Goodbye Wii Shop Channel

Allow me to get nostalgic – and a wee bit weepy – as Nintendo has officially shut down the Wii Shop Channel, after over twelve years of service.

Now, I’m going to say something that’s bizarrely unpopular, and say that the Wii remains one of my all-time favorite video game consoles. And yes, I liked it better than the N64 and GameCube. One of the (many) reasons the Wii was so great was the Wii Shop Channel.

As Nintendo’s original online store for downloading games, the Wii Shop Channel opened the door for WiiWare – where players could download original titles – and the Virtual Console service, a treasure trove of classic gaming. Sadly, a number of WiiWare games that weren’t released by other means have now entered the nether (and could tragically remain in limbo, lest their developers find a means to code them elsewhere). And although the Wii Virtual Console has long-since been succeeded by the Nintendo Eshop on Wii U, 3DS and Nintendo Switch, the Eshop has never quite matched up to the library of classics the Virtual Console brought to the Wii.

WiiWare introduced the gaming world to titles such as World of Goo, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (and it’s sequel, My Life as a Dark Lord), and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, among many others. And while retro gaming had been a thing for collectors for quite some time, the Wii’s Virtual Console service helped popularized retro gaming for the mainstream, allowing easy accessibility for new generations of gamers to discover beloved classics from the NES, SNES, N64, and non-Nintendo consoles like the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafX-16, Commodore 64, and even Arcade titles!

Yes, the Nintendo Eshop has continued the Virtual Console’s legacy on subsequent Nintendo hardware, but not quite to the same degree. 3DS added GameBoy titles, and Wii U gained the GameBoy Advance (admittedly a HUGE get), but they lost nearly all of the non-Nintendo content, and even ended up with considerably less games from Nintendo’s history. And even though the Switch can easily claim to be one of Nintendo’s best consoles, the fact that its legacy content is still currently limited to a small handful of NES titles is a baffling step backwards. Sure, many complained that the Wii’s Virtual Console could be slow in getting content (getting one to three games every Thursday in the US), when all was said and done, it had such an array of classics that it was more than likely the best collection of retro titles you could hope to find. Combined with the great original games on the Wii, along with the system’s backwards compatibility with the GameCube, and the Wii – believe it or not – may have boasted the most classics of any console. Yes, I said that, and I don’t regret it. Fight me.

Yes, the Xbox 360, PS3, and current generation consoles have thankfully kept easy access to gaming’s yesteryear alive and well. But – perhaps simply because the Wii was the first to have such an extensive library of gaming history – they’ve never quite captured that same magic as when the Virtual Console brought another classic to the Wii.

As someone who, sadly, didn’t always take the best care of their games as a kid (and someone who, strangely, only occasionally played older games as time went on in my younger days), having easy access to so many classics all on one console was a godsend. And perhaps I was just at the right age when it began to really hit me how quickly gaming advances and how older consoles fall out of the spotlight, but there was something great knowing that things like the Wii Virtual Console service essentially helped kickstart the preservation of classic gaming (after all, once a movie left theaters, they’d end up on home video formats. But once games became older, they became collectors items. Frankly, I think they always deserved better).

Yeah, I realize I’m talking a lot more about the Virtual Console side of the Wii Shop Channel than WiiWare. WiiWare was great as well, of course. But I feel like the Virtual Console really helped make retro gaming a more mainstream thing, and ‘old school’ gaming was no longer relegated to those who happened to grow up at the time (and I was someone who did grow up at the time. But the idea of younger gamers – and older gamers just getting introduced to the medium – not having played certain classics broke my heart… I am a weird person). Plus, I just have a lot more personal memories of the Virtual Console.

Playing Super Mario 64 again in preparation for Super Mario Galaxy? Lovely. Playing the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games on a Nintendo console? Beautiful. Discovering Secret of Mana? Sexy.

Again, it’s tremendous that subsequent consoles have continued to keep retro gaming alive, but now whenever a classic makes its way to a modern console, it feels like an inevitability. But in the Wii’s day, there was something, for lack of a better word, ‘magical’ whenever a beloved favorite found its way to the Virtual Console. But there are two examples in particular that stand out in my memory.

The first was Donkey Kong Country 2. Although I always enjoyed the game as a kid, I never could get over the fact that you didn’t play as Donkey Kong (little kid logic), so I never got very far during my childhood. On at least two different vacations over the years when I couldn’t find my old copy (again, careless kid), I rented DKC2 at hotels, and beat the first world before I ran out of time on the second. These served like teasers for how much I would eventually fall in love with the game, which happened when, you guessed it, DKC2 made its way to the Virtual Console.

During 2007 when DKC2 made its way to the Wii, I finally played through the whole thing, and damn, had I been missing out all those years. I always liked the original Donkey Kong Country, but it really doesn’t compare with its sequel. The level design is among the best of any platformer, and the more I delved into the game on my Wii, the more I fell in love with its (quite unique) sense of atmosphere, and its incomparable musical score, which played a part in the indelible influence the game has had on my own creativity.

So yeah, it may have taken me 12 years, but I finally discovered my full appreciation for a game that was originally released in 1995 thanks to the Virtual Console.

The other big memory I have is (as you may have guessed if you keep up with my blog) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Now, unlike DKC2, I had always loved Super Mario RPG, and even beat it twice back in the day. But I hadn’t played it in years, and it was around the time of the Wii (again, thanks to the Virtual Console) that I began to realize that not every game from my childhood stood the test of time. I craved Super Mario RPG, but admittedly had a little concern that maybe my memories of it wouldn’t reflect the game itself.

“This was basically me when I beat Super Mario RPG on the Virtual Console.”

Thankfully, when it was released in September (my birth month, no less) of 2008 on the Wii Virtual Console and I jumped right back into Super Mario RPG, it quickly became apparent that it was a fine wine of gaming. It had only gotten better with age. It lived up to my memories and solidified itself as one of my all-time favorites. It was magical.

Come to think of it, the Wii helped solidify most of my favorite games it seems. It all goes back to the “rediscovering of retro games” thing I keep bringing up (as well as the fact that the Wii brought Super Mario Galaxy to the world). I mean, as has become a recurring joke here at my site, the current console generation has really made me flip-flop a lot in regards to my favorites. But when it comes to the titles I can safely say have a secure spot on my list, the Wii really played a helping hand in that.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the Wii marked the time when my enthusiasm for games wasn’t restricted to the moment (or the occasional revisit of a classic), but I really began to think more about video games on a deeper level. And yes, a large reason for that was the Wii Shop Channel.

Now, we have to say goodbye to the Wii Shop Channel. It’s legacy may live on through the Nintendo Eshop, but the Wii Shop Channel itself holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, myself obviously included. Now, ironically enough, Nintendo’s little download service that helped preserve gaming’s past has now become a nostalgic memory itself.

Thanks for the memories, Wii Shop Channel!

Oh yeah, and we can’t forget what is perhaps the biggest contribution the Wii Shop Channel made to the world of gaming: This delightful music!

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Wario Land II Review

Though the third entry of the Super Mario Land sub-series opened the door for Wario to become a video game star, Wario Land II completely kicked the door down for Wario to rewrite the rules of platformers. Though Wario Land II’s sequels would better the formula, this ambitious 1998 Game Boy title really set the stage for Wario’s unique place among Nintendo’s stars.

There are two key components that made Wario Land II such a standout both as a Game Boy title, and as a platformer: The first is that Wario Land II featured branching paths with its story, with players being able to alter the course of the game through specific actions (a feat that was a very bold move given the limitations of the Gameboy). The other key mechanic – the one that turned the platforming genre on its head – is that Wario is invincible.

That’s right, nothing can stop Wario’s path of destruction. You may wonder where the challenge is if Wario can’t be harmed. But Wario is out for treasure, and every enemy wants that same treasure. Instead of taking damage, Wario will lose coins and, subsequently, get a lower score when all is said and done. It’s a fun twist on platforming norms that has been duplicated many times since, with Kirby’s Epic Yarn being a prominent example of a game that studied Wario’s rulebook.

However, here’s where things get really interesting. The power-up helmets that were found in the first Wario Land are gone. And the concept of power-ups are instead combined with Wario’s invulnerability, with many enemy attacks having status effects on Wario that can benefit Wario with temporary abilities (in addition to serving as minor inconveniences).

By getting hit with an ice attack, Wario becomes frozen and slides backwards, and can glide across spikes unscathed. If Wario gets set on fire, his flaming backside causes him to run at super speed and can burn down certain obstacles blocking his path. And if Wario gets stung by a bee enemy, he will have an allergic reaction, with his head swelling up so much he can float like a balloon.

Having enemies inadvertently aid Wario not only serves as a fun twist on genre traditions, but also plays into the sense of humor of Wario’s character. While Wario was originally the ‘anti-Mario’ by being a dastardly villain, Nintendo quickly made him a more unique character by making him Mario’s opposite in terms of being a comical scoundrel. Mario goes off on daring adventures to save princesses, and gains super-powers like flight and shooting fireballs. Wario, by contrast, has to find success through his own misfortunes. Wario’s own games punish him for his greed, but also reward him in the end because, well, he isn’t such a bad guy. And there’s something kind of hilarious about that.

As you might expect, players often have to utilize Wario’s various ‘conditions’ to find new paths throughout the game, as well as uncover hidden treasures for 100% completion. Though some of the game’s branching paths are found by other player actions (in one of the game’s best gags, you can go through a whole other story route simply by doing nothing and letting Wario sleep through his alarm at the start of the game). Although some routes through the game are much shorter than others, they do add to the game’s replay value. And for completionists, you’ll have to go through all of the game’s routes and uncover every secret treasure to see the real ending.

Not all is peaches and cream for Wario Land II, however. The boss fights can feel a bit unpolished and finicky with how you’re forced to go back to the previous room if you’re even a pixel off with their patterns. Sure, with Wario invincible, they needed to do something to give bosses a challenge. But perhaps robbing Wario of more treasure would have been a less tedious consequence than having to start the boss process all over again.

Other than that, the only real complaint with Wario Land II is that – through modern eyes – it definitely feels rough when compared to its sequels, which perfected the formula (Wario Land III in particular, is often considered one of the best handheld games of all time). Wario Land II is still fun, and its Game Boy Color version (which is readily available for modern gamers to download on the Nintendo 3DS) still looks pretty great, all things considered. But the two subsequent handheld entries (as well as their Wii sequel) provide the more definitive Wario platformers.

Wario Land II may not be the best game starring the mustachioed anti-Mario. But it is the game that really helped shape Wario’s character. No longer simply the “bad Mario,” Wario was now the comic foil of Nintendo’s lineup of gaming icons.

 

6

Wall Street Kid Review

The very existence of Wall Street Kid is a head-scratcher. Maybe, just maybe, there’s someone out there with an interest in both the stock market and video games who would like to see a game based on Wall Street, but it’s hard to imagine there’s be much of a demand for the concept. And in 1989, when gaming was aimed a bit more at a younger audience, it’s even more baffling to imagine such a concept actually came to fruition. But that’s exactly what Wall Street Kid was, an NES title centered around the stock market. Because what kid would want to delve into the magical fantasy worlds of The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario when they can experience… Wall Street?

Players take on the role of the titular Wall Street Kid, whose last name is actually Benedict (I guess ‘Wall Street Kid’ is his first name). The goal of the game is for Wall Street Kid to turn $500,000 in seed money into $1,000,000 through investments in order to prove himself worthy of inheriting his family’s fortune.

The game is basically a simplistic, point-and-click RPG of sorts. The game mainly takes place in Wall Street Kid Benedict’s office, where you can decide which companies to invest money in, and as the in-game days go by, you can see which stocks go up, and which ones go down. Just like in real life Wall Street, you’ll want to sell your stocks while they’re hot. But naturally, you can’t predict when stocks will begin to plummet, so if you wait too long to sell, you might miss out on your best opportunities.

I have to admit, there is a minor addicting quality in trying to keep up with the stock market and seeing how things play out, but it’s short lived. The game attempts to add a little something extra to the proceedings by means with little elements added to the stock market-based gameplay. You can pay a woman named Connie  for stock market insider tips (which I actually believe is illegal). This can give you a short-term advantage in stocks, though Connie’s insight isn’t always exact, so you could end up wasting money on information that provides no reward in the end (which I guess serves you right). Later in the game, you can even receive loans and go to auctions.

“The game’s primary menu. Click the computer for the stock exchange, the flowers for a date, the phone(?) to go exercise, the newspaper to refresh on that day’s stock market, and the clock to move on to the next day).”

An additional element is added to the game by trying to keep Wall Street Kid’s love life afloat. WSK’s fiancé Priscilla will often require you to take her on dates, as well as keep up your personal health in order to keep her affections. The dating options include picnics, shopping (which doesn’t use any of your in-game currency) and trips to the carnival. Meanwhile, your health options include swimming, going to the gym, and hiking. Though the only real difference between any of these (unseen) activities is that they’ll take up more time on the game’s clock, none of them boost your love life any more than the others. But you have to keep up at these activities pretty regularly, because if you lose your fiancé, the game is over.

So basically, an entire game day should consist of buying/selling stocks, going on a date, and exercising, with an additional stock activity thrown in every here and there. Strangely, there are some days where you can’t partake in one of (or all) of the dating and exercising options, but you can always just do them the next day anyway, so it doesn’t exactly throw a wrench in your plans, making you wonder what the point of these delays is, exactly.

The sub-plot with the fiancé is an…interesting way of trying to add something more to the game. But the idea of trying to keep WSK’s fiancé feels more like the concept of another game, and it really does feel tacked on. The intent to add something else to the game to remove some of the monotony of the stock market may have been well-meaning, but it only add to the game’s tedium in the end.

What hammers the final nail into Wall Street Kid’s coffin, however, is how it cheats at its own game. While the goal is to grow five-hundred grand into a million big ones, the game quickly throws a curveball at you by insisting you buy a new house with one-million dollars in cash. So the purchase of the house sets you back to step one. What’s worse is that the game presents you with the house dilemma within the first in-game month. The game presents you with the option of not taking the house, but you can only refuse it twice. If you refuse it the third time, the game will end because you failed to get the house (can’t you just wait for another house?). But it won’t end immediately after the third refusal, but after another in-game week (I guess to prolong the torture). So you have to spend your goal money on a house in the early game, when making that much money takes more time than it initially gives you. Of course you’re going to want to delay things, but if you delay it too long, you lose.

To make this conundrum worse, your fiancé will ask for a dog and a new car during this whole house debacle, which costs more money. Sure, you can refuse her wishes to save money, but that risks losing your fiancé which, again, loses the game. And a similar scenario (involving a boat instead of a house) occurs shortly thereafter, with similar aspects that work against the player. In a game all about the unpredictability of the stock market, do you really need these additional obstacles thrown at you when the money to solve these problems isn’t a guarantee? Sure, some might say the stock market in real life works in a similarly unpredictable manner, but this is a video game. Shouldn’t it at least try to make the stock market entertaining or something?

Wall Street Kid is ultimately little more than an exercise in tedium. The slight addictive nature early on may trick you into thinking there’s some hope for the baffling concept of a Wall Street-themed video game, but when the game’s sole input of gameplay is selecting the same few items from the same few menus over and over again, the game’s sheer monotony is quickly exposed. And it really doesn’t help things that the same, short loop of obnoxious music plays over the entire game. Yes, I’ve played more technically ‘broken’ video games, but few are as tedious as Wall Street Kid.

Who knows, maybe there actually is someone out there who’s enticed by the idea of a game built around the stock market, though it’s a concept that seems doomed from the start. Maybe with modern gaming hardware, that isolated individual might have a chance at playing a half-decent Wall Street game (though I doubt it). But an NES game built around the stock market was never going to work.

 

3

Mega Man X8 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X8’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2*

Mega Man X8 is like a small miracle. In stark contrast to the original Mega Man series – which kept a consistent quality even in its weakest entries – the X sub-series provided diminishing quality with each subsequent installment. The first few entries were great, but by the time the series reached X7, it had completely lost its way. In 2004 – a decade after the release of the first Mega Man X – the series received its eighth and, as of this writing, final installment. Returning to the side-scrolling roots of the series while retaining 3D visuals, Mega Man X8 served as a fitting return to form for the series. It may hit a few snags, and some of its more aged elements prevent it from reaching true greatness, but X8 is probably the most inspired Mega Man X game since the first two.

In a lot of ways, X8 feels like a rectification of X7. Not only does it ditch the 3D segments, but also refines the promising ideas that its predecessor failed at in execution. Once again, players can take control of Mega Man X, Zero and Axl, with all three being available from the start this time. Zero once again uses a laser sword and possesses a double jump, but X and Axl have more differences from one another this time around. X retains the classic Mega Man playstyle, with stronger blasts and his charged shot intact, while Axl may not be as strong, but has rapid fire shots and can shoot in multiple directions (at the expense of being able to move when he shoots), and still has his hovering ability.

“Shine get! Star get! Weapon get!”

Each character has additional differences from one another as well. While X of course gains the powers of fallen bosses, and Zero once again gains additional moves, Axl now receives different guns from each boss. Perhaps most notably, since Axl lacks the punch of X and Zero, his special move allows him to turn an enemy into a capsule, which he can then use to transform into said enemy and gain its abilities (Mega Man X7 made it clear Axl could transform via cinematics, but this ability had no presence in gameplay before. That alone speaks volumes for the difference in effort between the two games).

Like X7, you can select two characters per stage, and can switch between them at any time. This time around, the feature actually feels worth it, as you’ll often require the special abilities of different characters to uncover a level’s secrets. As an additional bonus, both characters actually have to die in order for the player to lose a life this time (albeit falling into a pit or touching a spike still results in an instant loss). Weakened characters can even recover some health when swapped out, in what seems like a feature ripped out of one of Capcom’s own fighting games. You can now even perform a powerful team attack with both characters if you can build up its gauge by stringing together combos.

This time around, you can select one of three navigators to give you hints throughout the stages: the returning Alia, and newcomers Pallette and Layer (AKA best girl). Depending on who you select, your navigator will give you different information regarding stage hazards, hidden items, and boss weaknesses and strengths during different parts of a stage.

Mega Man X8 also boasts a myriad of secrets which, again, often require combinations of characters and their abilities to unlock, leading to a great sense of replay value. Gone are the Reploids that need saving and abilities that can be permanently missed. In their place are pieces of scrap metal strewn about the levels (think Mario’s coins), which are used as currency in between stages to purchase chips.

Here’s where things start going against the series’ formula. Recurring items  like life tanks now have to be purchased, and even extra lives are exclusively found in the game’s shop (by default, you have three lives, but can buy up to three more at any time). You can buy single-use items to prevent the aforementioned insta-kill from spikes (though the character will only retain one health). Besides the basics, you can also properly build up each individual character, granting them extra health, damage reduction, and other such bonuses. Additionally, secret ‘rare metals’ are hidden throughout levels that, when collected, add more items to the shop, including new weapons for Zero.

The only series’ collectible that remains in the levels themselves are X’s armor pieces, but even those have a fun new twist. X now gets the “Neutral Armor,” which can be (somewhat) customized with armor pieces from the Icarus and Hermes sets if you can unlock them (you can equip the Hermes helmet and boots while wearing the Icarus buster and chest armor, for example). So while Axl has the ability to transform, and Zero gains additional weapons, X being able to find and customize armor really makes each character distinct from one another.

Should you miss out on any of the items, you can restart your game in New Game Plus, where you can not only uncover the items you missed out on, but also gain access to even more unlockables, including the ability to play as the three navigator characters! Once again, it seems like everything that was good in concept about Mega Man X7 (secret characters, RPG-like progression for characters) was actually realized here in X8.

“How dare you call me an incredible scientist!”

Even the story is a refreshing change of pace for the series. Following the disasters that have befallen the world in the past few entries, humans have begun colonizing the moon, which they travel to via the Orbital Elevator. The director of the elevator is a new generation Reploid named Lumine, who soon becomes kidnapped by Vile (the series’ secondary villain returning for the first time since X3). Meanwhile, eight other new generation Reploids are seemingly becoming Mavericks, despite that their generation is supposedly immune to the Maverick Virus.

Naturally, X, Zero and Axl set out to rescue Lumine and fix the problems the eight Mavericks are causing, and suspect that Sigma is behind everything (why would they think otherwise at this point?). And while Sigma does serve as a major antagonist in the plot, the story does take a different direction as the game goes on. It may not be anything earth-shattering, but by this point, anything other than “surprise, it’s Sigma!” is very much appreciated.

With that said, not everything is great about X8. The music, while certainly not bad, isn’t particularly memorable. And while the visuals are nice enough, they lack the timeless quality of the 2D entries in the series.

“I prefer the sunflower from Conker’s Bad Fur Day.”

The stage design is mostly excellent and creative (including one level which plays with gravity, and another that’s almost entirely a descending obstacle course), but one stage sees the gameplay shift to a chase sequence in which the player hunts down the Maverick boss in flying vehicles through a city a la Attack of the Clones. This stage proves to be X8’s own little dose of ‘good in concept, not so much in execution,’ as it just isn’t particularly fun to play. Another level also changes the gameplay to motorcycling through snowy terrain (reminiscent of the polar bear stages from Crash Bandicoot 2), and though this level is actually a lot of fun, it does mean that two of the game’s stages remove the ability to use the benefits you work hard to unlock.

Thankfully, Capcom seemed to be aware of this, and made the opening stage of X8 repayable to uncover some additional items. Though one other frustrating level remains in the form of the game’s final stage, which ramps up the difficulty far beyond the rest of the game.

So Mega Man X8 isn’t a masterpiece, but when you consider how far the X sub-series had fallen by the time it got to X7, then X8 has to be one of the best turnarounds in video game history. On one hand, looking back at Mega Man X8, it feels like it was the right decision to end the series on a high note to redeem it after the decreasing quality of its predecessors. But on the other hand, with X8 getting so much right and feeling like a proper step forward, it would be nice to see the X series make a return and build on what X8 started.

It’s been over fourteen years since Mega Man X8’s release, and while the series has remained dormant in that time, the fact that X8 fixed so much about what went awry with the series has only made the heart grow fonder for the series in the years since. Who knows whether Mega Man X9 will ever happen or not, but the fact that the series actually managed to find its stride before it rode off into the sunset is an achievement in its own right.

 

7

Mega Man X7 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X7’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2*

You have to give credit where it’s due, Mega Man X7 tried to change up the Mega Man X franchise. The 2003 PS2 title turned the series into a 3D third-person shooter, only on occasion going back to the side-scrolling roots of its six predecessors. But the good intentions of breaking convention amount to very little with how poor Mega Man X7’s execution is.

While Mega Man X7 does try changing the gameplay, the structure of the series remains the same: after the opening stage, beat the eight main stages in whatever order the player sees fit, beat the bosses and get their powers, then move onto the final few stages. As stated, the gameplay has switched gears to a 3D perspective for the most part, but there are other additions and changes as well, perhaps the most baffling of which being that you have to unlock Mega Man X!

That’s right, you can’t play Mega Man X7 as Mega Man X until you’ve rescued 64 Reploids (out of 128) from the eight main stages. Instead, you start the game with two characters: the returning Zero, and newcomer Axl. Zero once again uses a close-ranged laser sword and can perform a double jump, while Axl uses an arm canon like X’s and can glide for a short time.

Problems arise almost immediately. You start the opening stage as Axl, and quickly find out that he (along with X when you unlock him) automatically targets enemies. So you basically just have to spam the fire button to get past anything. A simple ‘lock-on’ button would have gone a long way in making Axl and X’s gameplay feel less mindless. Zero, meanwhile, has to be so close to enemies in order to hit them that he’ll almost always get hit himself in the process.

X7 does try its hand at doing something else original in that you can select two characters at a time, who can be switched at the press of a button. But even this is poorly executed. For starters, both characters you choose have their own health bar, but if only one of them dies, you lose a life. Then there’s the fact that there are only three characters – one of which having to be unlocked – meaning that you’ll just have the party of Zero and Axl for much of the game, and will probably just swap one of them for X once you gain access to him. And since you once again build up the characters with items gained from rescued Reploids, you’re best off just building up one of the starting characters and holding off on the other in favor of X, or just building up the two starters and ignoring X. Wouldn’t this system have been better if all three characters were there from the start? Or at the least if there were additional unlockable characters who you recruited sooner?

“I don’t want my name associated with this!”

Speaking of rescuing Reploids, Mega Man X7 somehow didn’t learn from the mistakes of X6. Like its predecessor, it’s possible to miss your opportunity at rescuing a Reploid, which would be forgivable if not for the fact that if you miss a Reploid you don’t get another chance to rescue them in the same playthrough of the entire game! This is somehow made even worse than it was in X6. At least the last time around, you had a few seconds to act before a ‘Nightmare Virus’ took hold of a Reploid, but here, they get killed by the smallest of touches by an enemy. I am sadly not exaggerating when I say there were multiple instances in the 2D segments where a Reploid was already dying as I made it to their screen. So once again you can easily miss out on getting every item and collectible in the game, unless you feel like reloading your last save over and over again until you have every fragment of a stage memorized.

“If you stand right at this spot, these enemies can’t hit you. But you can hit them. Without aiming.”

The game simply isn’t fun to play. On top of the aforementioned ability of the gun characters basically just walking through a stage and blindly shooting, and Zero’s inability to hit anything without getting hurt himself, the characters all just move way too slow. It’s a bit of irony how Mega Man X began as the more fast-paced, action-packed iteration of the Blue Bomber, but by X7, he’s reduced to moving at a snail’s pace.

“The Mavericks are the most forgettable yet. But at least they have an anteater, which is one of my favorite animals. So I guess that’s a bonus.”

Even the level design is sloppy, though I suppose in fairness, X7 at least has the excuse of the developers entering new territory and fumbling. I guess that’s more forgivable than X6 being a failure at things the developers had achieved successfully time and time again. But that still doesn’t mean the stages are any good. On the plus side, some of them are at least built around a single motif (the Ride Armor level, the motorcycle level, etc.),which helps them stand out, but once again X7’s good intentions are sullied in the ‘finished’ product. The platforming stages are unmemorable, the motorcycle level is insanely slow (?!), and the Ride Armor Stage just falls flat. There’s also a stage in which players ascend a spiraling tower, which is an interesting change of pace, but of course it has to be ruined by constantly falling buzzsaws that you can seldom avoid, and flying enemies that are just above what’s visible on screen that hit you mid-jump and send you back to a previous point of the stage. It’s a mess.

While most Mega Man games are difficult, the only challenges you’ll find out of Mega Man X7 come from the clunky controls combined with the sloppy level design and horrendous camera. I’d be more in favor of a polished game that’s a cakewalk to a game that’s tough solely out of incompetence.

“Read this dialogue in Cookie Monster’s voice, and you get the idea.”

Even the story aspects fall short of the already diminishing narratives of the series. The story is that X has retired from combat, as he’s “tired of fighting” (which seems contradictory to a character who was determined to protect humans from evil robots. But whatever, I guess the game needed some reason why you need to unlock the main character). With X retired, a new force rises to help the Maverick Hunters defeat evil, Red Alert. But a mysterious evil – who may or may not be Sigma (not-so-spoiler alert: it is) – has slowly corrupted eight members of Red Alert, who have become violent as a consequence. Because of their new behavior, Axl leaves Red Alert and eventually joins Zero, while the “mysterious evil” blackmails Red Alert’s leader – aptly named Red – into doing his bidding or he’ll destroy the eight members who are under his control. It’s…not very good. And it’s made all the worse by some truly awful voice acting (Axl is particularly insufferable).

The fact that Mega Man X7 is a Mega Man title with terrible soundwork might be its biggest crime. The music isn’t exactly horrible, but it’s bland and forgettable in every regard. But the sound effects… The sound effects are either non-existent (such as when collecting items, which are completely silent), or annoying soundbites that are repeated ad nauseam. The aforementioned voice acting is terrible in cinematics, but it reaches new lows during boss fights, in which your foe screams the same one or two sound clips every time they do, well, anything.

“BURN! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN! BURN! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND!”

Anyone who has played Mega Man X7 knows the audial hell that is the boss fight against Flame Hyenard. This Maverick shrieks two lines: “Burn!” and “Burn to the ground!” every time he performs an action. And he makes two copies of himself which do the same. Suffice to say it’s an utter bombardment on the ears, with soundbites frequently overlapping each other. It’s so stressful that it may make Mega Man X7 the worst sounding game I’ve played since Dark Castle on the Sega Genesis.

Visually, the game of course looks dated, but considering X7 was released in the same year as such visually stunning games as The Wind Waker and Viewtiful Joe, it looked outdated even for its time. At the very least, the game boasts enough variety in colors that you can at least tell what everything is. I can’t imagine how the game would be playable if things blurred together on top of all its other issues.

Mega Man X7 is simply an appalling embarrassment on one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. Perhaps in its conception, its heart was in the right place, as it attempted to do something different for the series by doing something different. But it must have quickly fallen apart at the seams for it to end up this bad. Just about anything good you could say about it only applies in concept. Yes, Mega Man X7 tried something new, and that’s admirable. But it’s next to impossible to appreciate when the finished product feels, well, unfinished.

Or to put it another way…

BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN! BURN! BURN! BURN! “BURN TO THE GROUND!

 

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Mega Man X6 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X6’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2*

Is Mega Man allergic to the number 6? As far as the main series goes, Mega Man 6 has to be the weakest entry, as it represents the series’ most creatively lazy moment. The Mega Man X series also reached a low point with its sixth installment, aptly titled Mega Man X6. While Mega Man 6’s biggest crime was complacency, it was at least still competently fun. X6, on the other hand, is a bad game. Bad enough that series’ producer Keiji Inafune – who wasn’t even much involved with the title – felt that fans were owed an apology for it.

Released a year after X5 was intended to wrap-up the series, Mega Man X6 feels rushed in a way that no other entry in the franchise – even other annual installments – ever did. There is such a lack of polish emanating from Mega Man X6, that you may wonder if anyone involved with its production even tested it before release.

“How dare! This games translates Mega Man like this!”

Set a mere three weeks after the events of X5, Mega Man X6 sees the world in disarray. Zero seemingly sacrificed himself saving the Earth from a space colony that was on a collision course with the planet. Though Zero managed to survive the ordeal (much to the dismay of Inafune, who wanted Zero to have a hero’s death), much of Earth’s population – both human and Reploid – have been wiped out (so I guess by Zero “saving the Earth” the game means it in very relative terms). A new ‘Nightmare Virus’ has been created by a maniacal Reploid named Gate, who is using the virus to turn Reploids into Mavericks (so basically it’s identical to the virus from the last game). Zero went into hiding to repair himself, but the Nightmare Virus is said to have been created through Zero…or something. It gets kind of hard to follow, especially with the hilariously bad translation.

Anyway, the structure of the game is the same deal as before: Eight bosses to choose from, beat them to get their powers to use on other bosses, defeat all eight to move onto the final stages in Gate’s secret laboratory. There is at least a little deviation from the formula here in that you don’t actually have to beat all eight main stages to move onto Gate’s laboratory. Once again, optional mid-bosses will find their way into some stages, and if you can defeat two of these mid-bosses – Nightmare Zero and oddly-named High Max – you can go straight to Gate’s lab without finishing the rest of the stages.

Additionally, defeating Nightmare Zero will unlock the ‘real’ Zero as a playable character. Having to unlock a character who was playable from the get-go in the last two games may seem underwhelming, but at least it’s consistent with the story. And on the plus side, Zero actually has some new moves this time around. X, believing Zero to have died, took up his comrade’s old sword (in addition to the X Buster), so Zero has a newer, more versatile sword. Also like X5, the player can select two versions of X from the start (the standard version, and the Falcon Armor from X5), and there are secret armors for X and Zero to be found throughout the stages.

So far, that may not sound too bad, just a bit familiar. But where Mega Man X6 not only becomes a disappointment, but an embarrassment to its series is in its level design. Not all the stages are flat-out terrible, but at their best they’re still forgettable. Those stages that are terrible, however, will leave you scratching your head wondering how Capcom felt such levels were finished.

“Metal. Shark. Player. Did they just pull a bunch of random words out of a hat when making these guys?”

The eight bosses here are Commander Yammark, Blaze Heatnix, Ground Scaravich, Blizzard Wolfgang, Rainy Turtloid, Shield Sheldon, Infinity Mijinion, and Metal Shark Player. The names alone are cringeworthy, but as bad as lame as these characters are (except maybe Turtloid), their stages can be that much worse. Blaze Heatnix’s stage in particular is notorious for a tedious sub-boss which is recycled four additional times in the same stage. Do you think they were out of ideas?

“What’s even happening?”

Since its beginning, the Mega Man series has been known for its difficulty, but X6 seems to be a parody of this aspect of the franchise, with numerous moments that feel outright unfair out of incompetent game design. Some sections feature blind jumps that – should you jump too far – could send you plummeting into the series’ infamous one-hit kill spikes. There are multiple instances of enemies and projectiles bombarding you from all directions, apparently forgetting this is a platformer and not a bullet-hell game. And one particularly arduous moment in Blizzard Wolfgang’s stage sees the player robbed of the series’ wall-jumping ability as you’re trapped in a pit, waiting for ice blocks to fall to create a way out. That may actually be interesting, except that should you get stuck in between two stacks of ice, you have no means of escaping except slowly awaiting death by means of the falling obstacles (on top of the ice blocks, fire balls and robot wolves are also falling on you).

Perhaps none of the stages are as poorly designed as those of Gate’s Laboratory itself. The very first of which features a series of spiked walls that are next to impossible for X to overcome without his secret armor, and should you decide to pick Zero to use his abilities to maneuver through the stage, it ends with a boss who, in turn, is next to impossible to defeat with Zero. There’s a difference between making a game challenging, and simply stacking one insurmountable odd after another on the player and calling it a day. Mega Man X6 apparently didn’t get that memo. I’ve played trolling stages in Super Mario Maker that are less infuriating.

“Bingo! Dino DNA!”

There are, however, two aspects of Mega Man X6 that are enjoyable: The first is that it builds on two aspects of the past two X titles by putting them together. Like X5, you can equip X and zero with different abilities, which are now unlocked by rescuing Reploids scattered throughout the stages. X5 had players simply select abilities after completing a few stages, while X4 and X5 featured savable Reploids who merely granted extra health or lives. By combining the concepts, both features feel more worthwhile, and create a better sense of progression.

There’s even a little twist to the proceedings in that robot ‘Nightmares’ can possess the Reploids before you rescue them. It’s an interesting concept, but one that’s utterly ruined by the fact that once the Reploids are corrupted by Nightmare, you’ve missed out on them for your whole play through. There are no second chances. So if you want every Reploid and item, you’ll often have to reload your previous saves.

The other highlight of Mega Man X6 is its soundtrack. While it may not reach the heights of the scores of X, X2, or even X5 (let alone the main series), the soundtrack of Mega Man X6 still creates a number of catchy tunes that encompass a wide range of styles. Even Metal Shark Player’s stage is livened up with its Terminator 2-esque music.

While the music may be a highlight, the same can’t be said for the visuals. The backgrounds still look as sharp as they did in X5. But many of the character sprites look downright unfinished, with some of the Maverick bosses seemingly lacking animations (I’m looking your way, Infinity Mijinion). Sure, X and Zero look great, but that’s because they’re the same as they were in X5. The Mavericks, on the other hand, often look rushed out the gate.

It’s kind of amazing to think just how far the Mega Man X series fell from grace. The first X breathed new life into Mega Man, the second one matched it in many ways, while the third was a solid follow-up. X4 may have been a bit familiar, but the appeal is still there. Hell, even X5 isn’t a lost cause. But then comes Mega Man X6, the first entry in either of Mega Man’s two primary side-scrolling series that stumbles more than it strides. The character progression and music are still fun, but the level design ranges from mediocre to disastrous, more or less screaming the game’s rushed development through a megaphone. Its lack of polish is embarrassing.

 

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Mega Man X5 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X5’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2*

Capcom certainly knows when they have a good thing on their hands. Unfortunately, they don’t always seem to know when they have too much of a good thing. The original Mega Man X was a brilliant twist on the classic franchise, and X2 was a worthy follow-up. X3 was still a solid successor, but by the time we got to 1997’s X4, things got a little redundant. This was more than a little ironic, considering the first was created to reinvigorate the Mega Man franchise, after the original series had grown a little fatigued in the NES days. After a much-appreciated two-year hiatus, Mega Man X returned in 2000 on the Sony Playstation with Mega Man X5, which was originally intended by producer Keiji Inafune to be the finale of the X sub-series. While the game’s story definitely has a feeling of finality to it, its by-the-books and often questionable execution made sure the X series would continue for three more entries. Though the series may have been best left with its original trilogy, Inafune was probably onto something when he wanted X5 to wrap things up. The series had simply run out of steam.

That’s not to say that Mega Man X5 is innately bad, it’s just very, very uninspired. The formula is the same as ever: choose between the eight different Maverick levels, defeat said Mavericks and gain their powers to use against other Mavericks, defeat all eight bosses to unlock the final set of levels. The big difference here being that you can choose between X and Zero at any time between stages, as well as a suited-up version of X with all the upgrades he got throughout X4! Once again, X is long-ranged, while Zero uses a sword.

A light RPG element is also in place, with the player able to choose different bonuses for the characters after a set number of stages are completed, with those bonuses being equipped on the level select screen. Despite the upgraded X being playable from the start, there are still secret upgrades to find – for the brand new Falcon and Gaia Armors – which are thankfully better hidden than they were in X4. The difference here is that none of the armor pieces take effect until their entire sets are found. A huge downside to these new armors, however, is that Zero can’t equip them. If Zero collects an armor piece, he just gathers it for X to use later.

“The whale Maverick is pretty cool. But I long for the days of Overdrive Ostrich.”

The stages themselves are short and simple, and the eight Maverick bosses are pretty forgettable (only being notable for the references to Guns ‘N’ Roses in their naming upon the game’s western release, though that aspect has been removed in the Legacy Collection in favor of more direct translations of their Japanese names). There is still some fun to be had with the Mega Man formula, to be sure. But Mega Man X5, more so than any of the main series entries, screams ‘been there, done that’ at almost every turn.

As stated, there is a bit of finality to the story here. Sigma has been resurrected for the umpteenth time, and throws a fight against X, allowing his current body to be destroyed and the ‘Sigma Virus’ to scatter across the world to every Reploid, which will slowly turn them Maverick (why the virus spreads after this defeat and none of Sigma’s previous defeats, I’m not sure). At the same time, Sigma’s new right-hand man, Dynamo (a bargain bin version of Bass from the main series), has sent an entire space colony on a collision course with Earth, which will wipe out most of the planet’s life – human and Reploid alike – should the collision take place.

Mega Man X5 at least tries something new with its story, giving the player a set number of ‘hours’ before the space colony hits Earth (each stage or story segment saps away an hour or so in the game’s story). But what’s baffling is that this is a game that features multiple branching stories and endings, yet the player has little control over which way it goes.

The Maverick Hunters have two countermeasures to Sigma’s plan: a shuttle that can be used to crash into the colony, and a giant laser to blow the damn thing to smithereens. Naturally, both the laser and shuttle are split into four pieces each, with each of those pieces being in the hands of the eight Maverick bosses. Though the player can choose the stages at their own leisure and claim the pieces however they like, whether or not either the laser or shuttle destroys the space colony is all up to random chance. So the story has multiple outcomes, but without the player having any say-so which direction it goes. Though the callbacks to both previous Mega Man X titles, as well as the original series, are a nice touch.

If there is one absolutely unforgettable aspect of the series’ newfound emphasis on story and plot, it’s that the dialogue boxes of Mega Man X5 just don’t stop. One character in particular, Alia (your basic source of tutorials and exposition) will call either X or Zero non-stop to tell them the most obvious mechanics or plot threads. She’s basically Skyward Sword’s Fi before Skyward Sword’s Fi existed.

“Why do all the Fs in the text boxes look like lowercase Ts? As it you won’t be back?”

It is sadly not an exaggeration when I say there are instances where a stage will begin with a bombardment of dialogue boxes, at which case the player walks a few steps before they’re assaulted with even more on-screen text. What’s worse is that she’ll even explain – in excruciating detail – the very basics of the series. Remember that this is the fifth entry in the X series, and that they all follow the same basic structure of the original Mega Man series, of which there were eight at this point, and X5 of all entries has more emphasis on tutorials and explanations than any previous entry.

Another downside to X5 is that it’s just too easy… except when it isn’t. For the most part, this is the easiest Mega Man X title up to this point (which may be more forgivable if the level design were more creative, as was the case with the fifth entry of the original Mega Man series). Perhaps the more frequent checkpoints and having your powers refill to maximum after each death aren’t the worst changes, but the level design itself is just too much of a cakewalk to what you would come to expect from Mega Man at this point.

“Well, at least it’s not the damn tunnel from Battletoads.”

Of the eight main stages, only one of them provides a steep challenge. Even then it’s only because its opening segment features a high-speed motorcycle section. The irony here being that this stage features a change in gameplay (which you’re immediately thrown into, no less), and yet it’s just about the only section in which Alia doesn’t feel the need to explain things. Besides this, only the Sigma levels at the end of the game provide any real difficulty, but by that point you’re so accustomed to the easier gameplay that the extreme spike is kind of jarring. But I guess the homages to end-game bosses from the first games in both the original and X series are another nice touch of nostalgia.

Visually, X5 is an improvement over its predecessor. The early 3D backgrounds of X4 are replaced with much more appealing 2D environments, while the character sprites are even more detailed and polished than before. Though on the downside of things, only the intro video retains the anime style of its predecessor, with the rest of the cinematics being static images with, you guessed it, text boxes. Sure, the voice acting of X4 was pretty bad, but resorting to more text boxes seems like a big step backwards in production.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of Mega Man X5, however, is its soundtrack. While one expects Mega Man music to be good, it seemed like each subsequent X title’s score wasn’t quite as good as the last. But with Mega Man X5, the soundtrack seems to be back on track. The tunes may not be as iconic as those of the original series or the first X title, but it’s a big improvement over the past few entries, and even seems to dabble in more styles than its predecessors as well.

Mega Man X5 may not be a bad game in the usual sense of the term, but it does feel like it’s simply going through the motions, with very little heart going into the effort. It’s capable of providing some good fun, it still looks great, and sounds even better. But if you’ve played any Mega Man game before, you know the drill by now. Even when the original series began to phone it in, the level design was still clever, but that sadly can’t be said for Mega Man X5. And even when X5 does start to pick up, you’ll probably be stopped in your tracks by in-game text. Because being forced to stop to read that a rock is immediately in front of us is exactly what we want in an action side-scroller, right?

 

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