GameSpite Quarterly 8 | Mega Man X4

When Mega Man X4 was released, the Mega Man X series was a known quantity. Mega Man X meant well-designed, linear stages packed with secret health containers and weapon upgrades. It meant tearing through those stages at speeds never seen before in a Mega Man game, thanks to the new dash and wall jumping abilities. It meant stellar music and tense boss fights with ridiculously named enemies. It meant a tough but fair challenge that rewarded player skill and patience. Mega Man X4 delivers on all these fronts and more. With the inclusion of fan favorite Zero as a fully playable character from the very beginning of the game (who boasted an entirely different set of abilities than series mainstay X), gamers were essentially buying two versions of the same game. Although each character progressed through the same stages with (mostly) the same enemies, wildly different tactics had to be used in order to beat the game. Without question, Mega Man X4 was the biggest, most ambitious Mega Man X game ever made when it released in 1997.

Of course, none of that really mattered when I played it in 2002. I was a 16-year-old Nintendo expatriate, finding it hard to adjust to the new world Sony offered me. Two sticks? Square? L2? It was all very strange, but I was adjusting. It had only been about year since I traded in my beloved Nintendo 64 towards a PlayStation 2, when I found Mega Man X4 in the gigantic PlayStation bin at my local Funcoland. Part of the reason why I dumped my Nintendo 64 and ran off with the oh-so-dreamy PlayStation 2 was so I could catch up on all the PlayStation games I missed. Mega Man X4 wasnít the first PlayStation game I bought, but it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. I was familiar with the Super Nintendo Mega Man X games, so it wasnít entirely uncharted territory. When I bought it, I didnít think it stood a chance of dethroning Mega Man X as my favorite Mega Man game, but it quickly did. Which may seem odd, because as far as pure gameplay is concerned, Mega Man X4 doesnít do anything to set itself apart from other games in the series.

Not that thereís anything wrong with how the game plays, mind you. Each stage is bright and colorful. Backgrounds are slightly animated which, while kind of pointless, is nice. Iím not enough of an aficionado to speak with any expertise about how well animated the sprites are, but I can safely say that theyíre not bad. The action moves quickly with no slowdown whatsoever. Each stage is well designed, and the bosses are some of the most memorable in the entire series (try as I might, I donít think I will ever forget The Generalís robot mustache). Some of the end game bosses are particularly challenging, while never becoming overwhelming difficult. Thereís even a fair amount of fan service (look for cameos by Chill Penguin from Mega Man X and Blizzard Buffalo from Mega Man X3).

If the gameplay does suffer in any one area, itís that the bosses can be ridiculously easy if you exploit their weaknesses. As is standard for Mega Man games, defeating each stageís boss will grant you a new weapon. Each boss is weak to the attacks from another bossís weapon, which should surprise no one as this has been a staple of the Mega Man series since itís debut. But in Mega Man X4, not only does hitting a boss with their weakness damage them greatly, it also completely interrupts their attacks. By using the weapon a boss is weak to, you can render each stageís boss completely helpless. Hit them once and they fall down. As soon as they get up, hit them again. Repeat. Boss fights transform from tense encounters that require sharp reflexes to tedious road bumps on the path to the end game. Of course, you can always handicap yourself and stick to your default weapons...but thatís not exactly brilliant game design, is it? Some degree of thought is required to figure out what each bossesí weakness is, but trial and error will eventually produce the desired result. Itís just not very well thought out. Mega Man X games have always been bad about this, so itís hard to dump all of the disappointment on Mega Man X4 alone. That said, I canít write an article about Mega Man X4 without mentioning how inconsequential some of the boss fights feel. Thankfully, the end game is full of tough but fair encounters and makes slogging through the chaff worthwhile.

I know Iím making the game sound terrible, but make no mistake: Mega Man X4 is a perfectly serviceable Mega Man game. Itís well-designed, looks good, and sounds great. I just canít in good faith write this article without mentioning that it has its share of faults. I know these flaws sound absolutely crippling, but in the aggregate, itís a decent but ultimately kind of by-the-numbers Mega Man. Despite this, itís still my favorite Mega Man game of all time because of two words: Cheese factor.

Much has been written about the importance of Sonyís move away from cart-based systems. Itís outside the scope of this piece to address that, but the end result is that developers were finding new ways to use the extra space the CD-ROM format afforded them on the PlayStation. Two of the most popular innovations were animated cutscenes and voice acting, and like many other PlayStation titles (including the previously released Mega Man 8), Mega Man X4 features both. The Mega Man X series has always had a ridiculous and cheesy story, but it was something of an afterthought. With the ability to integrate animated cutscenes and voices came an opportunity to increase the gameís focus on story. I canít fault them for trying, but if youíre going to put a bigger focus on a gameís story, you may want to put some effort into making the story, you know, good. Thankfully, they didnít, and as a result Mega Man X4 is one of the closest things we got to a B-movie-game on the PlayStation.

Mega Man X4 is about a robot army rebelling against other robots, and those robots being sent out to fight the robot army. Somehow, series villain Sigma is responsible so you fight him in space. Or something. Honestly, itís all kind of incomprehensible. This is mostly because (again) like many other early PlayStation titles, Mega Man X4 features a truly awful localization. Many parts of the game are left untranslated, the most notable being the stage introduction screens. The Maverick Hunters (as they are known in English) are sometimes called Irregular Hunters (as they are known in Japan). The brief character introductions are incredibly simplistic and silly, with dialogue only one step removed from ďHe is a bad guy go fightĒ. A horribly Engrish-sounding announcer announces the name of each stage and power up you earn, creating for some really bizarre scenarios. For example, all of Zeroís power ups have Japanese names. So whenever you earn one of his abilities, you have a Japanese announcer trying to speak Japanese... in English. Itís all really strange and bizarre.

As if the translation isnít bad enough, Mega Man X4 features some of the most absolutely horrible acting on a system full of games with bad voice acting. Early on, the most noticeable offenders are The Colonel and Iris, who both slip in and out of their Australian accents at random. Late in the game, Zero easily overtakes them with his extraordinarily ham-fisted pronunciation of this articleís title. X isnít much better, with his voice sounding eerily similar to one of the Chippettes from Alvin and the Chipmunks, despite being 1) male and 2) several times their size and age. Again, itís just all very strange. None of the voices fit the characters even remotely, and the story is so ridiculous to begin with that there is basically no way you can take the game seriously. Plot twists like ďDouble was a double agent all along?!Ē are meant to be taken completely seriously. Even if the acting were any good, itíd be a near impossible sell... and without it? Well, I hadnít laughed that hard in a long while.

Due to their utter incompetence to deliver on this front, the gameís cutscenes and story end up being laughably bad...and surprisingly endearing. Iíve spent hours reminiscing over how terrible these aspects of the game are with my friends (a high-pitched ďTime to get serious!Ē is still a running gag with some of my friends). As a connoisseur of so-bad-theyíre-good movies, Mega Man X4 really spoke to me in a way no other game has (until 2010ís Deadly Premonition). It has that certain je ne sais quoi that so-bad-theyíre-good movies have. I can certainly understand why people may not like Mega Man X4. As Iíve said multiple times during this piece, it has a large number of faults. But the game proper is decent enough (if unoriginal), and that coupled with the horrendously terrible cutscenes is more than enough to make me love it. I canít hate a game where one of the characters has a metal beret permanently attached to their head and weíre supposed to take it seriously. Itís just too silly, and as a fan of all things ridiculous and over the top, Iím contractually obligated to love it. Iíve played multiple Mega Man games that are legitimately ďbetterĒ than Mega Man X4. Better stage design, better boss fights, more balanced special weapons, better name it. But despite that, whenever I think of Mega Man, the first thing that pops into my mind is the terrible dialogue in this game. The story/cutscenes are still funny to me nearly ten years after I first played it, and even after playing through it literally dozens of times. Maybe itís just a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but it would take a truly spectacular Mega Man game to dethrone this one as my favorite.

By Alex Reo? | July 7, 2011 | Last: Company and Fan Interaction? | Next: Odd Bedfellows: The Oddworld Games