Mega Man X (SNES) Review

Click here to view the Mega Man X (SNES) description page for saves, guides, and more information.

Review by tankMage (February 2019)

Score: A+ (9.8/10)

The Best Mega Man Game Ever?

   As both a critic and guide writer, I play a wide assortment of games from start to finish, many of which are mediocre, some of which I downright hate. Keep this in mind as I ramble about why I love Mega Man X, because it’s often easy to take good games for granted in a world where we have decades worth of excellent titles to choose from. After shuffling through my fair share of boring trash, I appreciate titles like this as much as I do that first spring breeze after a long winter. So back to Mega Man X, if you were around in the early 1990’s you are probably aware that the Mega Man series being stale had become something of a meme and it badly needed an injection of anything resembling innovation. In 1994 Mega Man X came to the rescue, bringing with it new ideas and an energy that the franchise was never able to recapture despite its sequels being technologically superior.

Even the intro stage is memorable.

   Mega Man X is often credited with bringing innovative new ideas to the franchise, but in my opinion, most of the changes were superficial. The graphics are obviously better than the older 8-Bit Mega Man games and the story is a bit more mature, but the core ideas behind the series remain intact. Players will still fight eight robot bosses, there is plenty of good old fashioned platforming, and even the upgrade system (aside from the Heart Tanks that increase X’s life) has precedents from the original series going all the way back to the first Mega Man. What really changed was the pacing of the game and that’s where Mega Man X’s brilliance lies. While Mega Man can slide and cruise around on a jet powered robot dog, the games were more of a medium pace. X, on the other hand, gains the ability to dash early on and players will soon find themselves launching him over chasms and dashing under leaping opponents. When coupled with X’s ability to scale walls, the dash feature makes the gameplay into something fresh and dynamic, yet familiar. Thanks to its fast paced action and upgrade system, Mega Man X is one of those games that remains enjoyable even after multiple playthroughs.

Story

   The Mega Man X series plot eventually became a muddled mess, but at this juncture the story was still simple and had some degree of consistency. Dr. Light, creator of the original Mega Man, invents an advanced AI system that is able to think, feel, and make independent decisions. Knowing he wouldn’t live long enough to fully test his invention (I guess he learned a lesson from Wiley’s evil schemes) Dr. Light seals the machine (which he codenamed “X”) away in a diagnostic capsule. Another scientist, Dr. Cain, finds X about a hundred years later. Fortunately for Cain, the diagnostic capsule correctly determined that X was safe. For some reason, robots with AI systems similar to those of X are put into mass production and a new breed of machine, known as Reploids, arises.

   Mysteriously, some of these Reploids become hostile to humans and are dubbed “Mavericks”. A task force designed to eliminate the Mavericks (The Maverick Hunters) is assembled, but their leader, Sigma, eventually defects and takes many of the hunters with him. X chooses to join the fight along with his friend Zero and so the game begins. While the story is simplistic, it’s well presented in a “less is more” sort of way. There are only a handful of dialogue scenes, but they get the point across. Many of the characters and their motivations remain somewhat mysterious throughout the course of the game, though we do get a feeling of who X is and his struggle to find a place in a world that has left him behind is elaborated upon, which adds a sense of depth to the story that certainly was not present in the 8-Bit series.

   While engaging, there are problems with the plot. I hate to knit pick, but the upgrade capsules the player finds hidden in some stages always bugged me. From a gameplay standpoint, the upgrade capsules are a great idea, but it’s also hard to accept the logic behind them. How did Dr. Light know where to place the capsules? Why didn’t anyone else find them in the century that passed between Light’s death and X’s discovery? Later on, the capsules were explained to be part of a holographic AI system that Light uploaded a copy of his personality to in order to assist and guide X (at least according to the fan wikis), but this is still a pretty thin explanation. Personally, I think it would have made more sense for Cain to upgrade X, though I can see how Light’s holographic presence adds continuity to the series, which is likely why the devs chose to include him. Things also happen very fast in Mega Man X and even major characters only have a few lines of dialogue before important events unfold. Still, the game manages to say everything it needs to while retaining a sense of mystery surrounding the Mavericks, so I’d say Capcom was successful in making a story that is entertaining and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Graphics

   Mega Man X is the worst looking of the three games in the series. That said, it’s still a nice example of 16-Bit sprite and tile work. Capcom pulled out all the stops to include nice animations, parallax scrolling effects, and even used a bit of layering for water areas. You can even see some references to movies that likely inspired Mega Man to some degree. Vile, one of the villains, looks remarkably like Boba Fett of Star Wars fame, while Sigma and X himself are reminiscent of characters from an old anime called Casshern. Of course I’m not certain if this is the case, but I’m not complaining if the artists did borrow ideas from these sources, because MMX has a style that is both familiar and something all its own.

   Just about everything from the old series was revamped for this one, which also helped breathe new life into the franchise. X (or Mega Man X) is more mature and sleeker looking than the classic Mega Man. His look also changes as players find upgrades; by the end of the game he is decked out in his now trademark white and blue armor. In an era where character sprites were often static in so much that they didn’t change as players acquired new equipment, X’s transformation was quite impressive and brought with it a sense of accomplishment as the player uncovered hidden capsules. Even today there’s something satisfying about watching X change from a humble blue bot to something that almost looks like a futuristic samurai.

   The bad guys also got a makeover, with the Mavericks having anthropomorphic animal themes that set them apart from the more humanoid Robot Masters. Enemies like Flame Mammoth and Spark Mandrill are more memorable than many of their classic series counterparts, who are often easy confuse with one another. At the same time, MMX’s Mavericks are also something of a tribute to the original six Robot Masters from Mega Man. Parallels to the classic Cut Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, Fire Man, Bomb Man, and Guts Man can be seen in the eight Mavericks, though Capcom was careful to make the Mavericks more than just animalistic copies of old bosses.

   The animations and weapon effects also look good. Smoke trails behind Launch Octopus’ Homing Torpedoes, the Rolling Shield forms a cool looking barrier around X when fully charged, and even the standard X-Buster fires an impressive looking shot when charged up. There are also nice touches in the game’s animations, from enemies that explode into shrapnel upon dying to X breathing heavily when low on energy… which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because he’s a robot, but it’s still a nice bit of detail. A few of the effects were a bit hokey, however. Storm Eagle’s weapon is essentially some nicely done scribbles that flicker rapidly, the Boomerang Cutter is basically a rotating sprite, and some of the common enemies barely have animations.

   One of the most brilliant aspects of Mega Man X’s visual design is the care put into the environments. Not only are there about ten unique types of areas (Sigma’s Fortress understandably has a theme that runs through all four stages), but some of these areas change depending upon the player’s actions. Spark Madrill’s stage is a power plant that pulses with energy, but visit it after completing Storm Eagle’s stage and you will find that an airship has crashed into the power plant. The damaged power plant is dark in places and some of the walls are even broken. Such effects give the game a sense of consistency and make exploring areas again more interesting. With that said, it would have been cool if the devs expanded on the concept, since only three of the eight Maverick stages are affected by changes in the other levels. It would also have been nice to see cutscenes explaining what happened to the altered stages, but I’m probably asking for too much.

User Interface

   Controls were always a strong suit of this series, even early on and MMX is no exception. This game handles like a dream and one of the things I love about it is that it will often force the player to use more than just two buttons at once. Players will often have to hold the Y Button to charge their weapon while jumping. If you want to dash jump, you’ll also have to double tap forward or use the base of your thumb to hit the B and A Buttons simultaneously while still holding Y. To some people this may sound inconvenient, but every button is placed so the player can pull off these moves and performing a dash jump over a boss’s head while charging up a weapon is very satisfying.

   The devs also made some basic quality of life improvements to the UI. The passwords are simple twelve digit combinations that are easy to write down or memorize. Pressing L or R will cycle through X’s special weapons. Even better, it’s no longer necessary to equip a weapon to refill its energy, because the game automatically allocates energy to the weapon that needs it most. Finally, players can map the buttons however they like in the options menu and the inventory menu is one simple, easy to navigate screen.

Music and Sound

   Mega Man X sounds excellent thanks to a sound track that captures the spirit of the 8-Bit series while capitalizing on the superior hardware of the SNES…well superior to NES. Some of the songs, particularly Storm Eagle’s stage theme, are stellar and make the game that much more exciting to play. They also fit the personality of the areas quite nicely. That said, there are a few tunes I don’t like, particularly those in Sigma’s Fortress, though this is probably more a matter of personal taste than failure on the composer’s part. The sound effects are also awesome and many of them have a real sense of depth that was still rare at this point in video game history.

Gameplay

   Much of the basic gameplay from the original series was left intact in Mega Man X. Players will jump and shoot their way through eight stages in order to fight a boss at the end. Defeating said boss will award the player with a new weapon, which one of the other bosses is weak against. Defeat all eight Mavericks and you can challenge the final set of levels. As always, the player is free to choose the order in which he or she fights the bosses. This premise served the Mega Man franchise well for six games by the time MMX came out, but it was getting old and needed to be spiced up a bit. Capcom made a number of small changes to the old formula that managed to enhance the experience by expanding on the ideas present in the classic series.

   One of the biggest changes is the addition of more complex character progression. Mega Man always started out weak and would become more formidable as players acquired new weapons. In MMX this idea is expanded upon in a manner similar to Metroid where players can find hidden items that grant them new abilities or extra life reserves. X starts the game very weak, with so little life that bosses can kill him in a few hits and ends the game as a powerhouse. Not only does this system add a greater sense of accomplishment to progressing in the game, but it also adds layers of challenge and rewards players for exploring. Someone who wants a powerful X will have fun searching the stages and finding hiddens bonuses, while someone looking for challenge can eschew many of the upgrades. The upgrades themselves are also interesting, since they allow X to dash at high speeds or charge up his weapon past its normal limit.

This screen is burned into my memory.

   Perhaps the best change they made was in the form of greater mobility for X. The original Mega Man is limited to running at a moderate pace, jumping, and sliding. As a result the series lies somewhere between the relatively crisp clip of a Mario Bros. or Sonic title and the slow, methodical pace of Castlevania. Mega Man X changed that by giving X the ability to dash and scale walls. Players who are familiar with the layout of stages can blaze through them using dash jumps and special weapons. The devs seemed to have been determined to bring speed into the formula because, Chill Penguin’s weapon can be charged up to create a rideable ice sled and Armored Armadillo’s stage has players zipping around on minecarts. Of course it takes some practice to really take advantage of X’s abilities, but this is part of what makes MMX worth replaying.

   As much as I enjoy the gameplay, this title always felt too easy, even on the first playthrough. It was also shorter than some of the classic Mega Man titles which had sixteen stages, with MMX having only twelve. It would have been nice to see a little more content, even if in the form of an unlockable mode or bonus levels. With that said, there’s very little the game does wrong, which is why my few criticisms of it are more directed at the few things it lacks.

Final Thoughts

   I remember getting this game used back in late 1994 or ‘95 (sheesh I sound like an old man) and being very unsure of it. It didn’t take long for Mega Man X to win me over and playing it has been something of a yearly tradition for me. There’s something to be said for a game that still manages to retain its value after two and a half decades. Of course it could also be that I’m viewing this game through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, which is why I tend to review stuff I’ve never played before. At any rate, it’s probably better to play this game and see for yourself if you haven’t already. Maybe you will hate it or maybe it will become one of your favorites.

Recommendations

Mega Man X is a must play for any SNES enthusiast.

Leave a Comment