I'll let you in on my dark secret: I don't really like the original Mega Man games all that much. I can play through most of Mega Man 2 and around half of Mega Man 3 on memory alone. I enjoy them for what they were at the time, but at the end of the day, my love for Mega Man just isn't as strong as it is for some other Nintendo Entertainment System titles.
When Capcom moved to Mega Man X though, that's when I started paying attention. There's a beautiful simplicity to Mega Man, but pound for pound I'd rather be playing a Mega Man X game. A number of the Mega Man X titles are triumphs of level design, visual style, and aural excellence. Sure, there are some missteps and pitfalls in the bunch, but overall, I simply enjoy the X series more than any other Mega Man property.
That's why I'm glad Capcom is finally releasing Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1+2. This digital collection brings together most of the Mega Man X titles, with the exception of the role-playing game Mega Man X: Command Mission or the odd ports like Mega Man Maverick Hunter X or Mega Man Extreme. Mega Man X Legacy Collection includes Mega Man X to Mega Man X4, while Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 includes Mega Man X5-8. On most platforms, you have to buy the entire set, while Nintendo Switch owners are lucky enough to be able to choose between the two digitally.
Every game is presented in its original release form. You can play all of the games in their English or Japanese releases; Mega Man X7 expands that to English (US), English (UK), Japanese, French, Italian, German, and Spanish versions; and Mega Man X8 adds a Chinese version to that list. There are options for English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese in the Legacy Collection menu themselves, but that doesn't extend to the in-game text or voice acting.
Each game in the Legacy Collection has its own internal difficulty options, but Capcom also added the Rookie Hunter mode for each title. The mode lowers the damage you take by half and prevents instant kills from spikes and bottomless pits in the later games. If someone's just getting into Mega Man X, it's a nice option to have.
There's also a host of extras that we've come to expect from these collections. There's a few display and screen options: the default pillarbox look that stretches the picture to fit vertically while keeping the original 4:3 aspect ratio, a full border version with the original aspect ratio, and a mode that stretches the games vertically and horizontally to fit your screen. Using any of the non-fullscreen viewing options gives you wallpaper to fill in the black space, with each title defaulting to art related to the game in question. The usual filter options also appear, allowing for a smooth picture, simulated scanlines, or a crisp pixelated presentation. Mega Man X7 and X8, the 3D titles of the bunch, both have anti-aliasing and filtering, giving them the HD visual clarity they didn't have on the PlayStation 2. (You cannot turn off the graphical improvements on those games.)
Filling out the rest of each Collection are Hunter Medals, which are achievements specific to the Collection you're playing, a gallery of concept art, a Music Player, Announcement Trailers, The Day of Σ animated shorts relaying the background of the series, and a Product Gallery showing various Mega Man X toys, artbooks, and soundtracks. The Gallery and Music Player have different content depending on which Legacy Collection you're playing, while the Trailers, The Day of Σ, and Product Gallery are the same for both versions.
Finally, there's the X Challenge. This mode is a Boss Rush—you fight a series of bosses in a row—that pits players against two themed bosses at the same time. So the mode starts with an icy battle featuring Mega Man X's Chill Penguin and Mega Man X4's Frost Walrus together, while other stages bring together characters like Slash Beast and Crescent Grizzly, Spiral Pegasus and Dark Necrobat, or Blizzard Wolfgang and Burn Dinorex. Players pick three special weapons to take into battle with them, seeing how many boss pairs they can beat. Your performance is converted into a score which is then uploaded to online leaderboards.
I admit, the X Challenge isn't as enjoyable as the Custom Challenge stages from either of the Mega Man Legacy Collections. Those mashups of existing levels just felt more fun and interesting than being shoved into a room with two bosses at the same time. It's not really a demerit, but it is a missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity is the lack of save states. Saving for the Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1+2 is done within each game, not within the Collection user interface. Capcom added a save function to the 4x4 grid password screens of Mega Man X, Mega Man X2, and Mega Man X3, while the other games use whatever the internal save solution was already present. (The old 4x4 passwords still work, by the way.) This means that you can't move from game to game without losing your current progression. If you stop mid-mission in Mega Man X2 to boot up Mega Man X4, you lose whatever progress you made since your last save. I would've vastly preferred the ability to save state, allowing you to switch between games freely.
The Mega Man X series has some of the best platforming action ever produced—and some of the worst, too. It's kind of interesting. Playing Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 and 2 is actually a bit like hanging out with the Reploids populating X's world: You'll have a good time for the most part, but there's a small chance you'll get skinned alive.
Okay, that's dramatic. Here's the nitty-gritty. If you're an established Mega Man X fan, it's worth your while to get both installments of Capcom's collection. Mega Man X through Mega Man X4, all parked on volume one, are still A-tier action games (barring Mega Man X3, which I still enjoy, but was clearly a rush job from Capcom at the tail-end of the SNES' life). Volume two, which houses Mega Man X5 through Mega Man X8, is the wilder sibling of the duo: X5 is a very decent platformer, but X6 is half-baked in most respects (except for its incredible soundtrack—go figure), and X7's shifts from 2D into 3D make for a royal mess that borders on unplayable. Mega Man X8 is clearly Capcom's attempt to redeem the X series, and if not for its two awkward vehicle stages, I'd call that stab at redemption a success. Still, X8 is an admirable clean-up job, and it makes me want to live in a world where Mega Man X9 exists. If you're thinking of buying both volumes of Mega Man X Legacy Collection, you're probably on my wavelength.
But if you're new to the Mega Man X series—and I imagine a lot of you are as it's been (oh gosh) 14 years since we've seen a new X game—I whole-heartedly recommend the first volume of Mega Man X Legacy Collection. It gives you access to the best of X, plus the bonus content and perks are almost identical across the two volumes (the challenge mode that pits you against two Maverick bosses at a time vary slightly between versions). The "Rookie Hunter" mode lets you absorb twice as much damage from bad guys, which is a big help if you're trying to find your footing. If the first volume of Mega Man X Legacy Collection leaves you craving more X, go ahead and pick up the second volume. X5 and X8 are good games, and you might even appreciate what Capcom was trying to do with X7's weird hybrid style. Just spare yourself some agony up-front and switch to the Japanese voices.
It's clear Capcom put effort into the menus and extras for both volumes of Mega Man X Legacy Collection; both tout original music compositions and new voices. When Capcom published Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, I complained about the obvious lack of care in the collection's presentation next to Digital Eclipse's excellent work on the first Mega Man Legacy Collection. There are still some touches that are sorely lacking in Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 and 2—cough cough, a rewind feature—but I'm happy with the presentation overall.
Hardcore X veterans will still notice some emulation quirks and absences. Nearly all the J-Pop and J-Rock songs are gone, even if they were present in the original North American releases. That means no Moonlight or The Answer, two of the best things to come out of Mega Man X6. Sorry. The bright background graphic for the opening city stage in Mega Man X4 has also been muted, but that might be a precaution against seizures: Other reviewers I compared notes with pointed out instances where flashes, etc, are toned down. It's not a huge deal. Overall, the emulation for both collections is good.
"Good" sums up my overall evaluation for Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 and 2. In fact, "Good!" is more accurate. These collections are by far your best option if you want to re-experience one of Capcom's most beloved series. Now bring on Mega Man X9, Capcom. Come on. Give me this thing before I die.
So what about the game themselves?
Mega Man X
Mega Man X is still a goddamn masterpiece, with great music, some awesome 16-bit graphics, cool boss designs, and some great levels. It introduces players to the world of X, with series mainstays like Zero, Sigma, and Vile appearing here for the first time. The Dash move shows up as one of X's armor upgrades: this would later become a signature ability in the series. Everyone has games that enkindle the flames of nostalgia within; Mega Man X is like that for me. It still plays fantastically and retains quirks and slowdown you're used to from the Super Nintendo version.
Mega Man X2
A pitch perfect sequel to an excellent game. Whether you put Mega Man X or X2 at the top of the heap is up for debate, but you can't go wrong with either. X2 is about variety: the bosses and their weapons are a bit more unique here. Combined with the Air Dash upgrade, the new weapons allow Capcom to get tricky with the levels and their hidden secrets without becoming prohibitively difficult. It's not a wholly original entry, but still very good.
Mega Man X3
Mega Man X3 carried forward the formula and visual style of Mega Man X and Mega Man X2, and it was clearly becoming a bit tiresome at this point. This isn't a bad game, but it's not really a great one either. X3's biggest claim to fame is the ability to play as Zero for most of the game! Very cool. Zero only has one life though and the game isn't really designed for him. Not as cool. The armor upgrade system was enhanced with the upgrade chip, which would strengthen one of the armor parts.
It's worth noting that unlike the previous Mega Man X Collection, Mega Man X3 is the original Super Nintendo release as far as I can tell. Again, X3 is a fine game, but it doesn't stand out in a good or bad way. It's just there.
Mega Man X4
This is the first game that jumped platforms, moving the series from the Super Nintendo to the PlayStation. X and Zero (who is playable all the way through!) have new designs and animations, as do many of the enemies. The graphical upgrade is apparent in the levels themselves, but also in the new Maverick bosses. X and Zero have completely different playstyles, with Zero using his Z-Saber to fight up close and his power-ups working more like fighting game moves. The difference between X3 and X4 is that Zero seems balanced here; he's certainly harder, but you can tell Capcom crafted the game with him in mind.
There's voice acting and animated cutscenes in X4. Moving from game to game, I actually found this a bit annoying because X went from making no noise, to going "Hah!" with every jump. The voice acting in the cutscenes isn't great either. Mega Man X4 is also the game where Capcom started leaning very hard on the story; for this title and every game after, it takes so much longer just to get to the key choice between the eight Maverick bosses. Fans of the Japanese opening song, Makenai Ai Ga Kitto Aru (I Surely Have Unbeatable Love), will be disappointed to know that it's gone completely. The American opening tune plays even if you're in the Japanese version of the game.
Despite those problems, Mega Man X4 is a great game and one of the better entries in the series.
Mega Man X5
This is the Mega Man X3 of its lineage. It takes the visual style and concepts of X4, and adds more mechanics on top of it. X5 added a time limit that determined which endings players got, which can be frustrating for those just getting into the series. The armor upgrade system became wholly complicated, with four different configurations and more parts needed to create a working set. And the plot continues to take precedence over pure play, mostly to the detriment of the series in my opinion.
This is one of the games that did change for this collection. The original US version of Mega Man X5 had boss names that were all Guns N' Roses references. Those have been stripped out of this release, defaulting to translations of the original Japanese boss names: Duff McWhalen becomes Tidal Whale, as an example.
X5 is the first game in Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 and it's not the best of starts.
Mega Man X6
The apocryphal history of the franchise states that Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune wanted Mega Man X5 to be the last one, but Capcom had other plans. This shows as Mega Man X6 is a slap dash release, with unmemorable Maverick bosses, uninspired level design, and some rough difficulty spikes. The game skates by with probably one of the best soundtracks in the series, but with the new Music Player you don't need to play the game to enjoy it. Basically, the Mega Man X games were trending downward at this point.
Like X4, Mega Man X6 had unique opening songs. Those songs, Moonlight and The Answer, are gone, replaced with a generic track instead.
[Editor's Note: Somehow I didn't take a single screenshot of this game. Apologies.]
Mega Man X7
"Hello darkness my old friend..."
Mega Man X7 is bad. This was the first entry in the series on PlayStation 2 and it marks the transition to a completely 3D title. Capcom didn't want to just use 3D models to create the characters and levels though, the game actually has 3D segments as well. The basic gameplay is slow and floaty, the levels are boring, the camera is poorly placed in 3D sections, and worst of all X isn't playable until you reach a certain milestone in the game.
It's a bad game. Even if you like Axl, who makes his first appearance here, that doesn't make X7 good. It's a mess and you should only play it if you haven't before. Bright side: its inclusion makes the other games look better!
Mega Man X8
This is actually a pretty good game! X7 burned down and salted the earth, so Mega Man X8 never really got a fair shake. The levels and characters are still 3D, but the gameplay here is purely 2.5D, using the 3D elements to change viewpoint. The general gameplay and platforming is much tighter than X7 and there's some interesting level mechanics.
You have three distinct playable characters, a tag-team system to switch between, and the all-new Double Attack mode. X8 is also the only game in the series to allow players to play as female Maverick Hunters if they stick with it.
X8 is a bit harder than some of the other games, but that's not a knock against it. It's not at the top of my list, but it's well worth playing and I'd guess most people missed it the first time around.
Overall this is a solid collection of some great games. If you have the option, you can probably skip Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2, but most won't get that choice and there's still some gems in the latter collection. I have misgivings: I wish there were save states, I miss certain songs that were in the original releases, and the X Challenge isn't as good as Mega Man Legacy Collection's custom challenge levels. But overall, this is an excellent compilation of one of my favorite series ever. If you feel like I do about Mega Man X, this is well worth your time and money.
Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1+2 brings together some more of Capcom's classic titles, this time with a focus on the Mega Man X series. Like the previous legacy collections, this is a mix of some absolute masterpieces, some okay games, and some severe missteps. It's missing some features like save states or a rewind function, and a few songs from the original releases are gone completely. The new X Challenge mode also doesn't stand up to Mega Man Legacy Collection's Custom Challenge stages. Still, this a damn good collection for a series that hasn't seen a new entry in 14 years.