Since we’re going through a bit of a drought in terms of new releases, I’ve been finding myself drawn to older games I’ve always wanted to try. Thus a new feature, Good Old Games, has been born. When you see one of these, expect to see some analysis of games from the past, and why I think they’re worth revisiting today. First up, a couple of Mega Man games I somehow hadn’t played until now.
The Mega Man series has rarely steered me wrong. From Legends, to Battle Network, to the original NES series, it’s hard for me to dislike any of them. For whatever reason, I had never gotten into the X series. Sure, I’d played the intro stage a few times over the years, killed a boss or two, but I’d never really thought much of it. Fast forward to last month, about 20 years after the release of Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo, and I finally saw what all the fuss was about.
I had always felt iffy about X, because it seemed so different to me from my beloved original series. Gone were Bubble Man and Quick Man, replaced by mechanical Frankenstien-esque playthings like Flame Mammoth and Boomer Kuwanger. (Seriously, what is that?) Everything seemed more complicated, from backgrounds, to enemies, down to Mega Man’s moveset, and I had always perceived this as a negative. After spending a few days blasting through the first couple games in the series, I can admit that I was wrong to judge a Boomer by his Kuwanger.
The game opens with Mega Man on a highway in front of a gorgeous sprawling city backdrop. As I continued on, I kept being impressed at how detailed so many objects were. An enemy (seen after 3:01) that smoothly forms from a rock after falling from the ceiling still sticks out as such a clever animation. The graphical upgrades from Mega Man 1-6 don’t detract from the experience at all, and are constantly used to do things that the original series wasn’t capable of, which was a fear I had from the beginning. From the earliest moments of looking out at that city, my fears subsided.
Upgrades are also introduced, allowing Mega Man to become stronger through more than just his standard boss rewarded weaponry. Permanently available energy tanks, maximum health upgrades, and armor pieces are scattered throughout stages, making you more powerful the more effort you put into exploration. Mega Man starts off with the new ability to slide along flat walls, and this allows the developers to hide secrets in ways they couldn’t before. Stages are larger, and more open both horizontally and vertically. Screens don’t scroll from one block to another, so there can be secrets hidden anywhere. I revisited each stage several times to search every pixel, and to jump off of every cliff in search of another reward. Once you obtain the dash upgrade (which you start with in every game after the first one) you can speed through levels in new ways, and make jumps that were inaccessible before. It adds the slightest touch of Metroid into the mix, as you scour old environments to make use of your new abilities. Like the majestic Reese’s Cup, putting Metroid in my Mega Man is a mixture I didn’t know I needed until I had that first sweet taste.
Have you played the first or second Mega Man on NES lately? As wonderful as those games are, the bosses are pushovers on standard difficulty. It isn’t a particularly difficult task to kill a boss from Mega Man 2 without using any powers, and by the end you’ll have health to spare. The later games in the series bump up the challenge a bit, but I was impressed by how often bosses in Mega Man X would wipe the floor with me without a second glance. They probably have a little more health than they need to, an issue that the X2 seems to address, but I enjoyed the rematches with each of them, slowly getting a little further and mastering their patterns with each death. When I finally brought the first one down, it was a sweet victory I relished.
I found myself using the boss powers throughout levels much, much more than I ever did in the original series. This is thanks to the L and R triggers being used to easily swap through powers, alleviating the pain of pausing the game each time to change them from a menu. I ran through stages shooting several powers over the course of a few seconds just because I could, and because they’re all so much fun to use. There’s even an upgrade that gives every single powerup an additional ability, making all of them incredibly diverse. Bosses even have a unique animation when you use their weakness against them too, only adding to the reasons to try everything out as often as possible. A handful of bosses through X and X2 even change entirely depending on what you’re using to attack them.
I was continually impressed during the hours I spend playing the first Mega Man X game. The amount of care put in every facet of the game astounds me. The icing on that cake came at the very end of the game when I realized there were different audio cues when you pick up health upgrades, one sound means a tank is filling up in your inventory, another signifies that the tank is full. It’s such a small thing, but it’s a useful resource that a lesser development team wouldn’t have imagined.
Immediately after I finished Mega Man X (after the nearly impossible final boss fight), I jumped right into X2, and I liked it almost as much. The three roaming secret bosses were the one of my few complaints, because they lead to every level having a “secret area” but if the boss isn’t in that level, you spent a lot of time exploring to find nothing but a dead end. Thankfully, the bosses were just as memorable as the first set, the powerups were just as useful, and the introduction of some early 3D graphics were a surprisingly cool inclusion.
The endgame stage of Mega Man X 2 is a bit of a disappointment, though, as it lacks what made the original’s finale so great. The original split the boss refights up a bit to avoid tedium, X2 places you in a familiar room filled with teleporters and has you fight them all in the traditional way. The original has a tiny end stage before the final boss, complete with a way to fill your subtanks seconds before the fight starts. X2, however, has you replay a whole stage each time the final boss kills you, and makes you go to an entirely different area if you want to fill your tanks quickly (luckily you won’t die a fraction as much as the first game, though).
After skipping them for a couple of decades, I still found a lot to love about the beginning of the Mega Man X series. There are tons of neat ideas that weren’t used much outside of the X games, and they’re still totally worth going back to if your a fan of the Man in blue. I’ve already started my journey through Mega Man X3, but I’ve only spent about an hour with it and don’t have much to say yet. Playing as Zero seems like a neat introduction, and the levels seem to be twice the size of the other games. I’ve yet to take down a single boss.
If you have any suggestions for more Good Old Games, don’t hesitate to send them my way! Leave a comment or send me a tweet @ZachBDavis. I plan on writing up Zelda 2 eventually, because I’m playing through that and it’s amazing; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.