Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Impressions

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and it’s yet another jewel in the crown that is the Nintendo Switch. Although it may be premature of me to say this, given I haven’t tried out all of its modes yet, but Ultimate may very well be the best Super Smash Bros. title yet.

Like any sequel to a multiplayer title, the gameplay hasn’t exactly changed much, but something about it definitely feels smoother. It just feels right to control. It’s hard to explain, but it seems like every returning character I’ve tried feels more fluid to control than they did in past games, and the newcomers are just as smooth. The gameplay may be the series’ trademark “sumo rules” take on the fighting genre, but it just feels so polished.

Another big improvement over past games is the Classic Mode. As much as I appreciate Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U trying to make Classic Mode into something bigger, it never really enticed me to try it out with every character. But here in Ultimate, I find myself wanting to complete Classic Mode with every new character I unlock. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as Classic Mode sees each character go through six fights, a bonus stage and a boss enemy, with each character’s opponents being vague (or literal) little callbacks to their own games.

For example, Ryu’s version utilizes stamina rules to reflecting the traditional fighter nature of Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Mega Man’s journey ends with a battle against Dr. Mario who, once defeated, becomes Mewtwo, subtly referencing the final fight against Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2). And in perhaps my favorite example, Dr. Mario’s fights are against triple opponents, with each bearing a red, blue and yellow color scheme in reference to the viruses from the classic puzzler. It’s just simple, fun and addictive.

Admittedly, the Adventure Mode, dubbed ‘World of Light’ is one I have yet to play. I’ll get around to it, but honestly, Brawl’s Supspace Emisary story mode was kind of a glorified means of unlocking every character. So I’m not exactly rushing into the story mode when everything else is already so much fun. So no opinions on World of Light for now.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it was actually really easy to play against my friends online! I know, that seems shocking considering this is a Nintendo game that isn’t Mario Kart, but playing against friends is actually accessible. That alone gets huge brownie points from me. I also haven’t experienced any lag issues when playing against opponents on a broader online scale, so that’s also an improvement from its predecessors. I have heard some people say the specific searches for quick online matches aren’t very accurate (one-on-one proponents experiencing repeated multi-man matches and such), but I haven’t tried that myself yet so I can’t comment. But the sheer easiness of playing against friends alone feels like a godsend, given all the hoops you usually have to jump through for such features in Nintendo games (I’m looking your way, Splatoon 2).

Then, of course, we have the characters. The title’s main selling point is that every past fighter from Super Smash Bros’ history is present. And with a small batch of newcomers, as well as ‘echo fighters’ we have about 70 characters (depending on how you count Pokemon Trainer). That’s a pretty hefty lineup of characters. And while the roster isn’t perfect (Geno isn’t in it), there really is such a wide variety of characters that, no matter what your play style is, you’re bound to find multiple characters you like. I personally have quickly become a King K. Rool man (hey, if Super Mario RPG isn’t represented, I’m going with my other favorite SNES title, DKC2).

All in all, I find myself having trouble putting Super Smash Bros. Ultimate down. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel quite as “massive” as the past few entries in terms of what it adds compared to what came before, but it does feel better. It takes the best bits and pieces of past Super Smash Bros. games and makes something that feels like one of those ‘special’ Nintendo releases on par with Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.

But seriously, can we please get Geno?

Advertisements

Super Smash Bros. Disappointment…

Well, the final Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-focused Nintendo Direct before the game’s launch has come and gone. And, well…that was it? I mean, really? That’s it? To use an old (and pretty disgusting) phrase, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was about to win the race, and then crapped its pants right at the finish line.

Look, I have no doubts that – mechanically speaking – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will still be a very fun game. It has a solid foundation to work from, and it really can’t be too bad in terms of gameplay if it sticks to what the series does best (Brawl was also a very fun game, even with the tripping). But the forty or so minutes it took for the Direct to begin and end made Ultimate go from my most anticipated game of the year, to one I’m simply going to play and review. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it.

Let’s get the big bad out of the way first: Geno is not in the game. Despite being arguably the single most requested character to join the series for well over a decade, he’s still MIA. And I know people will say I’m just being sour over the character I wanted not making it, but here’s two things: 1) This is a series built on fan-service, so being bummed out about your favorite character not making it is actually a reasonable disappointment (provided that the character in question was a likely possibility, which Geno very much was at this point). And more importantly 2) It’s not like I’m the only one who wanted Geno. Like I said, he’s been possibly the most requested character for years, rivaled only by Ridley and King K. Rool, who collectively became known as the “Big Three.”

Look, I think it would be awesome if Muddy Mole were added to Super Smash Bros., but I also know I’m just about the only person who thinks that. So no harm no foul with that omission. But Geno? Pretty much everyone and their grandmother wanted him at this point, and after giving fans what they wanted with Ridley and King K. Rool, people actually expected Geno to make it in. So now it all feels like a cruel tease, especially after that Mii Fighter costume debacle last time around…

“But Geno’s too obscure! He was in one game! He hasn’t been seen in years!” is what the detractors (AKA people who apologize for everything Sakurai does) would say. But none of those arguments hold a bit of weight by this point, considering K. Rool and several other characters hadn’t been seen in years, obscure characters have been part of the series since day one (EarthBound, Ice Climbers), and the fact that a character like Dark Pit is in the game at all means relevance clearly isn’t an issue. Hell, if anything, the demand for Geno over the years has actually made him more relevant than ever. Besides, Ultimate is the fifth (technically sixth) installment in the Super Smash Bros. series. We got all the most recognizable characters out of the way long ago, now was the time to get crazy with the fan-service. Instead Ultimate only went halfway.

Again, if we were talking about a character I wanted, but I know I was alone in wanting, I would give it a pass. But when a character has actually grown more iconic because people want him in Smash Bros., wouldn’t you think they’d prioritize such a character? As stated, if we weren’t teased with a Mii Fighter costume in the last game in might not sting as much, but after that mess, it feels like the fans were practically owed the character.

It’s not just Geno’s exclusion, but other characters that people have wanted for years also got left in the cold. Isaac from Golden Sun is still an Assist Trophy. Again, people would say I just regret the omissions of my favorite characters, but I’ve never actually played Golden Sun (it’s on my to do list), so I’m not talking about personal history or want here. But I sure as hell know he’s been one of the more requested characters over the years, certainly more so than many characters who are already there (did anyone really want three different Marth clones?), so the fact that the Direct just casually showed Isaac still stuck in his Assist Trophy position and just expected people to be cool with it is kind of insulting. I mean, could they have at least made a bigger deal about him somehow? It basically just screamed “you want this character? Yeah, we don’t care.”

Yet even more notable omissions include Skull Kid and Dixie Kong (the latter of which having no excuse for not having been in the series for some time already). Two prominent, highly requested characters from two of Nintendo’s biggest series. But, y’know, screw them. And yes, I know, from the beginning, Sakurai said there wouldn’t be too many newcomers this time around. But you would think, with fewer newcomers, they’d actually put the most requested characters front and center. At the very least, had Geno made it, I’m guessing the other exclusions would have been a little easier to swallow, considering it would mean we’d finally be getting the “Big Three.”

“Incineroar reaction.”

What makes the omissions sting all the more is the final lineup of newcomers in the Direct. Ken from Street Fighter makes sense, but it’s kind of hard to get too excited over a clone of an existing character. What makes less sense, however, is that the final ‘new’ character was revealed as Incineroar from Pokemon Sun/Moon.

Look, I get that Pokemon is Nintendo’s big money maker, and I’ve said in the past that Pokemon (along with Mario and Zelda) is one of the few series that could have as many characters as it wants and it would be hard to argue against it. But THAT’S the final character you decide to reveal? Incineroar isn’t even as popular as fellow Sun/Moon starter Dicidueye, who would have been a more unique character anyway. I mean, I’m not totally opposed to Incineroar, but to be the final character in the starting roster? Talk about a popcorn fart of a reveal… Would have been better off revealing Incineroar months ago and ending with the Belmonts and K. Rool.

Since I mentioned the starting roster, it is important to note that Sakurai has promised that, through the first year or so after Ultimate’s release, a quintet of DLC characters will be released, each coming with their own stage and selections of music. So there is hope yet for Geno, Skull Kid, and Dixie (not sure on Isaac though, given that they kept him as an Assist Trophy). But still, wouldn’t revealing someone like Geno (after already having Ridley and K. Rool) been the perfect final character? Incineroar just seems so…unceremonious.

There is a downside to the DLC, however, in that the five characters are still a mystery. So while we can all be hopeful that those aforementioned fan favorites will make the cut, after having the rug pulled from under us time and again from the Smash Bros. series’ character choices, it’s kind of hard to get too excited. I mean, if Geno couldn’t make it even after teasing everyone with the Mii costume, it’s more than a little bit of a kick to the crotch of the fans.

“Wow, a generic Piranha Plant can make the roster. Suddenly I really feel for the Waluigi people.”

Speaking of the DLC, however, there is one inclusion that might be even more questionable than Incineroar’s baffling presence as the final reveal… Piranha Plant is going to be a DLC fighter shortly after the game’s launch. Thankfully, it’s separate from the other five mentioned mystery DLC characters, but yes, a standard enemy from the Mario series gets in before the handfuls of characters fans have been requesting for years. That’s… that’s just insulting. I mean, I think Waluigi is a pretty lame character, and I think his requests for inclusion is little more than a joke taken too far. But at least Waluigi is a character! I think he’s earned a spot before a basic enemy like a Piranha Plant, no matter how much of a staple they are to their series. And if we’re throwing in standard enemies now, why not add the Waddle Dee with the bandana, since people at least wanted him? It is the most baffling inclusion, and not in a good “I wasn’t expecting that!” kind of way, but in a “wow, no one asked for that…” kind of way.

Sure, the Direct also revealed things like the new Story Mode, titled ‘Spirits.’ And I know some people are excited for a story mode. But in a game like Super Smash Bros., a story mode isn’t exactly the selling point. I’m sure more people would have preferred to see more of their requested characters make it into a series all about providing fan-service than they would like a story mode out of a fighting game. I mean, Brawl’s story mode – Subspace Emmisary – became pretty infamous for being a means to unlock the characters, and then completely forgotten about afterwards. And while the Spirits mechanic has some appeal, I again state that people would have probably preferred more newcomers over it.

Yeah yeah, Sakurai apologists would just write me off as being salty about the exclusions, but again, I’m talking about characters fans have wanted for years (some for over a decade). And they get bumped (yet again) for uneventful inclusions like Ken and Incineroar, and a Piranha Plant, something no one wanted. How exactly were they expecting people to react to these final announcements?

Sure, I’ll repeat myself and say I’m sure the game will be good fun in terms of gameplay and mechanics. But whatever steam Super Smash Bros. Ultimate picked up in the past few months through the likes of the Inklings, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool came to a screeching halt in the span of forty minutes. Sure, Ultimate has already added some good new characters, but if you’re playing the lottery it doesn’t matter how many numbers you have, if you’re missing out on the last number, you still lose the jackpot.

Well, here’s hoping those five mystery DLC characters end up being worth the hype. In the meantime… Meh.

Super Mario Odyssey’s First Anniversary!

Wow, can you believe it’s already been a year since Super Mario Odyssey brought perfection into our gaming lives?

Yes indeed, Super Mario Odyssey celebrates its first anniversary today.

“Image originally from Super Mario Odyssey’s Japanese Twitter, to celebrate the occasion.”

Of the hundreds and hundreds of video games I’ve played over the course of my life, Super Mario Odyssey is easily among the very best. It stands as one of (currently) only nine games I’ve awarded a perfect 10/10, and probably its biggest competition for the title of best game of this decade is its own predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (another of my 10/10s).

How good is Super Mario Odyssey? So good that, when I beat its story and the credits started rolling, I actually stood up and gave the game a standing ovation. You might say that doesn’t make any sense, since I just completed a video game by my lonesome and it’s not the same as a theater environment where other moviegoers could join in. But that’s just how good Odyssey is. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I didn’t mention my standing ovation in my review of the game somewhere. I don’t believe I’ve done that before with a video game, so it’s worth mentioning in regards to how much I enjoyed it.

Why is Super Mario Odyssey so good? Like all the best games that don the Super Mario name, its a non-stop barrage of creative ideas. And Odyssey might just showcase this better than any other entry in the series. From the second the game begins to well after the credits roll, Odyssey presents players with insurmountable imagination. There’s not a moment in Odyssey that isn’t utterly delightful and inventive.

Super Mario Odyssey is a game that takes elements from just about all of its predecessors, and rearranges them in such ways that it constantly feels fresh and new. Whereas most games – even exceptional ones – often present you with the long and the short of their vision within the first couple of hours and then repeat those elements for longevity, Odyssey never lets up with its restless imagination. It looks back on its peerless catalogue of predecessors not just to simply rekindle fond memories of gaming’s past, but more importantly, to reinvent the very things we love about the series.

Happy one year anniversary, Super Mario Odyssey! One of the very best experiences gaming has to offer. Keep putting smiles on faces.

Full Super Mario Odyssey review can be found here.

Super Mario Party Review

Super Mario Party is something of a bittersweet occasion. It’s mostly sweet, mind you, as this eleventh installment in the long-running series feels refreshingly like a return to form, after the past few sequels seemed to go off the rails. Super Mario Party is, in essence, what Mario Party should be: four-player multiplayer fun. The bitterness is felt in Super Mario Party’s technical restrictions, a few unfortunate gameplay limitations, and at least one element in the main mode which feels outright unfair… even by Mario Party standards. So while Super Mario Party may be a return to form for the beloved series, its shortcomings prevent it from reaching the staggering heights it otherwise may have.

“Star get!”

First and foremost, Super Mario Party resurrects the series’ classic gameplay (No more ‘party car’ nonsense). Four players face-off in a giant board game, where they compete to gain the most stars. In between turns a mini-game is played, with the winner of each mini-game claiming coins. Players primarily gain stars by purchasing them from Toadette on the game board, though there are a few other means of obtaining them.

Although the classic gameplay has returned, a few new twists have been made to the formula. Super Mario Party includes twenty playable characters (four of which need to be unlocked). While they may all play the same within the mini-games to keep things fair, each character now possesses their own special dice, in addition to the standard six-sided die that anyone can use.

“I kind of love how you can play as iconic enemies like Shy Guy, Boo, Monty Mole and a Hammer Brother.”

The character specific dice are a case of risk and reward. Shy Guy’s dice, for example, is comprised of five sides of 4 and one 0, giving him a safe chance of moving a decent number of spaces, but risking not moving at all. Meanwhile, Bowser’s dice allows him to trample all over the place with high rolls of 8, 9 and 10 spaces, but also risks landing on a 1 or losing three coins (in addition to not moving). It’s an interesting twist on the Mario Party formula, with the characters who boast the biggest advantages also having the biggest shortcomings, which not only balances things a bit, but prevents the standard dice from losing its relevance.

“Oh lord, it’s Double Dash all over again!”

There’s another interesting new element to the proceedings, as players can now gain allies by means of landing on a special space or using an item to summon them. These allies are comprised of any of the playable characters not currently in the session. Whoever you claim will not only add to your roll (allies can only roll a 1 or 2), but also give you access to that character’s dice. You can also gain multiple allies, which means that much more can be added to your rolls, and you can use that many more dice. There are even a few mini-games in which your allies can help out, which may seem unfair, but it’s the kind of “hate your friends” unfair that has always been associated with the series.

“Waluigi wins? Is it possible to use those words together in a sentence like that?”

As for the mini-games, Super Mario Party boasts no less than 80 of them. And for the most part, it’s a pretty stellar lineup. The usual four player, two-vs-two and three-vs-one mini-games return, though the battle and dueling mini-games from the series’ oldest entries are sadly still absent. The mini-games use a variety of different play methods, whether traditional button presses, motion controls, and even games with minimal interaction (like selecting objects in one of the game’s surprisingly fun memorization games). Thankfully, very few of the mini-games feel based around luck this time around, and the motion-control implementation is top-notch (one game which sees players try to jiggle candy out of a jar is the best use of physics in a video game this year).

On the downside of the game, there is one aspect that is completely luck-based: the end-game bonuses.

Yes, the old Mario Party titles also included end-game bonuses, which could turn the tide completely at the last minute, but they were consistent with what their bonuses were. Those entries rewarded the player who won the most mini-games, landed on the most green spaces, and claimed the most coins (an odd choice, considering it usually coincided with the mini-game bonus). But in Super Mario Party, the bonuses are randomly selected, as are the number of bonuses it decides to dish out at the end of a match (usually it’s two, but every so often there will be three).

In the first game I played, I managed to snag a bonus star for winning the most mini-games, but I ended up in a close second in my second game because one of my opponents got bonuses for having an ally and for moving the least spaces (why should that even warrant an award?). It was frustrating in the old Mario Parties when your friends would steal first place in the last minute thanks to the bonuses, but at least you could somewhat strategize with the knowledge of what the bonuses would be. You could try to win the most mini-games, or aim for the most coins. But here, you have no idea what the bonuses will be until they’re dished out. If the game had to have random end-game rewards, it should at least inform players what they’ll be at the start of the game, so that they can actually try working towards earning them, instead of keeping their fingers crossed.

“Hey! The Bob-omb King! Remember that guy? One of the boards revolves around him.”

Aside from that (admittedly infuriating) aspect, the classic board game play style of Mario Party is at the best it’s been since the early GameCube titles. And the excellent mini-games are the most memorable since the beloved N64 trilogy. Unfortunately, there is a strange shortage of game boards to choose from at only four. Each board is fun and finds ways to stand out, but you can’t help but wish there were more.

On the bright of things, Super Mario Party makes up for the lack of boards by providing some interesting new modes, one of which – River Survival – is actually a great alternative to the classic board game setup. If classic Mario Party is all about competition, River Survival changes things up in the name of cooperation.

“Race for your life, Shy Guy!”

In River Survival, four players work together to – as the name suggests – survive river rafting by working together. All four players paddle their oars using motion controls, with the players on the left swerving the raft right, and the players on the right swerving the raft left. Players will have to pop balloons spread throughout the river to play cooperative mini-games, which will add more time to the clock upon completion. While the number of mini-games in River Survival are limited, the river itself contains branching paths, with each path providing their own challenges. So there’s still a decent sense of variety.

The other new mode is Sound Stage, which pits players in a series of motion controlled, rhythm-based mini-games as they compete for the highest score. It’s a fun and welcome diversion, but Sound Stage lacks the heft of the classic mode and River Survival. In addition to these modes, you can always choose to play a selection of unlocked mini-games.

“Alex, I’ll take “Things Sakurai Would Never Say” for 500.”

One unavoidable aspect of Super Mario Party that might not sit well with all players is that it’s a Switch title that cannot be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. There are a few mini-games that can be played with multiple undocked Switches – which serve as cool tech demos but won’t last long – but you can’t play any of the game’s main modes in handheld form. At the very least, this is an understandable technical limitation, as the game requires players to only use a single Joycon so that it’s easier for multiple players to join in (not to mention the game brings out some creative uses in the Joycons’ motion and rumble features). But it’s obviously a limitation that won’t sit well for those who enjoy the on-the-go nature of the Switch.

A far, far less understandable restriction comes in the form of Super Mario Party’s online mode. Continuing Nintendo’s infamous trend of bizarre online decisions, Super Mario Party’s online is limited to a single mode which sees players sprint through five mini-games. Five mini-games that are on rotation from a grand total of ten.

That’s right, Mario Party finally has an online mode, but you can’t get the whole Mario Party experience with friends across the world. You’re limited to a measly ten mini-games, with only five of which being playable at a time. No board game, no River Survival, no access to the majority of mini-games.

This not only comes off as a huge downer, but also an embarrassing missed opportunity, considering Super Mario Party’s release practically coincided with the launch of Switch’s online service. Some might say that the board game matches are too lengthy, and have a higher risk of players dropping out, but I can’t see why they couldn’t limit the board games to be played with people on your friends list, and giving access to every mini-game to the broader online crowd.

“My favorite characters (minus Geno) teaming up? Yes please!”

For those who long for the glory days of Mario Party, Super Mario Party serves up a fitting return to form for the series. The classic board game style is resurrected and at full force – being muddled only by a lack of boards and the obnoxiously random end-game bonuses – and the additions of character dice and allies provide some meaningful change. The mini-games are varied and among the best the series has ever seen. The River Survival and Sound Stage modes provide some good versatility to the overall package. The game boasts simple-but-catchy music, and incredibly sharp, colorful visuals (it’s no Odyssey, but it doesn’t need to be). The single control option won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the bafflingly restrictive online features that serve as the real party-pooper.

Super Mario Party is a whole lot of fun, and it’s great to see the series get back on track. But here’s hoping the Switch sees a Mario Party sequel in the not-to-distant future that expands on what Super Mario Party started, and isn’t afraid to take the entire friendship-ruining Mario Party experience online.

 

7

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 X3 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X3’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection*

There is more than a little bit of irony in Mega Man X3’s very existence. Six Mega Man games were released on the NES, with only small windows of time between releases. Mega Mans 2 and 3 were stellar sequels that easily surpassed the original, but 4 through 6 – while undeniably fun games – presented very little in the realms of newness, leaving the series feeling wrung dry by the time the SNES rolled around. Enter Mega Man X.

The Blue Bomber’s 1994 foray into the 16-bit age was created to be a breath of fresh air for the franchise, with a new Mega Man, a new setting, and just enough new elements to make the series’ gameplay feel fresh again. The very next year saw the release of Mega Man X2, which was a worthy successor, if a bit familiar. Then we had Mega Man X3, the third entry in the sub-series in as many years. While X2 had the benefit of being merely second in line – thus making its familiarity easier to forgive – and added its own twist in the forms of three optional side-bosses who altered the story, Mega Man X3 is where things might start to feel like they’re entering ‘conveyor belt’ territory.

The original Mega Man series found new heights with its second and third entries, only becoming formulaic with its second trilogy’s worth of installments. But Mega Man X – the series created for the purpose of revitalizing Mega Man – started to cool off a lot faster. That’s not to say that Mega Man X3 is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination (Mega Man’s gameplay was always more refined than any platformer of its day not directly created by Nintendo), but it does feel like a copy-and-paste sequel of Mega Man X2.

Strangely enough for a platformer, it’s the story of Mega Man X3 that seems to differentiate itself most from its predecessors. After the events of X2, the Reploids – humanoid robots capable of thought and emotion – live in peace with humans, as the Reploid scientist Dr. Doppler has begun reprogramming Mavericks (Reploids who seek war with humanity). It turns out to be a rouse, however, as soon enough Dr. Doppler himself goes rogue, and all the Mavericks he reprogrammed now obey his every command. Of course, it’s up to Mega Man X – as well as Zero – to put an end to Dr. Doppler’s plot.

“Even the Mavericks feel like a step down from the past two lineups. Except my man Volt Catfish here, but even he’s no Overdrive Ostrich.”

The game follows the usual setup: There’s an introductory stage, followed by the eight selectable main stages that end with a boss fight against a Maverick, Mega Man gets a power from every defeated boss to use against other Mavericks, and a final series of stages are unlocked after the eight bosses are felled.

On the plus side, the level design remains challenging and fun. X’s wall-jumping abilities really get put to the test, with platforming challenges that really work in favor of the mechanic. Perhaps the biggest introduction to the gameplay is the ability to actually play as Zero, who comes equipped with a laser sword! Though as enticing as that sounds, it ultimately comes across as a tease, as Zero’s playable role is pretty limited. You can switch to him in the pause menu, but if you switch back to X or die while playing as Zero, you can’t select him again until you get a game over or move on to the next stage. That would already be pretty limited, but the game will find seemingly every opportunity to force the player to switch back to X. Don’t expect to face off against any sub-bosses as Zero, as X will automatically come back into the picture, which once again prevents you from re-selecting Zero.

X3 may have the biggest emphasis on secret collectibles in the series up to this point. The usual Mega Man X secrets return: Heart Tanks increase X’s maximum health, while sub-tanks store health items for later use, and X can find hidden upgrades for his arm canon, armor, helmet and legs. There are two new secret collectibles added to the mix in X3, though one is definitely better utilized than the other.

“Using Ride Armors in previously completed stages can often lead to hidden goodies.”

The first new item are the “Ride Armors,” the same mecha suits found in the previous games, but with a new twist. After finding one of the four Ride Armors, they can be summoned in certain sections of every stage once you find a special platform. Each of the Ride Armors has their own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to find their uses on different stages does add a little something different to the proceedings.

The other secret item introduced in X3 are four special chips which, like the upgrades, grant X new abilities and passive bonuses. The caveat with these chips is that you can only get 1 in any given playthrough. That would be a unique twist if you had the option to replace the one you chose, but when they say you can only have one chip they really mean it. So you pretty much have to look up a guide ahead of time to know which one you want. There is an even bigger issue with the chips, however, in that there is an additional fifth chip in one of the Dr. Doppler stages that grants all of the abilities of the four other chips. Like the other four, the fifth chip cannot be obtained if you’ve claimed another one. But this just leaves the other four feeling completely pointless. Just go for the fifth one. Why even have the others in the game?

“Okay, I also like Gravity Beetle. Gravity is cool, and beetles are cool.”

X3 brings back the concept of mid-bosses entering the levels after two Mavericks have been defeated, but somehow misses what made the concept unique in X2. Two bosses – Bit and Byte – are located in mandatory mid-boss rooms, while a third boss – Vile, the suspiciously Boba Fett-esque secondary villain from the first X – is hidden in certain levels, but can only be fought before you fight Bit and Byte. While X2 had players uncover hidden bosses to alter the story, the only real point of fighting Bit, Byte and Vile is determining whether or not you fight them again in Doppler’s fortress (defeating them with particular Maverick weapons wipes these bosses out for good the first time around). And by making two of these bosses mandatory, it kind of takes away from the whole concept that X2 introduced.

Though Mega Man X3 retains the high quality visuals and audio of its predecessors, the graphics are more or less the same as those of X2, while the music is a relative step down in quality (relative in that even a step down for Mega Man music is still pretty darn good). Thankfully, the aesthetics have aged well, but that’s because it replicates two games that already achieved that timeless aspect. X3 doesn’t seem to try to surpass the visuals or sound of its two predecessors, instead simply making due.

Mega Man X3 is all too familiar of a sequel for it to match the greatness of either Mega Man X or X2, but it’s still replicating two exceptional games, and on its own merits has held up pretty well over the years. The Mega Man formula is timeless, so even a lesser entry that follows the series rulebook will still probably end up better than many of their contemporaries. Mega Man X3 may be the point where the series started to feel less special, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a whole lot of fun, even by today’s standards.

 

7