Retro Review: Mega Man X

Mega Man X is the quintessential example of how to turn a great NES series into a great SNES series. Far beyond simply upgrading the graphics, Mega Man X takes the Mega Man formula and adds to it considerably, creating a new series clearly descended from its predecessor yet still distinct.

Probably the single most influential change in the Mega Man X series was giving X the ability to climb walls with jumps. This radically changes stage design, allowing for a lot more verticality and clever constructs, but more importantly it gives you a lot more room to dodge bosses. Instead of playing with the bottom of the screen, the whole thing is now in play, and even the relatively huge bosses like Flame Mammoth don’t take up so much of the screen that it becomes a problem.

The flashier additions to the formula are also a ton of fun. X can collect four separate upgrades that enhance not only his abilities, but his look. It’s a lot of fun going from the relatively simple NES-style palette to something with gold and white in it. And the dash ability becomes fundamental to how the game is played, making Mega Man X far more frenetic than the original series ever was. (Indeed, all X sequels would include the dash as a basic ability going forward.) In addition to the upgrades, X can extend his life bar and get reusable sub-tanks that fill up from extra energy, replacing the energy tanks of the original series.

At its core, this is still a Mega Man game, and that means 8 bosses whose weapons you can earn. While the game does have a very specific rotation of bosses with dramatic weaknesses to the appropriate weapon (often being stunned by the correct choice), most of the weapons themselves are very useful even outside of boss fights, making for one of the better selections in the series. Being able to quickly flip between weapons with the L and R buttons encourages experimentation. Defeating a boss does more than just give you their weapon, as well: many stages will change in some way depending on whether you’ve defeated a specific boss. These changes don’t follow the weapon vulnerability pattern, giving you a good reason to revisit stages and experiment.

Even the stage and enemy design are remarkable in Mega Man X. Enemies have a ton of personality, such as flying heads that laugh at you when they score a hit, or monsters that look around for you when they aren’t already engaged. The levels tend to be a lot of fun with memorable music, and contain memorable sections like the mine cart sections of Armored Armadillo’s stage.

Overall, Mega Man X is an absolutely fantastic game. It’s not great in the same way as Mega Man 2, but perhaps that’s why it succeeds. This is a new evolution of the Mega Man concept, much more kinetic and a bit less precise. It’s not quite as perfectly balanced as its best predecessors, but it makes up for it by just being tons of fun.

Review Score: A

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