Mega Man X – A Masterclass in Merging Story and Gameplay

Released on: December 17 1993

Available Platforms: Super Nintendo, (PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One, Nintendo Switch as paqrt of the Mega Man X Legacy Collection)

Price: $29.99 CDN ($19.99 US) (For the Mega Man X Legacy Collection)

Published by: Capcom Developed by: Capcom

The year is 1995. Young five-year-old Sergie is at K-mart with his mother shopping for clothes. He spots a value bin full of games. One, in particular, catches his eye. It had a fierce-looking robot shooting a laser at a mechanical octopus. That game was Mega Man X. Being the first Mega Man game I had ever played, it blew me away. It was much more difficult than what I was used to, but I didn’t care. Full of action, secrets, and wicked bosses, I was in it for the long haul. Now, twenty-five years later, how well has Mega Man X aged?

In the year 21XX, an archaeologist named Dr. Cain uncovers an incredibly advanced robot in an abandoned research facility. The robot had intelligence, emotions, and even free will. He had discovered Mega Man X (later dubbed as “X”). Dr. Cain then spent the next few months studying X. He learned how to replicate X’s specifications to create a new type of robot: Reploids. These Reploids grow, feel, and think like a human. This sentience, however, breeds the possibility of danger. Reploids who have turned on humans have are Mavericks. The outbreak of Mavericks causes a public outcry, thus creating the Maverick Hunters. Despite their best efforts, many Maverick Hunters become Mavericks themselves, including the leader of the Maverick hunters Sigma. It is up to X and Zero to stop Sigma, and hopefully, put an end to all the conflict. The lore behind Mega Max X is so fascinating that I could go on forever. The way Mega Man X tells is story is immaculate. X is weak at first, but through exploration, and Maverick hunting, X’s power, and character grow just as the player’s skill does. Mega Man X is a perfect example of letting the gameplay tell its story.

This red guy saved X with one shot, and he tells him, and the player that they can surpass him someday.

Despite being a twenty-seven-year-old game, Mega Man X looks just as crisp and clean as it did back then. The color pallet, the enemy design, the bosses, even X’s design are all wonderful. The environments set the mood perfectly for the player. When X is in the snow level, the snow is placed subtly in the foreground, just enough as to not block the player’s vision but to give the player a sense of a winter wonderland. Some enemies in the snow level will even pick up snow, throw it at X, and increase in size as it picks up more snow. Beating certain Mavericks will affect other levels as well. There is seemingly no end to how creative the visuals are in Mega Man X.

A snowball starting off slow, but picking up size as it’s rolling.

The Mega Man series is known for its excellent soundtrack, and Mega Man X is no exception. If there were a video game music hall of fame, Mega Man X’s soundtrack would fit right in. I have a few select favorites, but I have had lengthy conversations with people about which track is best.

The level design of Mega Man X is masterful. The player begins the game in the intro stage. No instruction, no interruptions, they beam down, the game alerts the player that it is ready with a “ready” prompt, and it gives control to the player. With the exquisite design of the intro stage, the player is free to make as many mistakes as it takes to learn the basics of movement, jumping, and shooting. Even if the player loses all of their lives, the penalty is negligible at this point. They start right back at the beginning. After the intro stage, Mega Man X then asks the player to select a level. A level I always begin with is the snow level, as it has a crucial upgrade that will make everything much more manageable. Many levels have upgrades that the player can find to help them significantly on their adventure (at least one per level). X can find upgrades to his armor, sub-tanks, and health upgrades.

Mega Man X’s gameplay is so iconic that many use it as inspiration for their own game (20XX comes to mind). The player can run, jump and shoot, which is standard for Mega Man games. Where Mega Man X differs, however, is with X’s ability to wall jump. The sense of verticality adds a whole new dynamic to the traditional run and jump gameplay of the Mega Man series. The player has basic movement options at the beginning, but as the player finds more upgrades, they gain more maneuverability, stronger weapons, and even take less damage from enemies. When the player defeats a boss, they will get their weapon. Each boss is weak to different weapons is nothing new for the Mega Man series. Where Mega Man X takes it a step further, is how the various weapons interact with bosses. The Boomerang Cutter, for example, can cut Flame Mammoth’s trunk. Mega Man X rewards the player for being fully upgraded in a subtle, but impactful way. Towards the end of the game, the story fully acknowledges how strong the player has become since their journey began. It truly is a remarkable way to design a game.

So satisfying!

So with all this praise, is there anything that Mega Man X could have done better?

If I truly want to grasp at straws, Mega Man X does not hold the player’s hand in the slightest. There are no in-game instructions on how to do anything. While I do understand that the lack of instruction is part of the game’s design philosophy of having X stand on his own two feet, players that need significant handholding might find this philosophy frustrating. Even when the player has figured out what to do, Mega Man X is still challenging for new players.

Nothing will prompt the player to let them know that they can jump up walls.

Mega Man X favors completionism. The more secrets the player finds, the better they will perform in the game. Players who skip out on certain upgrades will find it harder to beat Mega Man X. Before the player finds the leg upgrade, they will be unable to dash, which is a crucial movement option in Mega Man X.

Being a game from the SNES era, the longevity of the game is dependent on how difficult it is to beat. While Mega Man X certainly isn’t the most accessible game to beat for new players, once the player has mastered the game, it can be beaten in no time at all. While it might not seem like a big deal since mastery of the game is required to overcome it quickly, some players might find themselves wanting more.

Mega Man X is an all-time classic. The perfect weaving of story into gameplay, the brilliant level design, the iconic soundtrack, and the excellent graphics make Mega Man X an absolute gem of a game that’s aged as well as fine wine. Anyone that finds the Mega Man X Legacy Collection for a reasonable price should pick it up. There is no limit to how much I would recommend Mega Man X.

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