When I was a kid, my favorite thing in the world was my dog-eared Game Boy Color. My family traveled a lot, and that little purple box was one of the few things that kept me sane on our endless car rides. I only had a few games on it: Pokémon (duh), Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and a quasi-remake of the first Mega Man X game called Mega Man Xtreme. Despite the horrible graphics and clunky controls, I absolutely loved it. It was my first experience with Capcom’s classic series, and it gave me an adrenaline rush like nothing else in my nine-year-old life. I soon discovered the SNES original through… slightly illegal means, and from that point onward, Mega Man X was my jam.
The Mega Man games will never win awards for storytelling, but X still did a great job tying it’s darker story into the core gameplay. It opens with a data log by one “T. Light”, discussing his newest creation, X. As the first android with that can think and feel like humans do, X has limitless potential for the human race – but in the wrong hands, this technology could lead to chaos and war. Cut to X running through a cyperpunk dystopia filled with killer mechs and crumbling highways. Your only ally is the red robot Zero, who’s way cooler than X will ever be, and your enemy is an endless robot army that has gone rogue and declared war on humanity. It’s not a deep story even for its time, but it still gets players going without dragging down the pace. Fans of the Blue Bomber’s NES outings were shocked to see how much has gone wrong since then, but it’s still easy for newcomers to jump in and enjoy all the 90’s cheese.
The gameplay is pure Mega Man goodness, but with enough design tweaks to match the faster, more epic 16-bit era. You’re still running and gunning through 8 levels with a tense boss fight at the end, but X’s new dash and wall jump abilities give the game more mobility and momentum. Not that it makes the game any easier, of course. Bosses can be brutal if you don’t know what their weakness is, and even regular enemies often appear in just the right place to ruin your day. You will die a lot in any Mega Man game, and it’s almost always your fault. But if you’re the right kind of twitchy/masochistic, nailing a tough level or boss fight is one of the most satisfying accomplishments you can have in gaming.
Even more satisfying is the many power-ups you can find, unique to the X series. Taking a cue from RPGs and Zelda games, series creator Keiji Inafune littered Mega Man X with heart tanks, energy tanks, and armor upgrades in every stage. You’ll have to pull off some ridiculously precise maneuvers to get all of them, but they turn you into something of a beast and make the difficult endgame more manageable. And 100% completion unlocks my favorite secret in any game, the Hadouken from Street Fighter! Sure, you can only use it at full health, but nailing that famous button combo will one-shot any enemy in the game, including the final boss. How cool is that?!
And I have to talk about the music, which rocks way harder than you’d expect from a Super Nintendo game. Sure, the synthesized guitar tones sound a little cheesy by today’s standards, but does that really matter when every song has a unique vibe and intense energy? Chill Penguin lays the ice theme on thick with its moody keyboards, while Storm Eagle throws down some furious riffs that makes my inner Iron Maiden fan giddy. These tracks have been covered and remixed all over the Internet, but the originals still hold up after all these years. My favorite is the opening track, which I put on whenever I pick the Mega Man stage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:
Old games can be hard to come by these days, but Capcom has done the world a solid by making almost every single Mega Man game available on all modern consoles. The Mega Man X Legacy Collection includes the first four X games (the good ones), at a way cheaper price than a certain other company’s collection of classics. They’re all short – you can beat each one in like an hour if you’re really good – but the relentless challenge and ability to tackle the levels in any order keeps me coming back time and time again. The games are just stupid fun, perfecting a formula that countless developers have tried and failed to master since. If you missed out on Mega Man X in its glory days, or just want to relive your childhood memories of dying over and over on Launch Octopus’ stage, there’s never a bad time to enjoy some fast-paced, 90’s anime robot action.