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RELEASE DATE (NA): January 1994 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Generation X has arrived.

It's time for a history lesson! Imagine that it's 1993. Yes, the year of the first Magic: The Gathering release. The year that Conan O'Brien started his late night talk show. The year that the half-man from "Two And A Half Men" was born. THAT 1993. By that time, Mega Man had endured six adventures on the NES (and a couple of portable olive-green forays), and this time, he was starting to get a little stale. Plus, most gamers had already moved on to greener pastures in the new, hip, gray Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Mega Man's level of radical hipness was starting to fade, and it was time for a change. And a major change Capcom did indeed make.

Enter X. Considered to be Mega Man: The Next Generation, this is a more hardcore and more mature branch of the original series. Set in the century following the events of the "classic" Mega Man series (everything seems to happen in the year 21XX this time), we arrive during the decapsulation of X, a robot similar in nature to Mega Man, but far more advanced in his programming and circuitry. X, named after the popular variable (although he is sometimes referred to as "Mega Man X", thereby supporting his heritage), has been given free will and the ability to think on his own. His creator, the presumably now deceased Dr. Light, feared how free will would affect his robots, not to mention the human population, and sealed him away underground. X was contained in a capsule that would perform diagnostics on him for 100 years to determine whether he would be capable of making acceptable moral choices.

X has been unearthed early, however, and at just the right time! Dr. Cain, who had discovered this capsule, created a new line of robots for the world called Reploids based on this discovery. Dr. Cain's Reploids weren't as advanced as X, as illustrated when one of them attacks a human by their own will, something that defies the Three Laws of Robotics. As more Reploids turned against humans, they were labeled as Mavericks and needed to be hunted down. The Reploid known as Sigma was assigned to head this task. At first, all was well, but when even Sigma turned Maverick (and the rest of his army squadron), it seemed all would be lost.

Enter X. With a heavy heart and a sense of justice, he set out alone to deal with the Maverick situation, Sigma in particular. This is where the game begins. The opening scene involving X rushing down the highway — a stage which has since become a staple of the series — ends with bitter failure as X is overtaken by the Maverick Vile. Thank goodness there is still another Reploid who has not succumbed to the temptation of mechanical superiority in Zero, who saves X in the nick of time. From then on, X is advised that he must become stronger in order to rescue humanity and purge the Maverick scourge.

Mega Man may have laid the groundwork, but X makes it X-treme!

Mega Man X is a giant leap above its NES ancestors, at least in the technical department. Being the first game of the franchise featured on the SNES, Mega Man X offers superior graphics and sound. There is a certain stylish, more mechanical nature to it, as the game prides itself as being a more serious and sobering experience. All of the various regions in the game are far more detailed than anything prior. They range from a frigid wasteland to a towering airport, from a fully-functioning Reploid factory to a forest whose trees are bound with steel and wiring, from a dark undersea base to a deadly mining operation. Both the backgrounds and the sprites are crisp and intricate. Very little can be classified as "cute" in this one, as opposed to the NES titles (with the exception of a hopping robot in the snowy section — that's just lovable).

The music is nothing to scoff at, either. In fact, it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the NES soundtracks, which were starting to feel both forced and stale. There is no particular song that gets tiring, and I tip my hat to the composer. The background music in Sigma's fortress in particular signifies the despondency and the emotion behind the trek upward. All of the audio has a tingy reverb on it, again emphasizing the coldness of technology. The now more varied sound effects follow suit with the reverb (though, unfortunately, this aspect was lost in translation on the Mega Man X Collection for PlayStation 2 and GameCube). Surely the improvements made available by the SNES were put to good use.

The fundamental aspects of the Mega Man franchise remain intact in Mega Man X. As is the custom, X has his shot at eight different Mavericks that he can, in theory, pursue in any order he pleases. Upon defeating one of them, you instantly absorb their power and can use it to overtake the next Maverick with that weakness. The NES Mega Man titles used Robot Masters each with their own theme ("Fire Man", "Ice Man", "Wind Man"... uh, "Gyro Man" for the hungry Greek masses...), but Mega Man X takes it one step further. Each boss does have its own theme, but they are also based on animals, such as Chill Penguin, whose lore as an Antarctic animal obviously relegates it to an icy region, and Flame Mammoth, because mammoths shot fireballs out of their trunks. Wait... what?! And as for a name like "Boomer Kuwanger", well, we just don't know. (Actually, we do: in Japanese, a stag beetle is called "kuwagata", but the translation team wasn't exactly on the mark. "Boomer Beetle" isn't that cool of a name anyhow.)

New to the series is X's ability to find capsules hidden by Dr. Light for X to find. These capsules not only provide X with physical bonuses such as a buster upgrade, a dashing ability, or improved armor, but they also give a holographic form of Dr. Light the opportunity to speak his peace about the situation at hand. We're not exactly sure how he KNOWS how things are going down in 21XX considering he is deceased, though. So is Dr. Light really dead, or is his consciousness just now in digital form and able to communicate with X? Of particular note is that X can actually gain, as sort of an in-game joke, the Hadouken move from the Street Fighter II series, complete with a goofy sound effect of X shouting "Hadouken!" Sounds more like "cooking"!

The game's controls are, for the most part, absolutely superb and quite reactive. The dash-jump takes a little getting used to, but other than that, if you falter, it's probably your fault.

Above all else, this game portrays Mega Man X as actually possessing emotions that older games couldn't really touch significantly, either due to lesser technology or simply lack of interest in doing so. X is tormented by his need to fight but having no desire to do so. He hopes for a different outcome in the future other than fighting, but fears that this could be the only solution. As well, his existence (and the existence of the original Mega Man troupe) has strongly affected the situation with mass production of robots and self-sufficiency among them, and he feels guilt because of this. This isn't at the forefront of this particular game (segregated more to his pensive state during the ending, which I can't talk about that would require a "spoiler alert" marquee), but future games touch more on this issue (notably Mega Man X7, where he doesn't even appear for half the game due to his own remorse).

Mega Man X started off a brand new popular series, and it did so with quite a bang. It detached itself as being more than just a spin-off of Mega Man with its unique personality and darker themes while keeping the core gameplay of its predecessors intact. Somehow, even though later Mega Man games on the NES felt a bit stale, Mega Man X is a refreshing take on the formula. It is definitely worth your time to seek out this monumental classic. As far as Mega Man games go, it hardly qualifies as the most difficult (it's actually one of the easiest ones to complete), but it could also be a great place to start for Rockman Newbies. It's available in many forms, including the original SNES cartridge, on the Mega Man X Collection (PS2/GC), on PC (if you can find it), on iOS, and on both the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. It was even remade as Mega Man Maverick Hunter X for the PSP. There's nothing more satisfying, however, than showing your love by popping in that lovely gray cartridge and blasting away those zany mechanized cave bats. Fight, X, for everlasting peace!

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