Super future fighting robot
I have thoughts on Mega Man. I mean, I’ve played every western release in the franchise, spinoffs included, but the entire saga has been a roller coaster ride; and that’s putting it lightly. Like most of my all-time favorite properties (Zelda, Resident Evil to name a few) the quality of each game wildly varies and in some cases, plummets into the depths of the darkest oubliette.
Strap yourselves in, because it’s time to talk about a particularly mercurial subseries thanks to the release of two new Mega Man X Legacy Collections. It’s a double-review, folks!
Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1+2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Switch, Xbox One)
Released: July 24, 2018
MSRP: $19.99 (each) / $39.99 (both, Switch does not bundle a Collection 2 card)
Mega Man X (Collection 1)
The first collection is an absolute monster and Mega Man X is undeniably the biggest draw. This is a compilation of four of the greatest platformers of all time, and in the case of the original that kicked off the entire X universe, possibly the greatest.
Every time I play Mega Man X it feels like the very first time I picked up an SNES remote and discovered its secrets. It’s one of the cleanest platformers ever made with quick responsive controls, a dash mechanic that pretty much set the tone for every platformer after it, and an engaging upgrade system that doesn’t fundamentally change the way you control its main character.
The far-future setting works so well because it reminds us enough of the era when Mega Man reigned supreme over the genre, but also provides its own spin on things with metropolis-laden backgrounds, new tech, and its own mysteries. Its baddies are more competent without getting into edgy territory, another natural evolution that helped make Mega Man relevant again for a new era.
There’s no bloat here — I can pick up Mega Man X at any point in my life and not feel bored playing it, despite having every single screen memorized. In 25 years absolutely nothing has changed; this is platforming perfection (or as close to it as you can get).
Mega Man X2 (Collection 1)
Smartly Capcom didn’t break a whole lot in the sequel. X’s locomotion is still fluid and you even start the game with the dash maneuver — a rare instance of allowing the player to feel powerful at the start of a sequel without going overboard.
Every other facet of X2 follows that smart principle of slight iteration. There’s more secrets to be found (most of which are a tad trickier to find), there’s a hovercycle now, three boss “X-Hunters” are scattered across the game to give variance to each playthrough, and all of the upgrades are snappier. Capcom even stuck a processing chip (the Cx4) in to push the SNES and add wireframe effects. They tried everything basically, and at its worst its changes are harmless.
It’s just enough to not enter the aforementioned bloat territory, and like X before it, X2 made its mark on the series with its memorable locales. I can vividly recall every single level, from the high-tech security vault of Magna Centipede to the shiny caverns of Crystal Snail. Even with the pressure to keep adding more the team took a tempered approach to the series and never went overboard.
Mega Man X3 (Collection 1)
X3 begins to approach that line of excess but never crosses it.
At this point the little subseries that could has built up its own fanbase, and with that burden comes fanservice. Vile is back from the grave after his defeat in Mega Man X, and Zero is now a summonable character with limitations — you can use him in some levels, and not the entire way through. X can also upgrade himself even further with select uber abilities beyond his normal capabilities — but only one at a time (unless you get a special upgrade that’s basically an Easter egg) — allowing for more variety from run to run. Again, you can see Capcom’s unwillingness to screw with the working formula too badly.
Given that it came out just a few months before the Nintendo 64, this is an entry that deserves more recognition. An original SNES copy of X3 is exceedingly rare, so the more versions of it floating around the better.
Mega Man X4 (Collection 1)
It took me a long time (about a year after its release) to come around to X4, but as I slowly began to pick up on its nuances it grew on me.
Capcom had the Herculean task of converting a series that was ostensibly at home on the SNES (I know X3 had PS1/Saturn ports four months later) to the PlayStation. Unintentionally bad anime cutscenes weren’t even a new thing — they were perfectly present in Mega Man 8) — they just went for it again, creating an early set of memes (prepare yourself!) that turned large crowds off from the new direction entirely.
Under the surface of silly accents X4 was an impressive platformer that would continue to redefine Mega Man as a whole for years to come. They went with the bold move to make Zero fully playable from the start, without strings, and it paid off. The narrative took a grittier turn, and vocal performances aside, it was one of the first times I was actually invested in a Mega Man storyline. Bringing back the personality of the Mavericks (bosses) in the same vein as Mega Man 8 was a brilliant move.
Amazingly the visual style and gameplay hold up even today, but the X series would only go downhill from here — a turn that’s conveniently housed on its own collection.
Mega Man X5 (Collection 2)
Excuse me for a moment while I go to bat for Mega Man X5. While it’s mostly known for voice actress and localization team member Alyson Court’s infamous Guns N’ Roses references (which are now gone), there’s a lot to like about X5.
It houses one of the best soundtracks in all of Mega Man from the talented trio of Naoto Tanaka, Naoya Kamisaka, and Takuya Miyawaki. You can swap between Zero or X whenever you want between stages. Ducking, a staple concept that’s was extremely polarizing at the time, is in, and adds new nuances to boss fights with an additional movement ability. The overarching narrative, which was supposed to be the culmination of the entire Mega Man saga, has an air of finality and tension to it, complete with multiple endings.
Its main strike against it is that several stages are bland and lack the unique punch the X series typically brings. You could really see Capcom running out of steam here in real time even if the engine was still running.
Mega Man X6 (Collection 2)
The story of how Mega Man X6 went into production can only be described as unfortunate. The father of the character, Keiji Inafune, had given Capcom so much since he and his team crammed for the original NES series, and as eventual payment, X6 was greenlit without his involvement. Remember, this is after he had given us his definitive end to the series in X5. Oops!
While a disjointed story isn’t going to make or break a Mega Man game, this series of events spilled over into X6 as a whole, which leaned far too hard on borrowing existing ideas and made them worse. That said Mega Man X6 is far from “unplayable.” It has its moments (fighting a half-insane rebuilt Sigma is pretty incredible) and several levels are impressive by any measure. Like X5 several themes encroach memorable territory, like Commander Yammark’s chill stage music that sounds like it would fit in a Pure Moods CD.
The real damage wasn’t done until X7 rolled around.
Mega Man X7 (Collection 2)
I get why Capcom felt the need to force 3D elements into Mega Man X7 so it didn’t fall behind the times, but it just wasn’t good enough for the 3D platformer market at the time as it had been surpassed before it was even out. It’s even worse by today’s standards.
Capcom went the way of “Sonic Friends” by adding in Axl: a character that would eventually become more fleshed out in Command Mission (which isn’t part of either collection, sadly), but felt largely pointless here. Axl’s sluggish lock-on gun is painful to use, and Zero’s melee style is slightly more engaging. Mega Man X, the titular character that you can start off with in every game…is gated behind a collectathon. The hits keep coming!
It hasn’t aged well in just about every respect. An option to skip the slow-moving frequent in-game cutscenes should have been available in this collection and the pain of having to watch them again after a death is unreal. Heck, it almost would have been better if there was a blank menu option instead of X7. The experiment went so poorly that Capcom backpedaled with the improved X8.
Mega Man X8 (Collection 2)
You get an immediately sunnier vibe starting up Mega Man X8. Every bit of dialogue can be skipped for one, the UI looks better, and the flow is so much quicker. Oh, and all three characters are available from the start, the 3D bits (with a few exceptions) were removed in favor of full 2.5D platforming, and there’s some attempt at innovation with team-attack supers. The way Capcom completely undid every stumble from X7 is poetic.
Even with that in mind you can see the desperation in moves like bringing back Vile again, a classic X character that had been retired since X3. The Maverick (boss) roster, which had started to decline ever since X5, is still stuck in a murky mire of unmemorable designs. X8 gets unfairly lumped in with X7, but as a result of this collection it can make its mark on history again.
A very small, quiet mark.
X Challenge and extras (Both Collections)
If you happen to loathe some specific bits of any game you can swap to “Rookie Hunter Mode” at any point, which reduces damage and in some cases neuters spikes and pits. There isn’t an instant save state function but you can save after every level (in addition to the password system from X-X3). That’s all small potatoes — expected fundamentals from a compilation.
But you really have to hand it to Capcom for including the X Challenge conceit — a full blown boss arena mode — on top of the usual gallery content (which is fantastic and informative, littered with text on top of artwork). There’s a handful of stages with two bosses each, which are battled at the same time. You get to load up with three weapons first (in addition to your standard X-Buster, or, if you choose, just your X-Buster) and swap between easy, normal, and hard difficulties with no strings attached. It’s the enhanced boss gauntlet mode I’ve been wanting since the start of the series.
I think what I love most about it is the juxtaposition of the character models from later series entries with the very early 1993 spritework of the original Mega Man X. It works far better than it deserves to, and Capcom managed to hand-pick enemies that are not only thematic, but mesh mechanically (it’s fun getting knocked into an ice breath from Chill Penguin by a Frost Walrus slam). Likewise air-dashing over bosses or locating brand new weaknesses where it wasn’t possible before (because those upgrades didn’t exist in their games) makes these decades-old games feel fresh again.
Keep in mind that this mode spans both compilations, so even with the several lackluster choices in the second X Collection you’re still getting X Challenge. While it’s clear that Capcom tried to think of every possible way to help sell the second pack when the first compilation sells itself, it’s a valid addition nonetheless. Just don’t get too excited for all the pageantry — the rumored story is basically nonexistent.
Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1: 10/10
Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2: 6.5/10
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]