Robert reminisces about Keiji Inafune's reinvention of the Mega Man series!
By Robert Marrujo:: What is it about the ’90s that brought out the “extreme” in everything? The X-Men gained utility pouches, muscles and guns dominated cinemas, roller blades were all the rage, rock turned grunge, and Mega Man went X. While a lot of the changes that came in that decade were superficial at best, some left meaningful legacies, and the Mega Man X series is one of them. Mega Man X was actually my first, true Mega Man experience, and it has yet to be topped (for me, anyway) all these years later.
Mega Man mastermind Keiji Inafune knew that if the series was going to continue being relevant, it would have to adapt to the times. In Japan, RPGs were all the rage, and Inafune believed that Mega Man’s next game would have to take cues from that genre’s more elaborate gameplay systems and mechanics. He and his team went to work overhauling Mega Man for SNES. While a lot of changes were implemented, one of the biggest never quite came to be– Inafune had initially intended to use Zero’s design for the Blue Bomber himself, red and all! He got cold feet when it came time for the designers to present their illustrations to management. What would become X as fans know him was quickly given the thumbs up, so Inafune was content with telling Capcom’s brass that Zero was a side character. I think fans made out better in the end; two cool characters, as opposed to one!
Booting up X again, its allure is still immediate. Edgy guitar riff MIDIs punctuate the title screen (that '90s charm right out of the gates), which still gets me all pumped to play. The entire soundtrack is rife with those electric chords, and is a big part of why this is one of my favorite video game compositions. Graphically, X is a stunner. The sprites are vivid, varied, and just bleed energy all over the screen. The amount of detail is insane, far greater and grander than anything NES could have ever hoped to offer. Play control is king, of course, but the visual transition between the NES Mega Man games and X on SNES is staggering. Much of my enjoyment playing this title comes from just soaking in the graphics.
The first stage is pitch perfect, by the way. Like Super Mario Bros., X teaches the player how the game works by the act of doing. Fall down a pit? That’s the game’s way of making the player learn how to wall kick. Get some new boots? Time to speed dash. X is very similar to the core series with its weapon stealing and 2D platforming/shooting, but it all is kicked up a notch. A personal standout for me is the inclusion of destructible environments. Take down an enemy ship and it might crash through the floor, beat a boss and it might affect the entire level of another. Beating Chill Penguin, for example, will completely freeze over Flame Mammoth’s stage!
X is also satisfying because it brought more explorative elements to the table. There’s incentive to scour every inch of a level, especially (as I mentioned above) when it can be completely changed after defeating a boss. There’s something to be gained from all that poking around, too, as Mega Man can be upgraded as a result. There’s no topping X‘s hidden upgrade, though; learning Ryu’s Hadouken move from Capcom’s Street Fighter series! For a 2D platformer, X is stuffed with things to do and see. The two sequels on SNES are fun, and some of the PlayStation and PS2 installments are solid, but X got it best the first time. Be sure to look forward to the X series' re-release coming this summer!