Super NES Retro Review: Mega Man X

Super NES Retro Review: Mega Man X

Join us as we review every Super NES Classic game. Today: Mega Man's brilliant 16-bit debut.

Join us as we review all the games on the SNES Classic Mini Edition in chronological order!

If you think of the game industry's transition from 8- to- 16-bits as a dinner party, Mega Man X is the guest who just kills it with his debonair ensemble. But he's neither arrogant nor overdressed; he's friendly, he's a witty conversationalist, and he's good-looking. Scratch the surface all you like, but you won't find any flaws worth mentioning. Mega Man X is nearly perfect.

Mega Man X is even tailored to be a great entry-point for anyone who might've skipped Mega Man's original exploits on the NES. I'd fallen away from the Mega Man series for some time before I glanced at the back of Mega Man X's box, but I still found myself intrigued by the "fresh start" the story offers: The original Mega Man is gone, and a fascinating new robot wears his peace-keeping mantle.

Though Mega Man X isn't a story-heavy game, it also evolved Mega Man's plot to make it a little more appealing for pre-teens and teens making the jump to the SNES in 1993. Gone are the original series' lovably silly robot masters and Dr Wily's weird schemes; in its place is a tale about robots aiming to wipe humans off the earth. There's even a sampling of moral conflict, i.e. X is the blueprint for the mechanically-advanced "Reploid" race. By extension, the Reploids that want to paint the streets with human blood are X's own kin – including the game's primary bad guy, Sigma.

[Muffled US National Anthem in the distance]

Mega Man X's slick, cool story inspirations (Blade Runner, Terminator) permeate its gameplay, too. X is Mega Man's successor, and Dr Light's opus. Consequently, X is blessed with a move set the first Mega Man has no claim to. He can dash, he can climb up walls, he can charge all the weapons he wins from bosses (Mega Man 1.0 is only capable of charging a few across all his games), and he can hunt down upgrades.

X can find eight Heart Tanks to permanently extend his health bar, and he can also find four body upgrades: A stronger helmet, dash boots, damage-absorbing armor, and a stronger arm cannon (if he misses the arm upgrade, he automatically gets it from his wild-haired mentor, Zero, after the latter kicks the bucket). Offing the eight Mavericks who've allied themselves with Sigma is your priority, but the search for upgrades takes you to every corner of every stage. It's a refreshing diversion next to the straight-shot stages that define the original Mega Man titles.

"Ow."

Digging up every secret in Mega Man X even means having to observe how one Maverick's defeat affects his fellows. Bringing down Storm Eagle's massive airship cuts off power to Spark Mandrill's stage, subsequently crippling its difficult mid-boss. Beating up Chill Penguin freezes over Flame Mammoth's hellish domain, making it possible to grab a heart tank that's otherwise inaccessible. Destroying Launch Octopus causes Sting Chameleon's forest to flood, and X can use the extra buoyancy to nab another heart tank. Even though Mega Man X is an action game and you can technically blow through it in an hour or two, it has innumerable loving touches that are worth seeking out.

Best of all, fighting through each stage just feels good. Very good. Whichever Maverick you choose to fight, getting to the final showdown requires a lot of shooting, charging, jumping, grabbing, and climbing. X moves with a graceful flow that makes the game's intro text redundant: A few minutes in X's company makes it obvious he's Dr Light's best work. Frankly, it's difficult to go back to Mega Man's classic controls after playing an X game or two, which is one reason a lot of Mega Man fans aren't hot on Mega Man 7.

Mega Man X's foundation and mechanics are sturdier than a titanium outhouse, but its graphics and sound deserve their own accolades. The classic Mega Man series on the NES was never a slouch in the visuals department, but Mega Man X experiments with detailed backgrounds and huge bosses. Seeing Flame Mammoth's bulk tower over X is intimidating when you're used to 8-bit Robot Masters who aren't much taller than Mega Man.

Heeeey, you might want to sit this one out, Zero -- you know what, never mind.

Music has likewise been an important part of the Mega Man games since day one, but there isn't a soundtrack in the series that rivals Mega Man X's. I've analyzed the soundtrack more than once. Realistically, I can write a book about X's playlist. There just isn't a single song on there that ranks anywhere below "fantastic."

Kat once asked me which game I'm going to play when (if) I secure a SNES Classic. I think Mega Man X might be the one. Like Contra III, it's a great warm-up game. This is a 24-year-old title, I've played it more times than I can count, and I still feel stoked whenever I play through the opening highway level. Death to Bee Bladers!

No video game is perfect, but Mega Man X is damn near close. You might even want to make it your first stop on the SNES Classic line-up (unless you're determined to adhere to alphabetical order or something).

5/5

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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