Day 50: Mega Man X

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A few years ago, I got the bright idea to do a series of columns about my top 100 favorite games of all time, because aimless writing projects seem to be a recurring theme of mine. I only got about about a third of the way through before I lost steam, which is a shame because there are a lot of games that I’d always wanted to write about, but had never really found the avenue to before.

On my 50th day in a row of writing about games, I’ve managed to remedy that a bit. In fact, I’d be shocked if I don’t end up unintentionally filling out the rest of that checklist before year’s end. Even without the self-imposed requirement of doing this, I do tend to revisit my favorites a lot. Mega Man X in particular has always been perfect for a quick hour on a weekend afternoon, so it’s always been a matter of when and not if, but as I sit down and try to articulate why I’m so drawn to it, moreso than just about any other Mega Man game, it feels like similar to how difficult it would be trying to explain why you still enjoy a song you’ve listened to hundreds of times. You could break down each individual instrument and how it contributes to the overall composition, but you may not find yourself any closer to the answer.

For me, Mega Man X is special because it should have been a failure. It was not only an attempt to spin-off a series that was already criticized for constant sequels, but it was an EXTREME 90s spin-off. It was a tougher, meaner Mega Man. All that was missing was an advert declaring “this ain’t your Daddy’s Mega Buster” whilst showing Zero on a skateboard chugging cans of Surge. Yet, it worked. It worked beautifully. It was an evolution of the formula that was just different enough to not make those older games feel obsolete. There was an increased speed and mobility to the character movement; pits were no longer instant death traps and wall jumping added an increased verticality. Robot Masters were now Mavericks; a mix of elemental powers and often obscure animals. For the first time, you had an ally that actually did stuff, as opposed to Proto Man, who seemingly spent most of the Mega Man series under the witness protection program. There was even kinda sorta a real story. But under it all, it’s still Mega Man. You’re still in a screwed-up world where everything wants to murder you, leaving disaster in your wake as hot Satriani-esque guitar licks push you further into battle.  It’s arguably the best application of that familiar formula, all the while creating something unique and memorable.

I go back and forth on whether I ultimately prefer the original or the X series. Spending more time with them, it feels like the latter were the games that Inafune always wanted to make, crafting a coherent narrative that ultimately paid off in X5. Of course, since Capcom gonna Capcom, it wasn’t truly the end, but in my head-canon that was his big send-off, the final product of years upon years of iteration and evolution.

And to think, with just a few missteps, it could have been Saved by the Bell: The New Class.

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