will even require the use of both; the bosses can put up quite the challenge, but they can be made easier if you know what you are doing. When you kill a boss you will actually get the boss's power to use, and that power can be used in many different ways. In some stages you'll be able to use it to access new areas or simply get somewhere easier, but the real use for them is in fact during boss fights. Every single boss has a weakness, and it is up to you to figure out which ability works best against which boss. Even though you can fight any boss in any order, there is always one set order that works the best. For example, it is always best to fight Chill Penguin first simply because how easy he is to beat, and it is always best to fight Spark Mandrill second because he will be frozen by the ice weapon you get from Chill. While you don't have to follow this order, it does make the job easier, and sometimes it will make stages easier in general. As you beat other levels, small changes will be made to levels you have yet to visit, and that can be very helpful as well. Once again, if you play Chill Penguin's stage first, the lava level will actually be frozen over. Even though Chill's weapon doesn't work very well on the boss, not having lava around the stage does make the stage easier.

Although Mega Man X's gameplay is generally harder than the classic Mega Man games, X's new moves and abilities make up for the increased difficulty, and because of that it never really feels cheap. If you cannot beat a boss or level, it is because of your skill level and not because of some cheap death or trick. This makes the Mega Man X gameplay feel generally well balanced, and completing the game will feel like an accomplishment. Even though there is no true save feature, the game does use a password select screen, so you can always go back to the game at anytime; even if you aren't able to beat it in a single run.

The Good and the Bad:

I'm going to flat out say it. Mega Man X really has no bad aspects. If you don't like platformers or challenging games, you may not like the game, but that doesn't make it a bad game to play. When it comes down to it, Mega Man X is a solid platformer, it has great high speed action, the improvements to the classic Mega Man forum are very much welcomed, the game is actually a lot more focused on the storyline (which is darker compared to past games), it is filled with likeable characters, and Sigma really does feel like an enemy worth fighting. Unlike Doctor Wily from the classic games, Sigma is ruthless and will kill anyone or anything that gets in his way, and because of that you can really understand what drives X to stop him; especially after one of the events later on in the game.

Besides solid gameplay, Mega Man X also has some extremely catchy background music, its 16-bit graphics really help the game stand out over the original NES Mega Man games, and its controls in general are a major improvement. Thanks to the SNES's hardware, the game not only looks and sounds amazing in comparison to the originals, having the extra buttons really helps streamline the controls, and makes the game overall faster. Now instead of having to hold down as you press jump to slide, dash is set to a single button, and switching between your weapons is as easy as hitting L and R (instead of having to open up a menu). The Mega Man series truly did benefit from the SNES's improvements, and because of it Capcom was able to create a new "more well rounded" game. Although the classics are still fun to play, after playing Mega Man X it may be hard to go back.

In the end I give Mega Man X for the SNES an excellent score of 10/10.