Outside World: Mega Man X

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The Mega Man series was all well and good on its own…but wait, such was its success Capcom got the chance to make some spin-offs, some alternative versions of their biggest franchise. The first of those came about in 1993, as their first SNES game – Mega Man X. And it spawned what would become very much its own series, and one that was probably even better than the Classic series.

The Mega Man X series was the first of what would be many spin-offs based on the original Mega Man series. The X series is perhaps the closest series to the original in terms of characters and gameplay, featuring some characters from the original series such as Dr. Light. Many enemies from the classic series also make appearances here, albeit mostly in new forms.

Definitely the biggest difference from the main series was the darker and edgier tone to it than the classic series, which X directly linked to by stating that X was Dr. Light’s final creation. Additionally, the dashing and wall-jumping added in made for a more aggressive playstyle to the game, especially since the game was no longer pausing all the time to go to the next bit of the level (well, apart from the boss doors still being there). Sadly, it made me no better at the games. But they’re possibly even better to watch as a result, especially when played at speed.

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That said, most reckon the X series never got much better than the first game. I think they’re wrong, but I suspect I might be rather alone in my opinion. Still, there’s no denying that the first Mega Man X game felt really rather epic. It was all very cool in the first game and I still enjoy it myself, but it’s not my absolute favourite.

That accolade rests with Mega Man X2. Some say it feels rushed and sure, maybe the plot feels a little empty compared to the rest. But that’s mostly because Zero isn’t around. (There’s a good reason that’s no spoiler in the X series.) But from a gameplay perspective, it is the best of all Mega Man games. Ever. It just feels so fast it’s incredible. And when you look at it when you’re in the middle of playing it, maybe it does feel pretty intense after all. Also, X’s full armor in X2 is incredibly cool. Oh, and the soundtrack is actually, genuinely flawless. There are only a very select few games with that quality. I love X2, very much.

And Mega Man X3 is no slouch either. That does feel epic, and a far deeper game in terms of content than the two that came before it. The only reason most don’t rate X2 and 3 next to the original is they feel too similar…which is what a lot said of MM4, 5 and 6 too. But I would rather see each game individually here. I never think of other games when I’m playing one. I just compare them later.

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Mega Man X3 received its own port for the Sega Saturn and the PS1, and then the series made the switch over to the latter permanently with the next instalment, X4. If most don’t say X1 is their favourite in the series, I suspect they mostly say this instead. It took me a very long while to properly get into X4, actually, but now I have I can say one thing’s for sure – it’s probably the campiest game I’ve ever known. It’s exactly as voice-acted 90s games probably were for the most part – but it just makes it all the more fun. It’s now one of my favourites in the series, not just because it also has one of the series’ most stellar soundtracks – which is an achievement in itself. It also marks the point where the plot really started to come into play, making it a fair bit different from the original.

X5 carried on with this theme, but my relationship with that game is curious. Mostly this is because I have barely seen much action from its stages, because it is the point where you could really go mad with how you went through the story. You could actually go to the game’s final stages immediately, and they were damn good by themselves. But the story is at its most involved here, and as a series it’s probable X5 was the effective peak for the series as a whole.

And it should have ended as thus, as the story quite clearly tells. But unfortunately, Capcom weren’t finished making money off it yet. So they went well against the wishes of Keiji Inafune and made another game, X6. It didn’t end particularly well. It was very definitely a rushed game, as can be attested to the lack of anything but Japanese voice acting and their failure to remove it from any other versions, the fact the plot was mostly silly, and the levels being designed so poorly that the difficulty was simply far too high even for Mega Man’s standards. Still, at least the gameplay was the same as before so, luckily, it wasn’t a complete loss. It’s probably the worst game I actually like, but then it is littered with other positives such as another soundtrack I would say is by and large flawless. Most people don’t deny the game that, really.

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But if there was a place where the series really did hit the wall, it was X7, which signalled the move to the PS2. I haven’t seen much of it, but from what I have, it just looks bad. Mostly, everyone knows it for how utterly clunky its 3D segments are, what with it switching constantly between 2D and 3D. And there was no really good music in it, and the cutscenes and story aren’t much good, and the new character Axel was annoying here. These two games are the reason everyone dislikes the decision Capcom made. It’s not like they’ve done much better since, either.

Luckily, they managed to avoid ending the series on a failed damp squib. Because X8 came around as what would be, or is at least to date, the last X game to be made. And it was rather good. They went to 2.5D as their approach, and it went fine. All in all, it was perfectly alright, even if it proved nothing more than damage limitation at the end of it all.

There were other bits of the series around too. Probably most notable is that, like the Classic series, some portable games came out of the series. Two, actually, in the form of the Xtreme games. The first was rather odd, to be honest, with hardly the strongest of stories, but the second nailed its plot far better and was more involving, quite apart from it also having Zero in the game. Xtreme 2 is a game I can recommend, personally. The original game was remade for the PSP, much like the original was for the Classic series, and an alternate continuity in a very different genre came about in the form of Command Mission.

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That’s just the games, though. As I’d already mentioned, the characters that came about from this series were clearly more involved in terms of story than what the Classic series could manage. X4 upped the ante especially, and X5 even more so. I hear some people dislike the darker tone of it all. That’s up to them, but I think that in terms of atmosphere the X games have it nailed down to a T in almost all cases. And it makes them all the better.

But again, there’s one thing you just can’t avoid here. Once again, it’s the music. And it exceeds even what the Classic series could manage. It probably exceeds any other series ever, in fact. As I’ve already said, X2 and X6 are both two of the few games I feel have completely flawless soundtracks, and X4 isn’t far behind in that regard now I think about it. For any one game to have a soundtrack I like absolutely everything is rare enough. For a series to have two games with that quality pretty much says it all, really.

Of course, this isn’t the only spin-off of the Mega Man series that has come about since. But the thing is, none of the others really have the same formula as the original did, the formula which I’ve become so used to and has made me love the games so much. As I said, X just happens to be right with that formula and the little differences in the gameplay – upgrades, wall jumps, the less linear feel etc. – make for some nice little perks that probably make it even more involving than the more simple Classic series.

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Such other spin-offs include Legends, which was never that good and ended up being cancelled, Battle Network, which is more RPG style, Zero, the intended follow-up to X and based more around missions while being even darker, ZX, which had a more open world, and Star Force, the Battle Network series which gets a lot of scorn for messing with the entire franchise. I’ve never been properly sold on any of them. It’s always just been Classic and X.

And the reason for that is because they share the same qualities of massively fun gameplay, superb atmosphere and astonishing music. All the kind of things I look for in most games. And X is even better off than the Classic series as a result, thanks to bettering it in all three of those aforementioned aspects. Purely on a gaming level, it’s probably my personal favourite series. The only reason I prefer two or three other series is for aspects outside of purely gaming. But when it’s just playing or watching it all happen, Mega Man X is simply the best for me.

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My favourite Mega Man X music

 

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