Megaman X5

Format: PlayStation
Published by: Capcom
Based on: A bludgeoned concept

Genre: 2D Platformer
Media: 1 CD
Date: Feb. 2, 2001

Now equipped with knees, X and Zero battle a "mysterious" foe. (yawn)

Despite my frequently-professed affection for the string of Capcom cash cows known as "Megaman," I am not a truly hardcore Megaman fan. I say this because:

  • I can't justify paying $50 for FMV-based crapfest Super Adventure Rockman,
  • I like Megaman Legends better than the original series, and
  • I think the Megaman X games are roughly as exciting as a university graduation ceremony. Assuming of course an '80s hair-metal band took up the duty of playing "Pomp and Circumstances."

I can think of about a dozen reasons I was never able to get into the X games. The horrifying prices Capcom charged for the SNES games (to cover an extra in-cart chip so you could have a few useless vector graphics here and there) were a good initial deterrent, but let's not discount the overwhelming, smothering air of self-seriousness that oozes from the series like melodramatic pus. The original Megaman games were sensible enough not to get too carried away with the angst, which made them pleasantly cheesy rather than embarrassingly dorky; not so with X, which treats each return of the hilariously resilient Sigma as some sort of diabolical shock every time he reappears. Not to give away anything, but the same thing even happens here!

But more annoying than the tone is the plodding and toilsome pace of the X series, offering slower action and less precise control than its predecessors as well as forcing gamers to trudge back through cleared levels to find all the doodads that came as standard equipment in the original Megaman titles. The sensation that I was playing one of my NES favorite series through a soup of treacle-like lethargy has never been a real turn-on for me.

So it came as a surprise to me when I sat down to score this review and gave it four frog heads out of five. Which was, y'know, good.

Taken in the context of the rest of this site, my original score for the game means I like Megaman X5 as much as I like Final Fantasy IX?, which came as a bit of a surprise to me. But all things being equal, FFIX was a slightly-disappointing installment of a five-star series while MMX5 is a pleasantly good installment of a three-star series, so it's here at the four froggy-head point that the twain meet.

What makes X5 enjoyable rather than unplayable are the myriad little gimmicks that were added to make the game a bit less like regurgitated bits of previous titles. You can switch between X or Zero at the beginning of any level, armor upgrades from the previous game actually return from the beginning, and most shockingly of all, the characters can now duck. Sure, Mario could do that 15 years ago, but there's something magical about seeing Capcom's little whiny blue robo-kid bend over to avoid bullets. Uh, and I don't mean that in a creepy way.

There's also more emphasis on the story here than usual, although the plot shamelessly steals the major device from Zelda: Major's Mask for its own use, replacing the "evil-looking moon about to crash into the world" with a dull-looking space colony. Lame, indeed, but it has an impact on gameplay (take too long to clear the levels and everything goes horribly wrong) and mercifully, there's none of the vomitous FMV and "acting" which plagued X4. There's also a wide cast of characters who actually serve a role besides "going Maverick and giving dramatic speeches when they die."

The larger cast is a nice touch - it's good to see the Maverick Hunter operation as something other than Zero and X and a bunch of anonymous nobodies who only receive names if they're going to fight you. Alia in particular is a nice addition, since she adds a degree of Legends-style class to the game by serving as X's spotter. it doesn't hurt that Capcom is starting to realize female characters are good for something other than being victims or making babies, as well. Of course, it can be amazingly obnoxious to prepare for a tough jump and have your stride broken by a game-stopping text transmission from Alia (note to Capcom: CD-based games on PlayStation hardware are capable of voiceovers!). But I'll let it slide, because I'm a pathetic male nerd who compensates for his lack of real female interaction by playing videogames with cute girl characters.

I have a few major issues with this game, though. The first and most obvious is the problem of the graphics. Yeah, yeah, graphics aren't everything, blah blah blah, but there's really little here that couldn't have been done on Super Famicom (try Rockman and Forte if you don't believe me), and there's actually some nasty slowdown in Dark Dizzy's stage. The few bits that couldn't have been done a generation ago are annoying, like the headache-inducing, chaotically strobing backgrounds in the final stages, which look like a discotheque after being de-rezzed by the Master Control Program. The fact that games which came out 4-5 years ago (like Dracula X and Keio Yugekitai) look several times better than Megaman X5 means Capcom needs to get on the stick.

Speaking of Dark Dizzy, another strange quirk of Megaman X5 involves the Maverick names - in the manual, they're the standard modifier+animal format which typifies enemies in the X series (and Metal Gear), but in the actual game they're inexplicably different. It's not bad, merely strange, and it once again shows that Capcom still treats its English adaptations with the same adorable sloppiness that personified their work from the NES era. Spiral Pegasus is now "The Skiver," Shining Firefly has become "Izzy Glow," and my personal favorite is the nihilistic Nikki-alike Spike Rosered who now goes by the nomenclature "Axel the Red." Presumably this is another sideways rockstar pun in the Ted Woolsey tradition, although anyone who has actually seen Axel Rose lately knows that these days he looks more like Tidal Whale - er, I mean, "Duff McWhalen."

The addition of all the extra story elements in X5 also makes the game less fun. Not because the story is stupid (it is, but at least it finally makes an effort to tie into the original Megaman series at long last and could actually provide a nearly satisfying conclusion to the tortuously inconsistent story), but because it all makes you realize what fascists Megaman and Zero are. Mavericks are basically just robots who have chosen free will and want to throw off the oppressive shackles imposed by humanity, but X and his little cronies suppress their right of choice with extreme prejudice. In fact, several of the bosses you fight aren't actually Mavericks, but they choose to fight anyway since they realize that violence is the only language the idiot Maverick Hunters understand. You almost feel guilty for killing Sigma again... oops, did I spoil the big surprise final boss? How terrible of me.

In in any case, X5 is probably the pinnacle of the X series, despite its derivative nature and some notable flaws. There's just enough different here to make it worth playing for most people while provoking amusingly knee-jerk reactions from gamers who fixate on little meaningless details. Grab some popcorn and keep your eyes on USENET for fun anti-Capcom flamefests! Megaman X5 has a little something for everyone.

I think this is where I'm supposed to give you the game ROMs for download, but I don't have the server space or the patience to cater to the emulation scene. Shucks.

Download jack-squat?

Fight, Megaman! For the index!