Mega Man X2 is very much Mega Man X again, but with new stages and bosses. Given how good Mega Man X is, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but X2 makes a few design decisions that bring the whole thing down a bit.
The formula for the sequel is a close copy of the original, with another 8 bosses and 8 weapons, four armor upgrades, four sub-tanks, and eight health upgrades. The main new wrinkle in X2 is three hidden bosses that will randomly be assigned to various stages. It’s astoundingly easy to permanently miss one or more of these if you’re not paying close attention, or just unwilling to die to leave a stage due to bad luck. Fortunately the drawback is not incredibly serious, and it does offer the game some replay value.
Unfortunately, X2’s special weapons are not nearly as inspired as its predecessor’s. Most of them are rarely useful in normal combat, though several have very cool effects once powered up. Of course, you’ll need to find the arm upgrade before you can use any of those abilities. That is, in a nutshell, X2’s problem. While Mega Man X offered secrets in out-of-the-way places, they weren’t that hard to find if you were looking. In X2, the secrets are better hidden and often require certain other abilities or even combinations of abilities and upgrades to obtain. Even in the best-case scenario, you need to play most stages at least twice to earn everything.
The actual boss design is at least quite interesting in X2. There are a lot of novel attack patterns and interesting mechanics at work. Like in Mega Man X, the correct weapon will have a highly significant effect on each boss. This is even more vital this time around because the bosses tend to be tougher, and more difficult to get into stun loops. The hardest part of the game, as with many Mega Man games, is beating that first boss to start the cycle.
The game also boasts a number of very cool stages, including a volcano where you flee from rising lava, a desert you speed across on a bike, and more. It’s definitely a fun game in general, though the lack of weapon utility does hinder it somewhat. You are well-rewarded for thorough exploration and execution of some very difficult maneuvers, often including the new air dash. X2 revised the armor upgrades somewhat, but only that ability really stands out as a game-changer.
The bottom line is, if you like Mega Man X, Mega Man X2 is more of the same. It’s a bit tougher, which might be a good thing. It doesn’t do the game any favors that Capcom included a special chip that increased its price (including on the secondary market) just for some quaint polygon effects, either. Nothing really stands out about X2, but it’s a solid entry in a great series.