It's hard to overestimate the impact and influence of Mega Man games. For some gamers, it might have been their first interaction with science fiction. Granted, Mega Man has always been more fiction than actual science, but they've always been a great time. It's a series that's mastered the action platformer and found a satisfying game loop that lasted for six games before finally losing steam.
However, from the ashes of the original, a new game from creator Keiji Infaune came about: Mega Man X. On the surface, the series seemed to be pretty much the same concept its predecessor, but once people started playing it, they realized there was much more to this new Mega Man than meets the eye. Through a rock-solid set of controls and a brand new story set in the distant future from the old MM games, players ended up falling in love with this new version of the Blue Bomber as he engaged his new enemy, Sigma.
Now while the original games are something to be treasured, the adventures of X are just as good, and in a lot of ways, better than the original. In a series of point/counterpoint entries, I'm here to tell you how exactly the Mega Man X series topped the Mega Man series and where it fell short. I'm sure this will rustle the jimmies of more than a few die-hard Mega Man fans, but please, I encourage you to hear me out before sailing to the comments section to lambast me--
Oh, you're already typing? Well, let's get to it I guess...
15 BETTER: X's Badass Suits Of Armor
One of the things that sets the MMX series apart from the original is the way X grows in power not just from blowing up bad guys, but by upgrading his armor. Having been created by Dr. Light decades in the past and then put in deep freeze until the games began, Dr. Light sure seemed to keep busy hiding away upgrade modules in remote places of the world, where X could just so happen to come across them when he needs them the most.
Every piece of armor would upgrade your abilities, and by the end of the game you'd be blasting stronger, moving faster, and taking more hits than you ever could at the beginning of the game. As the games progressed, they got cooler and cooler (up until a certain point I'll talk about later) and allowed X to do more and more, to the point of making some boss weapons useless.
14 WORSE: Forgettable Side-Bosses
Man, do you remember that time in Mega Man 2 where you fight a dragon that breathes fire at you, and there are only three platforms to jump around on? Or what about the iconic Yellow Devil? You know, the boss that's made an appearance in pretty much every single Mega Man franchise ever? Yeah. Most of the bosses who don't end in "Man" you remember from old Mega Man games.
You see this thing? It's a face. Its name is Rangda Bangda. It is not intimidating or memorable at all. It is a face. That is a wall. And you're only seeing this because it's actually kinda gimmicky and cute. There are tons of other side bosses in the Mega Man X series, far more than there ever were in Mega Man games, but I couldn't tell you a single one of their names.
13 BETTER: Difficulty That Doesn't Make You Cry
Do you know why so many people remember the Yellow Devil? That's him right there. It is not because he's a stately, beautiful work of art.
It's because he is harder than a diamond-infused poop from a week-long cheese and ice cream binge.
He's probably responsible for more broken controllers than some of the hardest bosses we've mentioned before, and for good reason. He requires split-second timing down to a science to defeat. Unfortunately, every damn Mega Man game is like that. They were the Dark Souls before Dark Souls was ever Demon's Souls.
Mega Man X, on the other hand, is far more forgiving. From enhanced save features to a way to leave levels you've already beaten, MMX knew there was a line between a brutally punishing difficulty and a challenge of skill mastery. The quality of gamer's lives increased substantially when X showed up, and not a moment too soon.
12 WORSE: Difficulty That Finds Other Ways to Make You Cry
But that didn't mean that X was going to take it easy on us. Sure, the bosses may have been easier, in part due to the upgrades in the game. But every little upgrade had to be acquired by finding little hideaways in each stage, and completing some little challenge to get to it.
Take, for example, this stage (pictured above) from Mega Man X4, where you're running a race in Cyber Space in order to get the headpiece of X's armor. Naturally, the course is filled with enemies that freeze you in place, robbing you of precious seconds.
The games were actually pretty difficult to fully clear sometimes, which was a change of pace for Mega Man players; their world was made up of running right and shooting things until they blew up. In MMX, they could go right, but they could also go up and down in a way they never could before...
11 BETTER: Wall Climbing/Jumping Revolutionizes Gameplay
...because you could climb walls.
Now, I need you to get on the same level with me here. "Big Deal," you might say. "With the Climber Set, I can climb walls for hours in Breath of the Wild!" And sure, you'd be right. Climbing is nothing new nowadays. But in Mega Man games, the only thing the Blue Bomber could climb was a ladder. Every single wall in every single Robot Master's world may as well have been slathered with butter for all the good they did poor ol' Megs.
But in the X series, you were able to wall kick, effectively giving you a way to jump up walls, and you were also able to slide down walls a much slower pace, meaning you could see if a pit was actually bottomless or not. This created a whole new way for players to interact with the game's worlds, and opened up level designs never before possible. It was awesome.
10 WORSE: Cheesy Voice-Acting And Other Story Problems
There's kinda no getting around this. Starting from X4 and up, the series decided to create fully-animated cutscenes complete with full voice acting. The really sad part is, while the Japanese version of them seem pretty good for the time, the English ones are so bad it's pitiful and hilarious. The voices are barely synced, and the voice actors are phoning their performances in so hard you can hear a busy signal if too much time goes by without a line.
Another thing that held it back was that the team behind Mega Man was fractured halfway through the series. Creator Keiji Inafune wanted to end the series at Mega Man X5. However, X5 did well, and publisher Capcom wanted more games. But Inafune had already left to create Mega Man Zero, leaving the last three games full of missteps, oddities, and things that should have never been. But we'll get to those later.
9 BETTER: There Actually *IS* A Story, And It Influences The Gameplay
Though for all of its faults, the storyline in the X series is full of memorable moments. There's a noticeable arc in the relationship between X and Zero as they become friends and partners. The conflicts and grudges between Reploids and humans serve as a much better source of tension as a reason that robots turn "Maverick" as they call them rather than just "OMG MAD SCIENTIST BROKE EM LOL." The Reploids are actually given personalities and ambitions, unlike in Mega Man where the first Robot Masters brought to that grand ol' junk pile in the sky were literally public service robots. Cut Man was a friggin' lumberjack.
In the first game, as you begin to trash Mavericks, their stages, without their Mavericks to keep them in check I assume, bleed over into other stages, changing them permanently. Chill Penguin's demise ends up icing out Flame Mammoth's stage. Storm Eagle's stage crashes into Spark Mandrill's stage.
Which brings me to my next point...
8 WORSE: MMX's Boss-Naming System
Ugh, this is a tough one. The boss fights in the X series were awesome compared to the original. They were similar, but MMX ended up adding environmental features, more distinct boss phases, and larger-than-life powers, of which X always seemed to get the weakest one. "No, I'd much rather have the lame projectile than the ability to fly across the screen completely invincible" is a phrase no Mega Man player has ever uttered.
Unfortunately, their names were terrible. In the original, it was straightforward. All the bosses were "*descriptive noun* Man." The new series still used nouns, but added an animal name to match the animal the Maverick was modeled after. More often than not, these sounded less cool and more like one of the colognes in Brian Fantana's secret bookcase cabinet. Plus, there was a FIERY T-REX in MMX5, and they decided to name it Mattrex. What a damn waste.
7 BETTER: Sigma: Dr. Wily Wishes He Could Step To This
Fight me, I don't care. Dr. Wily is lame and looks like an angry Einstein. He lacks vision and motivation. There's no reason for him to be bad other than the original series needing a villain. There's nothing to get excited about with Dr. Wily.
Sigma, on the other hand, is a great villain. He checks all the boxes: a great hero with a troubled past, whose interactions with the dark side of Reploid/human relations drove him to the edge of sanity, eventually turning him into the first Maverick, bent on the complete destruction of the human race. Sigma is responsible for the deaths of thousands of humans and Reploids. He's so much more powerful than Wily ever was. Destroying him always felt awesome every time you do it, and the ending felt all the more satisfying for it.
6 WORSE: Axl, The Patron Saint of Trying Too Hard
Do you ever get bored and make your own Mega Man characters? I know I did. Did you know that several classic Mega Man bosses were created in contests where fans sent in their own ideas? I think somewhere along the line, they uncovered a six-year-old's design for Axl, deemed him too edgy for the time, and dug him up in the aughts to desperately try and recapture the interest they'd been losing since MMX4.
The only problem is that it's far too obvious he's just been shoehorned into the series for this reason. He literally looks like a cross between Zero and Protoman, without taking cues from anything that made them great characters in the first place. His story is actually pretty interesting, but his introduction came in on the absolute worst installment of the series. If that game had been better, he might not be on this side of the list.
5 BETTER: Level Design
No hyperbole - the intro level of Mega Man X may be one of the best video game levels ever created. Its smart design presents players with experiences that they play through to master the basic tenets of the gameplay, while also being fun and giving you a real sense of power and confidence that you can beat this game.
Then it takes it all away when you fight Vile for the first time. He relentlessly rips you to shreds, and the only thing that saves your ass is Zero, the badass new hero (and Protoman analog) introduced in this series. The series continues to use these intro levels to spell out the plot and get people to be invested in the game before it truly begins, unlike just going straight to a level select screen like the classic series. It's a vital piece of world-building that added so much to the overall experience.
4 WORSE: MMX Goes 3D, Fandom Weeps
Mega Man has made his name on being a 2D side-scrolling platformer with run-and-gun gameplay. They did it so well they've released dozens of games that all play essentially the same.
Then Megaman X7 happened.
No one, absolutely no one, asked for a Mega Man X game fully playable in 3D. Because we knew it would be terrible. And surprise surprise, X7 was by far the worst of the series, considered by many to be absolutely irredeemable. The high speed, reflex-heavy gameplay was hamstrung by the addition of needing to navigate a camera around a sparsely fleshed-out 3D environment.
The other problem is that if they wanted to make the game 3D, to begin with, they should have committed fully to it. MMX7 could switch between 2D and 3D whenever it felt like it, which meant that the design team needed to make sure it could work in both perspectives, essentially creating two games. With knowledge like that in mind, it's no wonder it was such a stinker.
3 BETTER: Zero Was The Hero We All Wanted To Be When We Were Kids
Zero was the breakout star of the X series, eclipsing its main character so much so that Keiji Inafune left the series to work on a series starring him in the future. Zero is far cooler than you will ever be. He almost killed Sigma before the series even started, he comes dashing to X's rescue in the first game, and only gets cooler from there.
Plus, he also has a badass laser sword that cuts through anything like it's tissue paper. He's a damn robot Jedi in a massive suit of armor that can destroy the world, what's not to like? Even while he doesn't have any of the help from Dr. Light like X does throughout the series, he stands as X's equal throughout, even surpassing him. And after being in over a dozen games across two series so far, it seems like only Zero can beat Zero.
2 WORSE: MMX Tries Valiantly, But Can't Beat The Original's Soundtrack
This is so high on the list because of how much I think the Mega Man X series vies for this title. There's a ton of good music to be found just in Mega Man X alone, and the series keeps that trend for a good part of the series, just like the Mega Man games. It fights such a valiant fight. Unfortunately, the classic series has the ace up its sleeve that MMX just cannot touch, no matter how hard it tries: Mega Man 2.
Far and away the most iconic soundtrack out of any Mega Man, hell, possibly any Capcom game, MM2 is a gem of chiptune-y goodness. There are covers upon covers of the game's various themes, from Bubble Man to Metal Man to everyone's favorite, Dr. Wily's Castle Theme. There's no doubt that X tried to match its predecessor, but barring a freak accident, the battle was over before it even began.
1 BETTER: Two Characters, Two Storylines, Two Awesome Experiences
But where Mega Man X ultimately beats out Mega Man is in its main characters. There could have been some great story moments between Protoman and Mega Man, but there's nothing much over the course of ten games. Mega Man X actually has interplay between X and Zero, giving them a back and forth and a relationship that was tested again and again as the series went forward.
And while the story between X and Zero is a one-up on the other series, where MMX runs away with the prize is in how fun Zero is to play. In MMX4, Zero is fully playable for the first time, and it's a totally different experience. He's more melee-focused and agile, and while he ends up getting hit a bit more than X would, he's a true delight to play, giving players two fully-fleshed out characters in one game.
And there you have it! It may have its flaws, but after a long fight, X reigns supreme.
Think I'm wrong? Think I'm right? I don't care, but I do want to hear why you think that, so feel free to comment on your favorite Mega Man series!