GameSpite Journal 10 | Mega Man X3

Mega Man X3 | Dev.: Capcom | Pub: Capcom | Genre: Platformer | Release: Jan. 1996

By the time the third Mega Man game launched in 1990, Capcom had finally ironed out the series. The original Mega Man had been a promising rough draft, and the second was a sleek revision. The third chapter added new details, keeping things interesting, while upping the audio-visual ante and replayability. Its sequels were comparative letdowns, with only a few additions that came across as genuine improvements and scaling back the ambition considerably to a state of safe, formulaic predictability. Mega Man X was therefore a much-needed shot in the arm for the franchise, radically shaking things up and breaking Capcom’s iconic hero out of his 8-bit funk.

Corporate habits die hard, though, and by its own third installment the Mega Man X series had already reached the same point of stagnation that it took the NES games four chapters to reach. One could even argue that Mega Man X2 had been the point at which X lapsed into the same safe patterns as his less self-aware predecessor, though the X-Hunter/Zero subplot had mixed things up a bit. With X3, though, there was little question that Capcom saw the name “Mega Man” as a synonym for “by-the-numbers.”

The game once again observed the usual structure of eight animal-themed bosses, each occupying its own theme-park-like zone that could be selected in any order from the menu screen. Not that this was a particularly bad thing on its own; much of the fun of Mega Man games has always been sorting out the rock-paper-scissors pattern inherent in each foe. But the enemies and levels themselves suffered from a real sense of been-there-done-that. The bosses stuck to the same predictable elements, often even recycling descriptors from previous games as Capcom had apparently run out of euphemisms. Blizzard Buffalo was easily the worst: He was basically Flame Mammoth (but cold!) and his moniker had already been used a couple of years previously with Mega Man 6’s Blizzard Man. Likewise Gravity Beetle (see also: Mega Man 5’s Gravity Man). The levels felt fairly recycled, too, with few surprises and a disappointing lack of the inter-level dynamic interaction seen in the original Mega Man X. Unsurprisingly, the final boss was still Sigma, despite the red herring of a “Dr. Doppler” being thrown up as a thin and unconvincing smokescreen.

Rather than distinguish the game with creative stage design and imaginative foes, Capcom instead decided to bank on making X3 a sort of “expert mode” game. Until Mega Man 9 came around, it was quite possibly the most challenging entry in the series. Unlike 9, though, X3 created its high difficulty level not through subverting player expectations but rather by cranking up the danger factor of mundane foes. Standard mob enemies throughout the stages often possessed incredibly powerful attacks; at the same time, they generally exhibited defensive behavior and potent counter-attacks. This forced players to learn their enemies’ skills—never a bad thing—but also slowed the overall pace of the game to a crawl and generally increased the frustration factor.

Despite its general air of “been there, done that, but usually in more enjoyable iterations,” X3 cost a mint thanks to Capcom’s decision to include their pricey custom C4 chip, which generated a small number of vector graphics that did nothing whatsoever to improve the gameplay.

Really, the best thing you can say about X3 is that it paved the way for Zero as a fully playable character in Mega Man X4. Here, Zero was briefly playable under the right conditions, but in an extremely fleeting and temporary way. Like so much of X3, his brief cameo seemed to serve mainly as a teaser for other, better Mega Man games.

By Jeremy Parish? | April 27, 2012 | Previous: Shiren the Wanderer | Next: Super Mario RPG