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Mega Man X (SNES) artwork

Mega Man X (SNES) review

"In the year 20XX..."

Even now, nearly twenty years after the original release of Mega Man X, it still holds up. The myriad improvements Capcom made to the stagnating 8-bit formula paid off. I think very little of this classic betrays its age. Mechanically, itís too accessible and polished to fault. Despite having beaten Mega Man X countless times, it always sucks me in. From the moment X bolts onto the screen in the highway level, I am lead along until the credits roll. Few titles are that magically compelling, it is the sign of a true masterpiece.

Assuming you have played any 2D Mega Man game before: the objective is the same. Defeat eight evil robot masters and storm the fortress of the head bad guy. Where it differs, however, is in the context. Mega Man X takes place long after the events of the original Mega Man games, where a war has broken out between humans and humanoid machines called reploids. X is the first reploid created by the philanthropic Dr. Light before he died. X was sealed away in a capsule not intended to be opened until humanity was ready to co-exist with self-aware robots. Unfortunately this all falls through when X is discovered centuries ahead of schedule and is used as the basis to mass produce more reploids. Ignoring the warning of Dr. Light, humanityĎs abuse lead a group of maverick reploids to stage a coup against mankind. X springs into action, feeling itís his responsibility to restore balance to a world he helped unsettle.

I know the plot sounds a bit heavy-handed for a sidescroller, but this is all presented in a brief cutscene before the title screen. After that, the story rarely sticks its nose in the gameplay. A few text boxes here and there, but thatís it. Most people donít even realize Mega Man X has a narrative because they are so keen on skipping anything that disrupts the flow of playing, but it lends a sort of melancholy gravity to everything. I donít think it compares to the writing of contemporaries like Final Fantasy 6 or Chrono Trigger, yet there is character development and atmosphere that older Mega Man games were sorely lacking. I am glad Capcom didnít do a rinse and repeat on the plot like Nintendo does with Mario, because it gives another layer for Mega Man fans to appreciate.

Regardless, I almost exclusively play Mega Man games for two reasons: jumping and shooting. There is no lack of either in Mega Man X. Those two motions are the essence of Mega Man, but Capcom wasn't satisfied with porting that logic without enhancing it in any way for a new protagonist. Cue boosting and wall grip. I feel that these two new mechanics are not only the logical evolution of the Mega Man formula, but the heart and soul of all subsequent Mega Man X releases. The frantic mobility increases the urgency of every player action. It also makes navigating the terrain a joy. I canít describe the elation of pinballing off of walls like Spider-man. By comparison, it makes 8-bit Mega Man seem soulless and clunky. At the same time, the controls remain as simple and responsive as ever. Refined games like this are the reason I think extensive play testing is a dramatically under-appreciated aspect of game development. Everything should feel as comfortable as wearing your favorite pair of broken-in shoes.

Thankfully, Mega Man X aged better than old sneakers in the looks department. With 16-bits of graphical power, Capcom wisely walked away from the often monochromatic schemes of its earlier games. Where 8-bit Mega Man would struggle to produce handful of different colors on screen at once, Mega Man X has a zillion different hues and tones everywhere. There is also a lot more shadows and detail that add to the grim atmosphere of the war-torn world. The animations are also top-notch, as they use an astounding number of unique frames to bring enemies to life. A boss merely blinking in stupefaction or wincing in pain when he gets hit goes a long way towards conveying a living universe. Also, the backgrounds play with perspective in a much more interesting way. The landscapes usually have depth and extend to the horizon, which compelled me to pick over its contents more often. If nothing else, it also frames levels better.

Capcom also raised the bar in the sound department. 8-bit Mega Man always had killer tunes and neat sound bytes, though Mega Man takes it further. All the sounds have more umph. The music has a more intense tempo. Every little bit of audio has been ingrained in my DNA. Unlike modern games, this music doesn't try to invisibly underscore the events taking place on screen. It tries to stand apart from the gameplay, yet somehow makes it better. Mega Man X is proof music doesn't always have to be relegated to the background to be effective. Those early Capcom sound wizards did a lot for our medium simply by rocking tunes loud and proud.

Overall, Mega Man X is a fantastic experience. Itís just as edgy and cool today as it was in 1994. I still beat it several times a year. Experienced players can speed run it in under an hour, but newcomers will take a few more to learn the ins and outs. Realistically, Mega Man X gets more fun to play as you master it more competently. If youíre the kind of person who regularly replays Mario games for their twitchy goodness, Mega Man X is right up your alley. The only negative criticism I can lob against it is that itís ironically much less challenging than older Mega Man games. However, thatís assuming you already know your way around. Fortunately, Mega Man X is game youíll want to play simply for the joy playing.


andrewtopointoh's avatar
Community review by andrewtopointoh (August 29, 2013)

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