With the ‘X’ series well and truly established after the utterly brilliant Mega Man X, X2 sets out to build off its undeniably solid foundation. With a greater emphasis on story and attempts to refine an already polished formula, Mega Man X2 dashes out of the gates taking you a roller coaster ride of unimaginable highs, and one painful, unforgivable low.
After the defeat of the nefarious Maverick Overlord, Sigma, and the untimely death of X’s partner in crime Zero, X finds himself at the forefront of an ongoing war against the turncoat Reploids. Things quickly escalate from a simple rebellion, to full-blown chaos when three mysterious Reploids enter the fray. They reveal themselves to be former servants of Sigma, and the new masterminds behind the current fiasco. To make matters worse, they have salvaged the remains of Zero, and plan on rebuilding him as an agent of evil. It is down to our plucky blue hero to bring an end to the fighting through the use of extreme violence.
The story in X2 is overflowing with cutscenes, interactions and genuine moments of emotional pay off…comparative to the standard Mega Man experience. Typically each game is effectively stand alone, with an isolated plot allowing for anyone to jump in and out of the series with little to no hinderance to enjoyment. X2, when coupled with the original, successfully manages to weave a story that is immensely satisfying to experience, elevating X2 beyond anything we have seen before. As a stand alone narrative it is perfectly passable. However, if you want the full weight of the story, it needs to be played with an understanding of the original.
As good as the story is, the real meat of the experience comes from the gameplay. Luckily X2 delivers in every category imaginable. X’s default body comes equipped with his standard, chargeable lemon shooter and the ability to wall jump. Thankfully he also comes with the ability to dash from the get go. This grants you incredible mobility without the hassle of tracking down a mostly pointless upgrade capsule. This might sound minor at first glance, however you are no longer nudged towards a certain boss route, you are not forced to trudge along at a snails pace for two stages, and it completely removes the tedium of manually checking every stage for a practically mandatory piece of kit. This is the most equipped out-of-the-box Mega Man to date – and it feels great.
Like the original, you can acquire new armour pieces that expand your abilities, giving you additional control over the 2D battlefield and how you tackle it. These include the ability to air dash, hold two fully charged shots, chargeable sub-weapons, damage reduction and even a secret-uncovering headpiece. These are all a step up from the last game, and give X a real sense of progression. Additionally, you can find the usual Sub-Tanks and Heart-Tanks, which provide on the spot healing and a larger health pool. All of these upgrades can be found with a little exploration. Thankfully they are nowhere near as cryptic as the original – which is always a plus. Their distribution throughout each stage also allows particularly creative players to collect them all with zero backtracking, which makes replaying the game a joy.
Of course finding these upgrades is just the first step to victory. As is to be expected, you have eight stages to traverse, with an equal number of Mavericks requiring a healthy dose of Justice. I would venture to say that X2 has the best level design in the series, with each stage bringing something interesting to the table. You could be outrunning lava in one stage, then avoiding searchlights in another. Riding a jetbike through a city one minute, or rampaging through an airship with a giant mech the next. No one gimmick overstays its welcome, providing ample opportunity run, jump and gun. With the inclusion of the air dash, each stage opens up in ways that allow for incredible feats of athleticism, further emphasising the heart-pumping, adrenaline-fuelled action the series is known for.
Complementing the level design are the Mavericks themselves. As with practically everything else in X2, these fights are some of the best to date. Wheel Gator swims in a sea of blood, waiting to snatch you from below. Overdrive Ostrich has a wider stage, and interacts with the background. Flame Stag has a more vertical stage, giving him opportunities to jump off screen and attack from unexpected angles. Heck, Morph Moth literally has two phases – starting as a cocoon, before metamorphosing into a full blown robo-moth. Capcom even managed to solve the traditional problem of bosses being overly susceptible to their weaknesses, by adding in more invulnerability states. This makes most of these fights tense affairs, even when you are packing heat.
Due to the inclusion of three maniacal maestros, Mega Man X2 decides to scatters them around various stages, often hidden behind alternate boss doors. These fights are unfortunately a bit of a step down from the main Mavericks, but hunting them down does reward you with a part of Zero, altering the ending quite substantially. The fights themselves are quite difficult, more so than your typical Maverick. As far as optional bosses go, they are a nice inclusion that nicely ramps up the challenge for those looking to nab the best ending.
When designing the weapons for X2, Capcom seemed to have something different in mind. They mostly have some form of combat practicality, but what truly makes the arsenal stand out is their utility. You have grappling hooks, flame powered dashes (that combo with your standard dash!), and even platform creation. It gives you a surprising number of options when navigating each level, with many collectables obtainable through multiple methods. Whilst not quite as exciting in terms of pure destructive power, they certainly standout in their own way.
Mega Man X2 retains the classic, 16-bit styling of the original, but manages to make a few tweaks here and there, that make it look that little bit flashier. Little things like the charge shot having new animations and inclusion of vector graphics add that extra layer of spice to the mix. Mavericks all have memorable designs, with their stages being suitably detailed. They even gave us a bunch of new enemies to fight. The previously mentioned cutscenes are also a huge step up from any previous title. This is especially noticeable during the introduction due to an over abundance of explosions, lasers and jetbikes.
You can’t have a successful Mega Man game, without a rocking soundtrack, and X2 delivers in droves. They did drop some of the rocky, metal vibes of the original, but when the synth guitars, pounding bass and those oh-so-retro drums kick in, it keeps the action flowing in typical SNES style. X2 is all about variety, and its soundtrack keeps to that theme. The music perfectly accompanies the various cutscenes, effectively injecting the right emotional response into every sequence.
Mega Man X2 is the perfect follow up to one of the greatest games of all time. It takes everything we loved about that game, made it better, whilst removing the things that held it back. The only true negative I have against this game, is the fact it has to end eventually, which brings me a sadness only another playthrough of X2 can heal. This the pinnacle of the the X series, if not the entire franchise.
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