Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble Review

*Review based on Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble’s release as part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Nintendo GameCube*

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble was the first Sonic platformer released exclusively on the Sega Game Gear handheld system. Prior handheld Sonic titles were based on the Genesis games, like the Game Gear versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2, or were simultaneously developed for the Sega Master System, like Triple Trouble’s own predecessor, Sonic Chaos. While those games all felt like “Sonic Lite,” Triple Trouble actually made a decently successful attempt at replicating the look and feel of the Genesis titles. While there are moments of fun to be had with Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble, it ultimately suffers the same fate as many early translations of classic franchises onto handheld systems, with the limitations of the hardware holding it back, and ensuring that the experience has aged poorly.

Triple Trouble gets its name from the fact that it boasts three antagonists: the big bad of course being Dr. Ivo Robotnik, who is joined once again by Knuckles the Echidna (who is being mind controlled by the good doctor this time around, as opposed to manipulated by him). The third villain in this triumvirate is Nack the Weasel, a treasure hunter who is after the Chaos Emeralds for his own desires. Admittedly, Nack is one of the better “not Robotnik” villains of the series, so it’s a shame that after his debut outing, he made sporadic appearances for a couple of years before being dropped from the series.

The game is a platformer very much in line with the Genesis Sonic games. Players can play as either Sonic or Tails as they collect rings, zoom through stages, and try to track down the Chaos Emeralds in the game’s bonus areas. Though Sonic is the star of the show, Tails is the more ideal character, as his ability to fly for a brief time makes it much easier for him to scour the stages for all their hidden goodies. Especially since the hardware limitations rob Sonic (and Tails) of some momentum when on foot, making the series’ trademark sense of speed feeling clunky. Going through loops becomes a pain pretty quickly because of it.

The level design is nothing special, but isn’t necessarily bad, either. Again, Triple Trouble did a pretty decent job at translating the Sonic gameplay to a handheld for the time. But this was the time in which the convenience of handheld gaming came with the price of sacrificing some quality, and the limitations do begin to show up pretty quickly through the repetitious stages and the lack of new elements for the series.

Their are five worlds total (strangely, only one of which boasts the series usual moniker of “zone”), with each consisting of two stages and a boss level. The stages themselves are pretty straightforward, though gaining all of the Chaos Emeralds (of which there are only five this time) is a bit more difficult, perhaps more so than it needs to be.

As usual, you have to hold onto fifty rings before you can enter a bonus area. While the Genesis titles had Sonic enter the bonus areas through the convenience of checkpoints or giant rings, here the bonus areas are found by breaking hidden monitors with a picture of an emerald on them (much like the monitors that hold the series’ power-ups). Not only are these small monitors easy to miss, but if you accidentally break one while holding less than fifty rings, it won’t do anything, thus wasting an opportunity to get an emerald.

If you do have fifty or more rings and break the monitor, however, you can enter one of two different bonus zones: the odd-numbered emeralds take Sonic and Tails to labyrinths they have to navigate to find the emerald, and sometimes end with a fight against Nack. The even-numbered emeralds see our heroes pilot a plane in a 3D environment where, similar to the bonus stages of Sonic 2, they must collect a set number of rings that fly from the background to the foreground while avoiding bombs.

The former category just end up being too confusing, which may not be a problem if you had more chances to claim the emeralds. Meanwhile, the latter category feel like sloppy versions of Sonic 2’s bonus games, with the rings and bombs not being visible until you’re pretty much right on top of them.

Graphically, the game actually looks pretty impressive. Triple Trouble doesn’t quite capture the timeless look of the Genesis Sonic games, but it comes closer than it has any right to. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the music, which comes nowhere near the memorable tunes of the Genesis titles.

Released in 1994, Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble was decent for what it was at the time. If you were on the go, but still wanted to play a Sonic the Hedgehog title, Triple Trouble came as close to possible to providing the classic Sonic experience on the go. But like Super Mario Land, Triple Trouble just hasn’t aged well. The awkward momentum of the characters, combined with the tedious nature of finding the Chaos Emeralds, and the general lack of newness or challenge for the series makes the already short adventure that much less noteworthy.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble wasn’t bad per se. It’s just very much a product of its time, and not a particularly memorable one at that.

 

4

Advertisements

Sonic the Fighters Review

*Review based on Sonic the Fighters’ release as part of Sonic Gems Collection for the Nintendo GameCube*

Because of the wild popularity of the series in its early years, Sonic the Hedgehog still gets frequent comparisons to Super Mario. But it’s an unfair comparison, really. While Mario has had an unrivaled longevity, still releasing “best games ever” thirty years on, Sonic went the path of The Simpsons. That is to say, it sticks around because of its early quality and appeal, but it’s overstayed its welcome, and has been bad far longer than it was ever good.

But Sonic’s issues didn’t happen all at once, and even in the franchise’s heyday in the 90s, the series made some notable missteps. Among the biggest of these missteps was Sonic the Fighters, which was not only the first Sonic fighting game, but also the first 3D title starring the blue hedgehog.

Released in arcades in 1996, the concept of Sonic the Fighters wasn’t doomed from the start. The series has plenty of colorful, distinct characters that could be translated into the fighter genre. But Sonic the Fighters fails the concept at every turn. Elsewhere, Mario spent his ’96 revolutionizing 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 and starring in one of the best Role-Playing games of all time in Super Mario RPG. Suffice to say, even back then, it was easy to see where the war between Mario and Sonic was going.

The biggest issue with Sonic the Fighters is how insanely rudimentary it is. This is as bare bones as a 3D fighting game gets. Moves consist of basic punches and kicks, which can be combined with directional inputs and pressed repeatedly for simplistic combos. But these aren’t the refined combos of Street Fighter, not even close. There is no depth to the combat of Sonic the Fighters, and the game ends up feeling like little more than chaotic button-mashing. There is no thinking to the gameplay whatsoever.

The one novelty the game tries to bring to the genre is that, in place of standard blocking, characters have barriers. Barriers can’t withstand too many hits, and if all of your barriers break, you are defenseless, and need to get a few hits on your opponent in order to build your barriers back up. It’s a decent idea in theory, but because the execution of the game is so utterly mindless, you can basically just mash the punching button ad nauseam to wear out your opponent’s barriers and continue doing the same until you get a knockout. This is a fighter as thoughtless as it is basic.

“You might know everything I’m going to do, but that’s not going to help you, since I know everything you’re going to do! Strange, isn’t it?!”

Sonic the Fighters even lacks depth in its gameplay modes, with only the standard single player arcade mode and two-player versus being available. The arcade mode sees players go through the eight characters on the playable roster, before facing off against Metal Sonic and Dr. Eggman (the former being ridiculously cheap and can take you out in three hits, while the latter is hilariously easy). Aside from the unfair Metal Sonic, the enemy AI is as mindless as the game itself. And you should really only subject a friend to the two-player versus mode if you both have a great sense of humor about these things.

The character selection includes the obvious choices of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy, but also throws in more obscure Sonic characters in Espio the Chameleon from Knuckles Chaotix, and Knack the Weasel (here called ‘Fang the Sniper’) from Sonic Triple Trouble. Meanwhile, two new characters were introduced in Bark the Polar Bear and Bean the Dynamite (who is in fact a bird. No, I don’t understand the name, either). Humorously, the two characters introduced here who were never seen again feel more in line with the look and feel of the Sonic franchise than the countless goofy animals who were introduced to the series later on and stuck around to this day.

“I have to applaud the fun animations. But not much else.”

If there’s any plus side to Sonic the Fighters, it’s in the visuals. Obviously, the game isn’t pretty by today’s standards, but the ‘early 3D fighter’ look here is complimented by the cartoony characters of the Sonic universe, giving Sonic the Fighters a visual charm that similar 3D fighters of the time like Virtual Fighter simply don’t have. This is hit home by the fun visual gags of characters getting squished and stretched like Looney Tunes characters when struck.

That’s about all the positives I can give Sonic the Fighters though. The game itself is just too thoughtless in both the bare minimum nature of its ideas, and their sloppy and chaotic execution. I wish I were exaggerating when I say Sonic the Fighters is so bad, it makes Street Fighter the Movie (the Game) look like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate by comparison.

Sonic the Fighters was an early example of Sonic lacking in the adaptability and timeless appeal of Mario. But there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. Sonic would eventually find himself in a stellar fighting game… once he joined Mario and company in the Super Smash Bros. series.

 

2

Tetris Effect Review

*Review based on Tetris Effect as played on Playstation 4. Maybe one day I will experience it on PSVR*

There is a common misconception that video games are an “in the moment” medium, and that whatever the current landscape of gaming is is guaranteed to be its apex, knocking yesteryear’s games to irrelevancy. While it’s true that video games are a bit more susceptible to age than other mediums given both their interactive mechanics and that technology advances so quickly these days, plenty of titles from gaming history stand the test of time, proving that fun and creativity aren’t bound to the technology that presents them. And perhaps no game has better stood the test of time than Tetris. The brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov has remained a touchstone in gaming for over three decades, shaping the puzzle genre and seeing a re-release on any and every platform that’s capable of playing video games to this day.

Tetris Effect – the PS4 exclusive named after the real world psychological effect Tetris can have on the mind – is but the latest iteration of the timeless puzzler. While the ageless masterpiece remains intact, a few additional modes, along with some spectacular visual effects and music, make Tetris Effect feel like the go-to version of Tetris on contemporary hardware.

The core gameplay is, of course, as it’s always been: block pieces fall from the top of the screen, and players have to fit them together into full rows, thus eliminating them and racking up points. The blocks (called “Tetrominos”) come in seven different shapes, and as the game goes on and the blocks drop faster, the player has to think fast in order to continuously complete rows to keep the game going.

There is a new addition to the classic gameplay, however, with the ability to enter “the Zone.” By eliminating rows, you gain energy, and once enough energy is stored, you can enter the Zone at the press of a button. While in the Zone, time freezes, and the blocks no longer fall on their own. This gives the player some time (until the energy runs out) to complete extra rows and earn additional points, and can be a real godsend when the speed really picks up in the late game.

Tetris Effect features a kind of campaign mode, in which the player has to complete twenty-seven different stages in order to complete the game. While all these stages can be replayed once completed, in order to progress in the ‘story’ players have to complete 36 rows on each stage (save for the last, which requires 90). The stages are separated into different ‘worlds,’ and if you perform well enough on each stage, you can complete a whole world without continuing for an even greater score.

“Can I, like, drown in this game?”

While the only gameplay difference between stages is the difficulty, every last stage boasts its own visuals and musical score. And, my word, what fantastic visuals and music they are! Each level is an audial and visual wonder, with brilliant little touches added to the experience, such as each fallen block adding a beat to the music, and a surprise visual effect accompanying the completion of a Tetris (four rows at once). Tetris Effect is a stunningly beautiful game, but its aesthetic wonders aren’t so much a display of PS4’s hardware capabilities (though they are that too) so much as they are used to showcase an almost spiritual reverence for the Tetris experience. This isn’t merely another port of Tetris, but a gushing love letter to the iconic puzzler. Every audio and visual pleasures serves as its most blatant means of worship towards the grand daddy of falling block games, and to give the player that same level of reverence for Tetris.

“Seriously, I want to eat, sleep and breath this game.”

There are a number of additional modes added to the mix to keep things fresh. One sees players trying to eliminate ‘cursed’ blocks by completing the rows they’re found on, with more cursed blocks spawning after an allotted time. One of my favorite new modes will count down a set number of blocks, and after said blocks are placed, a line block will automatically fall into a designated spot, leaving the player to strategize around the inevitable line blocks. The new modes are fun and plentiful, and give a variety of alternatives for when you want a change of pace.

Sadly, there is one glaring omission with Tetris Effect: it lacks multiplayer. Though players can check out other player profiles around the world and see what modes they’re currently playing or prefer to play, you can never actually play a round of Tetris with another player, whether locally or online. This is more than a little disappointing, given that puzzle games are often at their best when they bring out the competitive nature in multiple players (see Tetris Battle Gaiden). And with the fun new modes Tetris Effect brings to the table, it makes you wish the game would have put that same inventiveness to the test for a multiplayer mode (even something as simple as two or more players taking turns in placing Tetrominos on the same board would bring a fun new twist to the formula). For all the many things Tetris Effect gets right, the absence of any kind of multiplayer mode feels like a missed opportunity.

Tetris Effect may not reinvent the timeless formula Alexey Pajitnov created over three decades ago, but it does deliver an undeniably beautiful experience that may just deepen your appreciation for what is the most accomplished of video games. Tetris Effect expresses such a devout admiration for its source material that it’s impossible not to be taken aback by it.

 

8

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 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.

 

3

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?

 

5

Mega Man X4 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X4’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection*

1997 was a big year for Mega Man. Not only was the Blue Bomber turning ten-years old, but he celebrated a decade of gaming by properly transitioning into the 32-bit generation (after ports of X3 dipped its toes in the waters) and did so with a multitude of titles. The original series received the underappreciated semi-classic Mega Man 8, and the year also saw the Japanese release of Mega Man Legends, the series’ jump to 3D. Of course, the Mega Man X series was also quick to jump in on the action, delivering its fourth installment in as many years. While Mega Man 8 tried to change up its series’ level structure, and Legends began a whole new side to Mega Man, X4 simply felt like more of the same. It may not be a bad game per se, but if Mega Man X3 raised concerns that the X sub-series – which was originally created to revitalize the franchise – was quickly running out of steam, then X4 confirmed those very concerns.

“You can finally play as Zero! And it only took four entries!”

If there’s a notable change made to the Mega Man X gameplay with X4, it’s that Zero is finally a playable character! Sure, you could play as him in small doses in X3, but here, you can play through the entire game as Zero. In fact, if you want to see the whole story, you have to play through the game twice, once as Mega Man X (or simply ‘X’), and once as Zero.

The key difference between the two characters is that X retains the classic mega buster, making him long-range and easier to play as, while Zero uses a close-ranged laser sword, and is a little trickier to get used to. Additionally, while X once again gains a new power after defeating a boss, Zero instead gains a new move, meaning that he executes them with different button combinations, as opposed to switching into different modes like X.

On paper, that may sound like a pretty big deviation for the series, unfortunately, the level design is more basic and straightforward than the past three X titles, making the change not mean a whole lot. The hidden collectibles are fewer and, quite frankly, not nearly as well hidden (the past three games often required X to revisit completed stages with new powers to find one of his upgrades. X4 features one upgrade where you literally just have to walk to the right before you continue down a vertical path. It’s a telling example). There’s just so little newness to the stage concepts that they end up feeling really forgettable. This is a pitfall that may have been avoided if they at least retained the depth of their predecessors.

“My heart still belongs to Overdrive Ostrich.”

That’s not to say that there isn’t any fun to be had. The core gameplay is still solid, and a couple of stages have their moments (particularly those of Cyber Peacock and Jet Stingray). And again, the ability to play through the game as Zero is a nice bonus. The problem is just how safe the game is. X4 retains enough of the polish in Mega Man’s gameplay to keep things fun, but as a whole the game feels incredibly phoned-in.

On the bright side of things, the visuals have held up decently well. Though the game was derided on its 1997 launch for being a side-scroller on the Playstation (90s video game criticism, ladies and gentlemen!), that simple factoid has made it more visually appealing in the long run than the more ‘ambitious’ 3D games of the time. Sure, the backgrounds lack the timeless charm of the SNES Mega Man X titles, but the character sprites are still detailed and fluid. And being Mega Man, the music can get pretty catchy (even if it’s far from being among the better soundtracks of the franchise).

Mega Man X4 was also notable for including some fully animated, anime-style cutscenes. This technique was also used in Mega Man 8, and just like that game, X4 is notorious for the quality (or lack thereof) of its voice acting. But whereas Mega Man 8’s voice acting is on the ‘so bad it’s good’ side of things, the voice acting here in X4 might simply constitute ‘bad.’ Still, the animation has that nice, rougher 90s anime look to it, so the cinematics have their appeal.

Of course, there wouldn’t be cinematics without much story, and unfortunately, this is another area where X4 displays early signs of the series’ fall from grace. This marked the beginning of the Mega Man X series’ heavier emphasis on plot. While the 32-bit era was when video games became more story-oriented, and perhaps that is to be expected here as well, the fact that Mega Man X4 features so little new ideas in its gameplay does make you wish Capcom had focused less energy on the story and prioritized making a more original game.

The story here takes place sometime after the events of X3. The Reploids (sentient robots) now live in harmony with humans, after the Mavericks (evil Reploids) had been defeated not only by Maverick Hunters like X and Zero, but by a new army called the ‘Repliforce’ as well. After a flying fortress crashes down on a city and kills many humans and Reploids alike, Repliforce ends up being a prime suspect in the attack, and they themselves become dubbed Mavericks, and rebel against humans for the sake of their own freedom. X and Zero get caught up in it all, of course, and soon the threads of the plot begin to untangle, and it really shouldn’t be any surprise who’s behind it all.

“What am I fighting fooooorrrrr?!”

The plot just kind of drags things down, though there is a nice little touch with the eight Maverick bosses getting little descriptions when their stage is selected and introductions when you reach their boss room. Perhaps the worst aspect of the story, however, is how Zero’s mystique is completely stripped away. No longer the mysterious leader of the Maverick Hunters whose motivation is ensuring peace between humans and robots, Zero now comes across as a generic, love-struck anime pretty boy, with love taking over as his motivation. The object of this love is a female Reploid named Iris who, quite frankly, is a rather uninteresting character. She more or less fills the quiet, dough-eyed, “cheering from the sidelines with hands clenched together” anime archetype. How cliched can this all get?

Still, ignoring the overly familiar elements and over-emphasis on a bland storyline, Mega Man X4 isn’t dead on arrival. It may, however, be the X series’ last breath. There’s still enough left in the tank for Mega Man X4 to provide some solid fun for fans of the series – even if it isn’t half the game X3 was, let alone X and X2 – but it’s those same fans who will probably be able to pinpoint all the things X4’s predecessors did better. If you’ve played any of the previous Mega Man X games, you know exactly what to expect out of Mega Man X4. Actually, you might need to expect a little bit less.

 

6