(Note: I’m talking exclusively about the Super Nintendo version of the game. Maverick Hunter X is pretty sweet and definitely worth your time if you like Mega Man X. However, the iOS version of the game sucks. Don’t waste your money.)
With Team Asunder’s annual Megathon X charity gameathon looming around the corner, I thought I’d write a little something about my love for Mega Man X. What can I say about Mega Man X that Ego Raptor didn’t say in his video? Absolutely nothing, that’s what! Everything he said was true, but I do think there is more to it that makes it such a wonderful game. However, most of it is completely and utterly opinion based. You may at some point stop caring about my opinion, in which case you can skim through till the plot synopsis. It’ll change the way you think about the game when you play it. I can comfortably say that, in my opinion, no action platformer before or after has done what it did. It’s a fairly short game (allowing for you to do a proverbial bump when you need your X fix) with a fair learning curve, attention to detail, and with awesome little Easter eggs (HADOUKEN) that not only put this game above every other game in its own series, but all other games in its genre.
I think the biggest issue with the X series is that because the first one is extremely solid and minimalistic-comparatively-you have to either go bigger or do the exact thing you did the first time. Some games choose to do more or less the same thing over and over again to copy the greatness of either best game in its genre or its own series (looking at you God of War). Stagnation becomes an issue, so for that reason I’ll at least give credit to the X series for trying new things with each version; however, with each new game they mess something up. X2 didn’t change very much from the first in terms of playability and game play, but it slowly undid everything the first game did and set the scene for the stupid Zero subplot that carries over for the next several entries.
MMX has simplistic controls and the core elements such as the dash, jump, climb, shoot, and charge shot are all responsive and damn it are they cool. I remember losing my shit when I learned I could climb a wall. That sounds stupid now, but back then that was damn near revolutionary. That single mechanic single-handedly changed everything I could expect from a MM game. I would kill to be able to play the original series with X’s abilities. I’d settle for just the ability to climb, but being able to dash too would serve to flip the script on Dr. Wily.
The visuals are great in the game and I have to admit that in a lot of ways MMX is the best looking in the franchise. Of course that’s purely my opinion. Sure you could argue that there is visually more to the later games, but MMX isn’t over-designed and it also isn’t lacking in design either. Everything that needs to be there is there and there’s none of the b.s. In fact, on Sting Chameleon’s stage the Mets blend in pretty well with their surroundings which further lends to the idea that the game looked good enough to trick you and it didn’t need to hide things behind the foreground foliage to do so. Let me be clear, I don’t think the other games looked bad at all, except for X7 (the figurative red-headed stepchild of the series), but I do think that X was one of the best looking in the series. In fact, the only spot in the game that seemed to bother me about how the stage’s design was overused turned out to be the path to climb in Flame Mammoth’s stage to get the Buster upgrade.
That leads me to my next point, upgrades. MMX had the best upgrades in all of the X series. They were upgrades, but they didn’t tack useless crap to your character. The double dash and up dash and all of the b.s. in the later games only served to unnecessarily complicate the games. The simplistic nature of X’s upgrades in the first game invited you to master them and learn the game inside and out. You never feel lucky at your achievements and you always feel totally in control of your character. The buster upgrade is also nice in that it offers you bigger more powerful blast while also granting you the ability to charge your secondary weapons. Say what? X2′s blaster upgrade was similar and nothing to complain about, but game after game they continue to get worse until X7. I don’t like feeling stranded in my attack when I’m trying to do a power shot and time it right so I hit the first part of my shot. I blame X3 for this crap and leading to the ability to choose your armor. What’s that? You want the gold armor? Well you have to work for it… surprise you’re new weapon is convoluted and you can die in a fire along with all of your effort, loser! (The game seems to say.) To be fair, you generally have a choice of whether you want a shitty buster upgrade or none at all, but I don’t think that’s a fair choice when you want to be all the badass you can be.
I like the thought of being able to choose other armors (not ride armors), but the X series isn’t Pokemon and I don’t want to have to catch/find ‘em all. The options of armors in the later games are like choosing which ear to jam a pencil into. None of the armor choices feel complete and I never felt like a complete and utter badass with them like I do when I play the first installment.
However, I feel like everything I mentioned above is second to the games evolving stages. That is, most stages changed once you beat specific boss in the game. The lava would be cooled in Flame Mammoth’s stage after you beat weak-shit Chill Penguin and water would be all over the place in Sting Chameleon’s level after you beat Launch Octopus. The stages themselves are quite possibly the most unmentioned thing on ‘why I love Mega Man X lists’ that also only appeared in the first game of the series. I don’t know why they abandoned this in later titles, but it always stood out to me. Not only was it a cool idea, but it was interesting because you had to take advantage of these level changes if you wanted to max out X’s health and make it easier to get some of his equipment.
Finally, the plot. The plot is simple enough. The robot apocalypse is upon us and only you can prevent forest fires, uh, I mean stop Backwards E Man, better known as Sigma (Al Gore). At the end of the first level you meet the Pop Rocker Vile, whose douchey name says it all. Seriously, dude descends from an airship wearing purple and driving a mech. He couldn’t have a smaller penis. I’d bet money that if the graphics were better he’d be glittery and he’d have a sun visor turned around and flipped upside down on his helmet. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s based on Prince. Vile is pretty, but he has an attitude and you need to stop him. Guess what? YOU CAN’T. You’re helpless to his strength and feminine-like charm. He beats you like you didn’t just savagely and single-handedly carve a ‘bloody’ path across the city. Then you get saved by your bro, Zero (Thrash Metal). Here the game lets you know the score. You know your reasons, you know that you’re not as strong as you wish you were, and now you have an 80’s action movie score to settle with the under boss and a strong desire to spread Metal to the masses.
You continue your journey carving through a plethora of animal themed bosses. After collecting your bling, you end up in what appears to be the Wastelands with your boy, Zero. You can see how the world has decayed around you and Zero isn’t about to let you forget that you two are going to have to go very hard on the next section if you want to save the reploids from completely turning bat shit insane. So you do, until you get to Vile’s section. He shows up to what can only be the tune of Kiss (Prince) and your boy goes to town on him, except he doesn’t. When you get on the scene he’s captured and then you get captured. Being put in a corner only makes Zero go Chiaotzu on Vile. One brosplosion later, you’re fighting Vile in an anything goes death match while singing the theme to Blood Sport (KUMITE KUMITE KUMITE). In his final breath, Zero passes on his weapon; unless you got it earlier from Flame Mammoth’s level making the carnage about to ensue feel a little lonely. With your eyes seeing red and your bro’s weapon securely attached to your arm, you massacre everything that gets in your way. Finally, after an overly expositional boss fight that leads to the death of Kujo and Al Gore, you prove Rock conquers all. Except you didn’t. You know Sigma didn’t die if you watch the pre-Avengers era post-credits teaser or if you played any other game in the series.
Every game after this continues on with Dr. Wiley syndrome and a more and more convoluted story, which is admittedly better than original Mega Man series bare bones story as whole. By the time X8 rolls around you’re no longer surprised by anything other than how much you hate the changes they made to the series. On the plus side you do get to wonder exactly how paranoid Dr. Light must’ve been to leave all of the pods around while assuming that X would be both victorious and be dumb enough to cast off all of the other sweet gifts Dr. Light was nice enough to bestow upon him.
I think that’s it though. The differences between the first game in the series and its simplistic nature allow it to be better in a lot of ways than what comes next in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I do really enjoy the whole series-yes including X7-and I enjoy playing them every year. However, I will always feel like X1 is the best of the series for the plethora of reasons above, but also because I say it does and I think that has to count for something.