Mega Man X2 (Wii, Wii U [tested])
Released: January 2, 2014 (Wii U)
Mega Man X2 sports a strong selection of levels that aren't too challenging, but aren't overly simplistic either. From the desolate deserts of Overdrive Ostrich to the flying neon base of Wheel Gator there's a lot of variety here, and plenty of room to stuff secret upgrades and optional boss gates. While I wouldn't say that the actual level design is on par with some the other games in the series, X2's stages are without a doubt some of the most charming and the most colorful, as they reflect their boss character's personality to a tee.
A Mega Man game is sometimes only as strong as its bosses, and in the case of X2, there are some questionable choices that indicate Capcom was reaching towards the bottom of the barrel. You have a sponge, a moth, a stag, a centipede, an ostrich, a crab, a gator, and a snail. Most of the fights are drawn out and not as intuitive as some of the other confrontations in the X series.
One of the exceptions is Morph Moth, who is one of the only Mavericks or Robot Masters in the entire franchise that has two forms to blast through. Thankfully, most of them have unique animations when attacked with their weaknesses (Wire Sponge even splits in half at the end), which is a nice touch. Just like the levels, these bosses may look odd, but Capcom put a lot of effort into them to make them really shine.
As with any X game, the upgrades can make or break the experience, and thankfully, things are looking pretty good on that front. X's armor now does more than merely guard against damage, as it can initiate a "Giga Crush" technique, which is particularly effective against Serge's first form in the last set of Sigma stages. X's arm cannon is about the same as it was in the game before it (when fully upgraded), offering up a secondary charged shot that can chip off a major amount of damage when used carefully. True to form, weapons can also be charged up and used as "super" attacks as well.
The dash boots are probably the best upgrade to the game mechanically, as you can now dash directly in the air. Starting the game with the ability to dash on the ground also makes this an easy experience to get into out of the gate, as many speedruns get the boots last -- a true testament to the mobile versatility of X in this sequel. The only downer is the X2 helmet, which allows you to "search for secrets" -- but only if you queue up and use the radar ability built into it. After playing the game once, it's completely useless and remains a weird design choice.
Another odd choice is the placement of certain upgrades within stages. Although it's entirely possible to beat Mega Man X with minimal backtracking (since most of the upgrades are cleverly hidden earlier in levels), X2 thrives on making players go back deep into levels to grab everything. Strangely, a good number of upgrades require a sub-weapon from Wheel Gator to access, making him an obvious candidate for an early visit -- and also punishes you for visiting him late. Other upgrades are obtusely placed, like the requirement of beating Bubble Crab and going back to his own level to grab the E-Tank.
It isn't a huge deal, but it doesn't feel as smooth as its predecessor, and continued runs can be confusing and convoluted if you don't have a patented method down. Having said that, X2 throws in a few more surprises that make the game stand out on its own, most notably the Shoryuken power-up move found near the end of the game, and the ability to rebuild Zero -- who "died" at the end of Mega Man X.
If you choose to bring back Zero by defeating optional mini-bosses littered throughout the game (that are easily the biggest challenge in X2) he'll help you out at the end -- effectively creating a "second ending"). But if you ignore him entirely, you'll have to face him in one of the toughest boss fights in the series. Either way it's a cool addition, and opens up a "Zero parts" or "no Zero parts" distinction for playthroughs, whereas most games just have the same story progression every time.
I would argue that Zero was handled much better in X3 however (where he was partially playable), and in X4 and beyond, where he was completely playable in his own unique storyline. To top things off X2 also has a time-saving "E-Tank filling" cheat, found in both Overdrive Ostrich and Bubble Crab's stages, which is a godsend if you're trying to take on some of the final levels in the game.
Many Mega Man fans would argue (myself included), that X2 isn't as well designed as Mega Man X, which is considered to be the pinnacle of platformers. But even still, X2 is completely worth your time if you're a retro fan, as it's not only one of the best Mega Man games ever made, but one of the best in the entire genre.