Release Date: 17 December 1993
Where to get it: ebay.com
Price: Around £30
Mega Man is a gaming icon but in his homeland he's called Rockman. How cool of a name is Rockman? The series has a reputation for its difficulty these days but many other of the series incredible innovations have been overlooked through time. Mega Man was one of the first games to feature a stage select menu that wasn't some hidden cheat or debug menu function, it has themed bosses with their own stages and weapons that you take for yourself after defeating them. Mega Man cemented itself right from the beginning as a series that gets things right, even the new things that other games aren't necessarily getting wrong but aren't doing very well or interestingly.
Then along comes the Super Nintendo (SNES), with a glorious 16-bits of pure gaming power and a sound chip that makes Mozart sound like the heavenly sharting of the most beautiful angels you can imagine. The SNES is to the NES what sliced bread is to regular bread. With the improvements of the SNES, Capcom knew they needed something new for Mega Man; they knew they had to step up to the challenge of the day and once more innovate in a well now relatively well established market.
Right from the title screen players are treated to one of the best examples of an introduction to gameplay (a.k.a a tutorial) ever conceived that wouldn't be replicated for another four months (or 1 in the western market) with Super Metroid. From title screen to level select the entire prologue mission is a masterclass in everything you need to know to play the game.
Elaboration time! On the title screen you see Mega Man fire a big green shot but when you get control of him he's firing piddly little orange pellets. What gives? "Well, that green thing kinda looks like a charged up shot so maybe I'll hold the button." Sure enough Mega Man starts to charge up his weapon and you let go of the button and that cool charged up shot fires out and you've learned something.
Minutes later you've got a jump that's obviously a bit too far for you to reach but there's nowhere else to go and so you decide to jump anyway and Mega Man sticks to the wall like he's got a velcro onesie on. So now you're clinging to a wall and you're too afraid to let go of the d-pad incase you fall to your death so you hit the jump button and the blue bomber starts hopping up the wall.
This show and teach without telling type of tutorial ingrains the knowledge you need to play without stopping the gameplay and without ever pointing out that you're in a tutorial. You just learn by doing and don't even realise it until someone pulls back the curtain and says; "Hey, gamer type person. Did you know you were just learning things?"
This fine art of the stealth tutorial is all but lost these days, and wasn't often replicated even back in the good old days but still provides the best way to learn a game without having to pull out the manual. Sadly the manual is now extinct, but that's something to lament another time.
Mega Man X doesn't just teach you the gameplay in a slick way, it also makes slick use of the newfangled SNES pad. With the addition of an extra 4 buttons, Capcom had the chance to introduce a couple of new functions to the formula with a dedicated dash button (in addition to the double-tap to dash d-pad control) as well as weapon quick switch on the shoulder buttons and even included reconfigurable face buttons (something else which is pretty much extinct in console games) to make the game as comfortable and stress free to play as possible.
Of course, when talking about Mega Man stress free is a relative term. The new features mean that players can focus entirely on mastering the gameplay instead of wrestling with unfamiliar or unresponsive controls. Mega Man X is one of those rare games that takes the bar for game feel and just runs with it. Mega Man himself is responsive, precise and easy to get to grips with and that's the key to Mega Man X's good feel.
Without any of the above the challenge would feel unfair or clumsy.
Boss fights have always been a staple and one of the main draws of the Mega Man series, typically each stage has a single unique boss with the same theme as the level (e.g. Elecman or Cutman) but Mega Man X took it a step further with enemies that had even more personality by being tied to animals that by association gave them a personality. Armored Armadillo, Spark Mandrill, Chill Penguin, each one invokes a instant thought - weird and tough, what the shit is a Mandrill? Penguins are cool! A Mandrill is a type of monkey thing, by the way.
In typical Mega Man fashion each boss has a particular weakness, a weapon that'll do two or three times more damage per shot to the enemy but Mega Man X takes it a step further with parts of the bosses that will be shot off or damaged by a certain weapon that can disable one of their attacks or change their pattern for an easier fight.
Mega Man Xs soundtrack is mostly comprised of themed and energetic tracks that make you feel like you're Mega Man, like you're going to rush in and be awesome but you're not going to because that'd result in your death. In that way the music is in contrast to the gameplay but at the same time it's a perfect fit thematically. Each stage music fits perfectly and stands out on its own, if you're the kind of person who's so inclined it might even find its way to your MP3 player of choice.
The sound effects, while taking advantage of the SNES sound chip to provide some extra depth still feel mired in the past - the weapon sounds and power ups are all undeniably Mega Man but they're not as large of a leap forwards as the other aspects of Mega Man X. That said, it might be unfair to judge them too harshly because Mega Man is as much identified by its distinctive sound effects as it is for the gameplay or difficulty.
Overall Mega Man X is one of the finest entries in the entire series and holds the distinct honour of being a major evolution, and one of the most beloved entries both now and when it was originally released. Die-hard fans will have already checked it out but many others may not have due to the series reputation for difficulty but I can safely say they've missed out on a true gaming classic that exemplifies the best bits of gaming.
Score: 9 out of 10 Sigmas aren't really dead, ever.