Mega Man X8 (PlayStation 2) review
"You see, not every stage takes place with you watching from the sidelines. Sometimes, youíll get an over-the-shoulder perspective. However, this is perfectly acceptable for two reasons. Firstly, only two areas make this deviation. And secondly, those stages are actually quite enjoyable!"
In the year 21XX, mankindís blunders with robots have finally caught up with them. For every peaceful Reploid in existence, there are numerous Mavericks that exist for the apparent purpose of wiping humans from the face of the earth. With options running low, scientists have therefore resorted to retreat. Recognizing that their home is lost to them, they begin to colonize the moon. After constructing a giant elevator known as Jakob, they begin to evacuate the home planet in favor of the lunar utopia that lies beyond Earthís atmosphere.
What could possibly go wrong?
As Mega Man X8 proves, nearly everything. At least in the case of the grim future Capcomís developers have realized. It isnít long before X, a peaceful Reploid robot who handles security duty when heís not saving the world from the robot monster known as Sigma, discovers a strange occurrence. While investigating a vehicular crash on the planetís surface, he watches as one of the new breed of Reploids morphs into the shape of Sigma to prevent itself from sustaining dangerous injuries in the accident. Heís a bit stunned by the development, even though the robot eventually dissolves into its former self, but there isnít much time to consider the implications of this development because a robot is rampaging elsewhere on the planet.
Welcome to the first level, which also happens to be one of my favorite in the game. X appears at the entrance of a densely-forested area with his friend, a young Reploid named Axl. The two are encouraged to find the robot and halt its violent crusade. Itís a promising start not only because itís fun to stop evil, but because Capcom took notes from the failure that was Mega Man X7. Instead of wandering down a hallway and looking over Xís shoulder while you struggle with a wretched 3D camera, youíll find yourself dropped squarely in the middle of side-scrolling bliss.
Walk right from the start and youíll watch the background scroll beautifully behind you. Distant trees scroll behind monstrous oaks at the foreground. Startled by your approach, birds take flight and flap away into the distance. Not every stage lives up to this early visual promise--most donít--but there are other moments throughout the game where youíll likely find yourself pausing to appreciate what the gameís artists have accomplished. Roaring waterfalls, howling artic winds, undulating seas of lava and monstrous beds of spikes all make appearances here, each rendered vibrantly. And when theyíre accompanied by the same techno rock that has been a franchise staple since its inception on the Super Nintendo, Mega Man X8ís levels are surprisingly atmospheric.
Part of that, admittedly, has to do with varying perspectives. You see, not every stage takes place with you watching from the sidelines. Sometimes, youíll get an over-the-shoulder perspective. However, this is perfectly acceptable for two reasons. Firstly, only two areas make this deviation. And secondly, those stages are actually quite enjoyable!
Consider the first, that artic tundra I mentioned just a moment ago. Instead of running and jumping past caves or ice slicks or whatever else the developers may have imagined, youíll find yourself piloting a hovercraft of sorts. The ride takes you along a snowy trail thatís packed so hard it may as well be ice. Youíll have to weave between oncoming enemies, or blast them out of your way with a barrage of projectiles. Between the hordes of peons, youíll also have to take on a giant aircraft that litters your path with explosives. And then there are the jumps to consider, which lead to nail-biting moments where youíre flying through the air over bottomless pits and hoping you land on the other side without slamming yourself against an icy wall.
The other of these diversionary levels is even more impressive, as it finds you piloting a floating vehicle that feels like it was taken straight out of Star Wars. Youíll follow a machine as it glides through a futuristic metropolis. Neon signs threaten to cut short your pursuit as you weave between them and the bombs your nemesis drops. Youíll loop through mile-high alleys one minute, then over rooftops that drop quickly toward streets far below.
If Capcom made every level like that, it would have gotten old. Instead, they stopped with two. Iím glad for it, because that leaves us with around nine of the more conventional stages. With that said, youíd be mistaken to think thereís no variety within that remainder. In one area, youíll have to race ahead of a colossal robot as it stomps through a camp positioned near the edge of a mine. Reach the end and youíll find yourself cornered, left with nothing in the line of defense except a massive crane with its switch located right in dangerís path. In another level, youíll play with gravity so massive blocks fall into place while you avoid impaling yourself on spikes. Elsewhere, avoid security lights as you fumble toward a grueling boss encounter at the very end.
Truly, X has never seen so much variety on a single disc. But thereís more to the story. After all, X isnít on this mission alone. Zero and Axl are along for the ride.
If youíve played many of the past entries in the series, youíll be familiar with Zero, the long-haired Reploid in red armor who uses a saber rather than projectiles. Nothing has really changed there. More interesting is the addition of Axl, who premiered Mega Man X7. Put him to use for long and youíll find yourself loving his ability to hover shortly in the air while spewing volleys of arm cannon fire in any of eight directions. If at first such power seems cheap, youíll soon find that some areas in the game are designed in such a way that youíre dead meat if you donít have Axl on your team.
Said team is determined whenever you access a stage, once the introductory one is completed. You can challenge and re-challenge any locale in whatever order you like (multiple efforts are a must if you want to gather all the bits of armor secreted throughout some of the labyrinthine zones), and always you can pick two robots for the job. Zeroís double jumps are useful but his short range is ineffective against many enemies. X has no double jump but his charged arm cannon shots make short work of most robot bosses. And AxlÖ just kicks ass in general. Itís always hard to decide which robot to leave behind, because theyíre all so useful. Exactly as they should be.
As if that werenít enough, you also need to consider what team attack you want to have at your disposal. As you progress through a stage, a meter slowly fills. When it reaches its brim, you will have a charged attack at your disposal. Time its use well and you can take down around a fifth of a robot masterís energy gauge. The meter charges no matter which robot you are using, and many of the stages are designed in such a way that youíll want to constantly switch between team members to truly blaze through any available challenges. Purchase the right items and the robot not in use can slowly regain life, provided you didnít let him die at the hands of an enemy.
Speaking of purchasing items, youíd be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didnít. As you blast through stages, youíll pick up the usual energy refills and special weapon boosts, but more than that youíll obtain chips that serve as the gameís monetary system. With them, you can buy upgrades that extend your life meter or make your attacks more effective, just for starters. Because these upgrades are so useful, youíll soon begin hoarding every chip you can find. Thankfully, the easiest way to get rich is by playing well.
You see, the game presents a combo system. Itís relatively easy to play the coward and snipe robots from a distance, but defeated enemies drop more booty if you go right into the thick of things and mix it up with them like a professional. Suddenly, youíll find a counter letting you know that youíve racked up twenty or thirty kills as money falls all over the place. And at the end of the stage, your area ranking will also increase. Those of you who love challenging yourself to attain the highest rating, take note!
There really is a lot to like about Mega Man X8, as should be evident by now. I quite enjoyed myself most of the time I played it. Key phrase: most of the time. Understandably, the game isnít quite perfect. For one thing, it remains derivative of its predecessors. How many times have we seen a snow level, for example? And there are some pretty stupid robots, including one that is modeled after a dandelion. Donít ask. Not only that, but there are infrequent moments where the levels start to feel the slightest bit overwhelming as your supply of lives starts dwindling. And finally, even a slew of hidden items canít extend the time youíll spend playing this game past 10 or 15 hours, unless you replay it numerous times just for the hell of it. Just the same, thereís not a whole lot Iíd change here. Xís eighth venture is his most exciting since his fifth one debuted on the original Playstation. If Capcom can take the formula on hand here and tweak it just a bit more for future games, the series may well be on its way to proper recovery. Dr. Light would be proud.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 22, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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