Onto the first game in the franchise and the beginning of an era, for better or for worse! Mega Man X saw itself take up the mantle from the original Mega Man series, building off of the pre-established formula and tweaking it into something newer for the SNES. One could say it is one of the quintessential platforming titles, or even one of the more quintessential titles on the SNES itself. It brought Mega Man back to the forefront after a few lackluster installments of the original series and with said new coat of paint managed to receive a lot of critical acclaim. Really a game remembered fondly by many, yet it has been a while since I have played it. It wasn’t my first Mega Man X game so the nostalgic value while still there isn’t as high as some who grew up with it. So let’s dive right into the first installment of the franchise.
Mega Man X is a sequel franchise to an NES classic, Mega Man, clearly hoping to evolve the franchise in a way that has it transfer into the newer era of gaming with the SNES. It takes place years ahead of Mega Man in a future that doesn’t have crazy scientists running rampant, but instead robots themselves becoming maverick and deviating from their core processes. Leading these maverick forces is the ex-commander of the maverick hunters, Sigma, who fights for his own ideal of how reploids should control the world and create their own paradise. Playing as X you must, along with your partner Zero (who shows up from time to time), fight against Sigma’s forces and save the future for both reploids and humans to live in harmony as you were created for by the late Dr. Light. This story, as it may sound interesting, will never be the forefront of this game but instead remains the backdrop. Most of this information is given to the player by the end of the game itself when you finally face off again Sigma or talk to Dr. Light in one of his upgrade pods. Mega Man X is a classic platformer in the sense that story is the last thing you should feel involved with and the gameplay becomes absolutely paramount for the experience.
The gameplay is masterful for its simple adjustments. I mean for its time, Mega Man X was certainly an innovation of Mega Man’s past jump and shoot type of mechanics. Yes Mega Man evolved over time, but right from the get go Mega Man X and its opening stage shows you how different it is. I know many other people, primarily Egoraptor’s own video on Mega Man X and how great the opening stage and its level design is in allowing the gamer to see what they have the potential to become and forces them to become adept with new elements such as wall jumping. It retains the same sense of jump and shoot that the original has, but with more mobility and more nuance. With the inclusion of dashing both while walking and jumping can make for some interesting ways to maneuver around a stage faster and for some challenging moments of platforming. Without doing much but adding a bit more maneuverability, Mega Man X manages to perfect their original formula creating tighter boss fights (if you don’t use their weaknesses) and platforming challenges.
Each stage can be tackled numerous ways and enemies as well depending on the weaponry and upgrades you have at the time. What I mean by numerous ways is that speedrunners can do amazing stuff with the weapons you can receive in the game. The casual player (like myself) often are forced to either play the game aggressively or cautiously. As soon as you receive the dash ability, which should be obtained from the first stage you play (Chill Penguin), you can either still choose to effectively go the route of a boss’s weakness or go out of order if you believe you can win effectively that way. Weaknesses to bosses are important and can ultimately break some fights like Spark Mandrill or Sting Chameleon. Using that peashooter for bosses is not recommended and going out of order, especially with the first stage, will cause some discomfort when playing the game since the dash ability is pivotal to how much you can maneuver in this game past the opening stage.
Mega Man X, much like others in the formula, creates a path for you to go along while giving you the air of choice. I like the ability to choose my stages and boss fights, but there is one clear path to play this game or rather a few bosses that are easy to defeat with the peashooter you have initially. It gives the false sense of choice to a rather linear game with limited backtracking to obtain items and upgrades once you receive the ability to obtain them. You need to essentially start off on Chill Penguin, and while Flame Mammoth and Storm Eagle are relatively easy to defeat without their weaknesses their stages are harder to maneuver through without Chill Penguin’s stage being beaten to obtain the dash ability. While that sense of linearity can upset me, and to some degree it does, but the interesting aspect of it is that it shows how beating one stage can affect another. Defeating Storm Eagle will cause his airships to crash down into Spark Mandrill’s stage and remove not only the opening obstacle but also an attack from the miniboss. The life up in Sting Chameleon’s stage can only be obtained by the water that fills up after defeating Launch Octopus. This is proactive level design allowing the player to change the stages that they would have a harder time with, and that is where the choice can come in as said stages that affect others do not always follow the linear path in front of you. This creates a sort of proactive level design that will shift depending on how you play the game, and can change up how the game is played.
I’ll be honest returning to this game I was pretty rusty and none of that was more apparent when fighting through the Sigma stages. These stages are designed to test your skills that you have grown over the course of your adventure with X, both destroying the mavericks and obtaining the hidden power-ups. It forces you to defeat new bosses and old bosses in the form of a gauntlet, and I for one love how they integrate the bosses in without having to use a capsule room (which other X games will use) and instead has them sprinkled out through the stages. I know getting the Hadouken is what most people do these days, where it can one hit KO any boss and make the game more of a cake walk, but I decided to not go down that route and easily made this game far harder than I thought. Getting through the Sigma stages were challenging particularly due to my inability to platform over pits in the first stage. Yet once I reached Bospider I realized how stupid I was in refusing the Hadouken. This is where the cracks of the game will eventually show up in the design portion.
Bospider is probably the worst designed enemy of the game, and I thought that would go to the random face in the wall, Rangda Bangda for how inconsequential it is as a supposed Sigma stage boss. Bospider is all about reaction time as it moves across the arena fast along specific paths. You need to predict its path in order to not get hit by it and have enough time to shoot with the small window it gives you while it is at the bottom. Add in the multitasking of it sometimes throwing spiders at you as well and you have a pain in the neck to defeat. Rangda Bangda may be the easiest boss to defeat and the least interesting visually besides D-Rex, but Bospider may effectively break some people’s spirits with its difficulty. While this is completely true, the game gives you elements to counteract that frustration i.e. the subtanks. You receive subtanks in the game that will recharge for every health drop you pick up when you are at full health. These subtanks can be used at any time and won’t be disposed of after use allowing them to be used again and you can have four. So as annoying as Bospider is to predict its path, the game also gives you a lot of chances to succeed against it (unless you are me and don’t realize you are going to die).
This is a game that is while difficult, rewards tenacity and backtracking by making tougher enemies easier and change the layouts of stages to make you feel like you are shaping your own path. It creates some of the best level design in the Mega Man series, has a terrific upgrade that becomes a staple throughout the Mega Man X series, and certainly feels like an evolution from the past. It cements its own identity through a flashier pixel art design, intricate sprite work in terms of boss design and a new villain who is far more imposing design wise than Dr. Wily. Let’s not forget the amazing rock soundtrack that further cemented the identity of X as a game series. The flaws are able to be maneuvered around with the subtanks and life-ups, yet not enough to not be able to see some of the cracks in boss design nearing the end of the game.
Mega Man X is a classic for a reason. It’s a fun but short game that can be played in an afternoon and one can feel accomplished while finishing it. It is challenging, but fair with no stage that doesn’t feel properly designed. It spawned a new generation of Mega Man games and easily cemented itself as a beloved franchise within gaming that people still clamour for to this day (why do you think we got Mighty Number 9). The design scheme is memorable, the soundtrack was fantastic for its time and still to this day enjoyable and in the end it was a great starting point not only for a new generation of Mega Man fans but for anyone wanting to revisit the SNES era of games today.
I mean ever since I wanted to do a Mega Man X marathon, of course the original would retain a special place in my heart before replaying it. It does have simple but effective game design creating one of the sleaker platformers in gaming that is still being emulated to this day. I can only hope that I don’t implode because of my inability to complete these games quickly as the series goes along. As now we are entering unknown territory…and I’m afraid of how much I may perish over and over again.
So have you played Mega Man X? What classic platformer do you remember fondly? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forge to have yourself an awesome day!