Post Game Wrap-up: Mega Man X4 / X5 / X6

Posted: September 13, 2014 in Post Game Wrap-up, Retro Gaming
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Mega Man X4 - X6

Continuing from my last Post Game Wrap-up, today I’m taking on the second half of the Mega Man X Collection. These titles all originally graced the Sony PlayStation, and while the power of the console was changed, what wasn’t changed was the design of the games…for the most part. Read on to see how the second trio of games compares with the Super NES classics.

The Set-up:
You are Mega Man X…and, for the first time as a regular, Zero. If you’ve played any of the previous titles, then you know how this works. You complete an intro level, get some story tidbits, then pick one of eight bosses to take on. Get their weapon, rinse and repeat. This isn’t a complicated formula, but simplicity doesn’t mean bad either. Besides, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Story:
There aren’t many links between these games and the first three games aside from a few familiar characters. Dr. Cain is never mentioned, and instead, you find X and Zero working with a group of other Maverick Hunters. These characters actually have names and fairly large roles in the story of these three games.

While Mavericks still play a role in the plot, you’ll also find yourself battling against reploids that are, in terms of ideals, on your side in attempting to hunt down dangerous mavericks, but in this situation, neither side trusts the other, which, of course, leads to battles. Another development in these three games is that Sigma transforms from just a Maverick into a virus, meaning that he no longer consists of just a physical body, but incorporates himself into new forms (one seemingly built by none other than Dr. Wily, based on some mild clues given by Sigma). You’ll also deal with another “Zero may or may not be dead” crisis, much like in Mega Man X2. Given that Zero is a playable character in all three games, this really isn’t that big of a mystery.

The subtlety is well done here.

The subtlety is well done here.

One thing I picked up on was that, at the outset of X4, the story becomes very serious and very dark. In the first three games, you realize that there is damage and destruction, but it’s never on a grand scale, or addressed in a very serious manner. In X4 – X6, you go from millions of people and reploids killed in a Sky Lagoon crash (X4 intro stage) to the Earth being almost completely uninhabitable (beginning of X6). If you’re one to pay attention to game stories, this can really make the in-game story seem completely inconsequential by comparison. I am one of those people, so this escalation of story bugged me. It makes it feel like there is nothing to gain, story-wise, by completing the game. Yes, I realize that the story in a Mega Man X is very secondary to the gameplay, but game stories, no matter how minor or secondary, are something I take in, and it has to be mentioned here.

One interesting note, Mega Man X5 was intended to be the last of the X series. In it, Zero essentially sacrifices himself to save the planet from a cataclysmic event (a space colony is crashing) and is presumed dead. Inafune (Mega Man X head honcho) intended to continue the story in Mega Man Zero for the GameBoy Advance, but Capcom wanted another game. As a result, Zero is found and rejoins X in Mega Man X6. From what I’ve read, Inafune wasn’t very happy about this as it screwed up his plot for the Mega Man Zero series. It also shows in Mega Man X6 as certain elements change from the ending of X5 to the beginning of X6 to make the revival (reappearance?) of Zero make more sense. It’s also a bit weird in that X5 has multiple endings, so X6 assumes you received the ending that works in X5. Once again, stories in the X series are secondary at best, but if you, like me, follow them, it can’t help but be confusing.

At this point, if that doesn't kill him, nothing is going to.

At this point, if that doesn’t kill him, nothing is going to.

The Gameplay:
The biggest change present here is that Zero becomes a full-fledged playable character in all three entries, after being available a bit in X3. In X4, you can pick between Zero and X, then complete the game as that character. As a side note, instead of getting special weapons, Zero learns new saber techniques. The rock/paper/scissors effect for bosses is still in order. Anyways, in X5, you can select your character before entering each stage. Similarly, you can also pick which armor you want to use for X when entering a stage (again, starting with X5). Capcom also worked on their Samus Aran/Metroid issue in X5 by allowing you to use the armor from X4 right away (called Fourth Armor X), instead of stripping you down to basics as was the case in X-X4. In X6, you have to find Zero, but once you’ve done so, you can again select him (along with certain armors) when entering a stage. This was one of my favorite modifications made in these games. Since X5 and X6 added multiple armors, it allowed you to pick which one worked best and strategize when entering a level. For example, in X5, the Gaea Armor allows you to walk on spikes, but doesn’t allow you to dash or use special weapons. The trade-off is huge, but for a level that could be layered with spikes, it could be worth it.

The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.

The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.

To further elaborate on the gameplay in these titles, I have to actually separate them a bit. X4 plays very similarly to the first three games, with the exception of being able to play as Zero, as discussed above. Zero is much more of a melee fighter, and I’ll admit to only playing through the game as him once many years ago. I prefer to have some space between my character and the enemies. That said, if you like the melee fighting style, then Zero would be great for you. Capcom did a great job of balancing the game so that Zero would not be handicapped. My reluctance to use him is based solely on my preferred fighting style.

While X4 really does feel like an extension of X – X3, X5 and X6, do quite a bit to change things up, and they feel like two parts to the same game in many ways. Rescuable reploids are introduced in X5. They generally refill your health a bit and give you an extra life. They can’t be harmed by enemies on screen, and missing them doesn’t hurt you even slightly. In X6, however, a few of the reploids will give you equippable items (you can equip a certain number of items, up to 5, based on the armor chosen and nightmare souls collected). To up the importance of getting to these particular reploids, Capcom decided that it would be a great idea to place them in peril, and make it so that a “Nightmare,” an octopus looking creature (when killed, these critters leave behind blue orbs which give you the above referenced nightmare souls), could turn them maverick. If this happens, don’t think that you can just restart the stage and get them again. In Mega Man X6, once you’ve lost a Reploid, they’re gone forever, along with any item they may have held.

Now, if you remove the ability to choose your character for each stage and the rescuable reploids, then X5 is otherwise another traditional type entry into the series. The platforming is tough, but generally fair. Some of the bosses can be aggravating, but that’s true of many bosses in the Mega Man games. All in all, X5 is a strong entry, one I prefer to X4, frankly, even with the overly dramatic story. It helps that the bosses all have names based on Guns ‘n Roses members (no joke, just click that link). I think the inclusion of an armor from the onset, as well as having two other sets of armors to find and choose between, along with Zero, for each level, infuses the game with a level of variety never before seen in an X game. Overall it can’t quite match the first couple of entries, but that’s hardly a criticism. X6 though….wow…

Very recently I have praised X6 on Twitter. I had fond memories of it and defended it, as it garners quite a bit of criticism. After playing through it again though, I can honestly say I have no idea why I was remembering it so fondly. X6 is almost a completely broken game. I’ve already touched on the absurdity of permanently losing a rescuable reploid, but there’s more to be said on that front. Quite often, the reploids are placed in such a way that to save them before a Nightmare can get to them, you have to just touch them in route to killing yourself. One stage in particular sees you leaping from wire to wire (X or Zero will hang onto these automatically) over a bottomless pit. Some are horizontal wires, while some are vertical. The catch detection on the vertical wires is sketchy at best. Now, scattered through this section are Nightmares and reploids. Quite a few reploids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I purposely killed myself five times rescuing reploids. Each gives you an extra life, so there was no danger there, but what game forces you to die in order to essentially collect an item(s)? Imagine a Metroid game where a Missile Tank was suspended over an instant-kill contraption, and to get it, you had to just leap into it and die. That’s almost exactly what’s happening here.

This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.

This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.

Now, some people will point out that with the correct armor equipped, it is possible to get these reploids without dying, and they would be correct. Here’s my counter to that though. When you enter a stage, you have no idea what the layout will be like. You also won’t necessarily have access to the armors needed to achieve this. Now, this wouldn’t be that big of an issue itself if not for the fact that near these reploids are Nightmares, and again, once you lose a reploid, it is gone forever. I’m fine with a game teasing me with an item I can’t yet acquire, but can return for later. That’s not the case here. In my Metroid example above, picture the same scenario, only this time there’s a Missile Tank eater nearby that will take your missiles forever if you don’t grab them immediately. That’s how X6 works.

Aside from the frustrations with the reploids and nightmares, level design in X6 is amazingly sloppy. Just to throw out once such example, there’s a level that has you moving below a trash compactor. You will need to seek shelter from time to time. This is annoying, but not broken. The frustrating part arises when you fail to hold down when you’re supposed to be crouching. You will die if you don’t crouch. No spikes or anything, just a flat surface. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that crouching has never been a major part of X’s move set. I foolishly crouched, then let go of the button once the ceiling was at it’s lowest. I died. I was also flabbergasted. Another level sees you having to dash through spike lined passages. Spikes are never your friend, and if you are off just a bit, you die. This was not fun, this was torture. Another, even more appalling experience I had was in a stage that placed you in a pit, then had ice blocks methodically come down on you. The goal was to dodge these, then jump on them and work your way to the top, except the game put me between two columns of blocks (you can’t wall jump on them, of course), then crushed me. I literally had no where to go, and becoming trapped wasn’t just a mistake on my part, it was impossible to avoid based on how the blocks fell. This should never, ever happen in a game. I was doomed through no fault of my own.

It did not go this well for me.

It did not go this well for me.

Still, the greatest crime of X6 is something that is unforgivable. There are actually portions of the game that you simply can’t pass if you’ve chosen the wrong armor. You have no way of knowing this beforehand and, if you haven’t previously completed the level, no way of exiting the stage. This is simply stunning. How does a game even get released with such an oversight? It feels like this game was never even tested. Also, one such spot is in the second to last level of the game. My preferred armor is the Shadow Armor as it comes with a shuriken shot, a saber, and makes you invulnerable to spikes (plus, you just look damn cool). Enter a section that you need an air-dash to get across. The Shadow Armor isn’t equipped with an air-dash. I had forgotten about this, and actually just cut the game off when playing it at this point. Stubborn as I am, when I played it again, I again used the Shadow Armor, and researched this section. To get past this, you must equip a certain part first. In the level, you have to leap, then unleash a saber swing at just the right time, then use the Giga Crush attack. If executed perfectly, it will add the distance needed to your leap and you can proceed, but you almost have to glitch the game to make this work. I could forgive this if there were some method of switching armors while in a level, but that’s not the case. Also, being a final level, there is no exiting. If you can’t pull off the moves needed to make the jump, you have to kill yourself and continue. This is absurd, but seems almost par for the course for the disaster that is X6.

Conclusions:
Few series can hold their quality as sequels continue to pile up. While I think the original Mega Man series stayed strong through Mega Man 6, Mega Man X cannot make that claim. Mega Man X4 and X5 aren’t necessarily bad games, but both did feel like some of the magic from the first couple of entries was missing, and it goes beyond something like fatigue with the series. They just don’t feel as crisp and precise as X or X2. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re unplayable, just that they fall off a bit when being compared to their earlier namesakes. I’m sure that it’s no easy task to live up to titles such as X and X2, and it shows here. I refuse to make such excuses for X6 however. That title is most definitely a black eye on the X series, and the fact that it was allowed to ship at all with the problems it has is amazing. I would love to overlook these, but they are so blatant that I consider it a failure on Capcom’s part. Bottom line here, X4 and X5 are quite a bit of fun, and I recommend them for any fan of the X series. X6 however, should be reserved for completionists or masochists. It’s truly that bad and lowered the bar for Mega Man X…though, as you’ll see soon enough here, X7 managed to lower it even further.

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