Mega Man X (SNES) review
"New to the series are blue pods left behind by the now-deceased Dr. Light, the scientist who created X. These are located in out-of-the-way places that you really have to search extensively to find. Collect them and you’ll be able to break blocks with your helmet, double your armor’s resistance and even use secondary functions or charged shots for each of your special abilities."
Once upon a time, there was a nasty robot named Sigma who decided that humans were an optional and unsavory part of modern society. He convinced a lot of other robots that he was right, and the cities of the future fell into chaos. Just when it looked like despair would truly have a field day, a blue pile of bolts named X sprang to action and saved the day. This would lead to (thus far) an eight-part series of games for Capcom, but before all of that later glory, there was simply Mega Man X, one of the greatest action games the Super Nintendo ever featured.
At the time of its release, Mega Man X was mind-blowing. It took everything people loved about the original Mega Man series and ratcheted it up to the next level. There were still the usual eight robot stages that could be completed in any order, but now there was an introductory zone that came first. Explosions were bigger, and sometimes they washed the screen in white light as orange and yellow bursts peppered the blackened silhouette of an adversary destroyed. For the first time, you could also jump into mechs and stomp your way across pits of ooze or duke it out with similarly-armed opponents. As amazing as all of these things were at the time, though, they aren’t what made the game such a blast. What really put the feather in Mega Man X’s cap was good, old-fashioned gameplay.
X is not your typical robot. You probably already guessed that he can run and jump. This is, after all, a side-scrolling game with lots of ledges. He can also fire shots from his arm cannon and, yes, he can gain special weapons for it that give him the ability to more rapidly dispose of his opponents. This is done in the usual Mega Man fashion: by defeating them in battle. However, not every upgrade comes at the end of a stage. New to the series are blue pods left behind by the now-deceased Dr. Light, the scientist who created X. These are located in out-of-the-way places that you really have to search extensively to find. Collect them and you’ll be able to break blocks with your helmet, double your armor’s resistance and even use secondary functions or charged shots for each of your special abilities.
Collectible items might not sound like a bonus in the game’s favor, but they really are. When X begins, he’s a bit of a wimp and battles with robot leaders can be frustrating. Gaining armor and heart tanks (there’s one in each of the eight main stages) turns the tables, though. It makes the game simpler and you’ll feel genuinely clever each time you unearth the location of a new device. Oftentimes, ingenuity is required. You might see a heart tank on the other side of a wall, out of reach. The solution? Come back later when you have a boomerang item.
Levels are full of those options, as well as the occasional branching path. Many of the environments are wide open, with ledges and ladders spattered all about the place and populated by rogue robots that seek to put an end to your adventures. Often, you’ll run into a mini-boss encounter at the worst possible moment. You’ll duck missiles, leap over bubbles of acid and grit your teeth as you fight to squeeze out that last burst of arm cannon fire that wins you the struggle just before the last slivers of your life meter are exhausted. It’s exhilarating.
Stages also benefit from slight modifications to their design if you complete them in the right order. Flame Mammoth’s stage, which is filled with rolling beds of lava, suddenly becomes much simpler if you tackle it after you’ve trekked through the frozen tundra that serves as Chill Penguin’s domain. There are subtle differences throughout many of the stages, and you won’t likely notice them unless you play through the game a few separate times, but that makes things all the sweeter.
A lot of the thrill also comes from figuring out what robot falls most quickly to what attack. Though any of your adversaries can be defeated with sufficient determination and standard arm cannon fire, these encounters go much more smoothly if you walk into the room with the appropriate special weapon. Spark Mandrill, who likes to crush you with a near-unavoidable rush, doesn’t seem so tough when a few chips of ice can freeze him in his tracks. There’s never really a point where a battle is a gimme, though, even with the upgrade that works most effectively. This gives the game another dimension that some of the earlier Mega Man games lacked.
Then, when you’ve finished the first nine stages, you get to trek your way through a few more. Sigma’s Castle is located high above the city, and you’ll have to make a harrowing series of jumps just to reach its heavily-guarded front gate. By the end of the game, you’ll battle a few more machines and also revitalized versions of those you’ve already defeated, before a final showdown with Sigma.
Of course, you already know it’s not final. Like Dr. Wily, Sigma doesn’t know when to quit. That’s good, though. After playing Mega Man X, I’m always anxious for the next in the series, and the next, and the next… X might be dead in the eyes of some people, but fantastic games like this one should keep him alive forever if you just want your gameplay rewarding and your action furious. Why not play through it again today?
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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 01, 2006)
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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