GameSpite Journal 10 | Mega Man X

Mega Man X | Dev.: Capcom | Pub: Capcom | Genre: Action | Release: Jan. 1994

While the Mega Man series arose from humble beginnings—a project helmed by a handful of ambitious young designers—it became one of the premier franchises for the NES. Unfortunately, the series overstayed its welcome. With Mega Man 4, the series began a rapid decent into mediocrity thanks to yearly, by-the-number sequels. Thankfully, if there was one thing at which the SNES excelled, it was bringing classic NES series kicking and screaming into the 16-bit era with phenomenal revivals. Games such as Super Castlevania IV demonstrated how a classic game could be reborn with modern graphics and new features while still maintaining the core gameplay that made the original such a success. Mega Man X was no different, and Capcom put as much love and care into this SNES debut as they did in the original series’ earlier entries.

A Mega Man veteran may be surprised by the tonal differences upon being thrust into the introductory level set upon a deteriorating highway in a futuristic city. While the Blue Bomber is recognizable, the titular X no longer resembles Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, forgoing the lighthearted, child-like visage for a modern anime-inspired design. The more serious tone extends to the villains as well; the cartoonishly wicked Dr. Wily has been replaced by Sigma, a more menacing (albeit boring) adversary.

The fundamental gameplay and structure of Mega Man X are identical to those of its NES predecessors. Players run, gun, and jump through eight selectable levels before reaching one final gauntlet. Levels culminate in a boss battle, and upon victory X gains that foe’s special power, which can be used to exploit another boss’s weakness. However, while this rock-paper-scissors structure remains untarnished, the core mechanics and presentation have been overhauled to create a more engaging experience. Upgrades are strategically hidden throughout the game, which allow X to outshine his ancient counterpart. By the end, X can dash, climb walls, and even throw a Hadouken fireball from Street Fighter. X may look similar to Mega Man, but he is a superior combat machine.

X isn’t the only character to have received an overhaul. Gone are the various “-man” variants of Robot Masters from the original series. In their stead, players must confront various “reploids” whose designs are pulled from the animal kingdom. While this certainly seems odd, this decision breathed a fresh breath of creativity into the increasingly dull Robot Masters from the previous series. Fighting a giant, flame-breathing elephant dubbed “Flame Mammoth” is much more entertaining than the generic “Flame Man” from Mega Man 6. The stages themselves have been improved as well, offering a variety of environments to traverse, from verdant forests to underground mines. Perhaps most impressive is how the levels interact with one another. For instance, defeating Chill Penguin will freeze portions of Flame Mammoth’s stage, rendering the dangerous lava-filled deathtraps harmless.

Mega Man X provides yet another example of an NES classic that was wonderfully reborn on the SNES. Capcom managed to capture what made the original series so special while incorporating new and engaging mechanics, a fresh perspective, beautiful spirtework and a characteristically phenomenal soundtrack. Though the X series would eventually suffer the same fate as the original, with increasingly mediocre sequels pushing it into obscurity, Mega Man X remains one of the greatest games on the SNES.

By Matt Williams? | Jan. 18, 2012 | Previous: Secret of Mana | Next: Super Game Boy