With the reconstruction of Zero, the defeat of Serges, Violen, Agile and the ever present Sigma, X finally earned a bit of time to rest and recuperate. The Maverick outbreak had been either purged, or cured thanks to the combined efforts of the Maverick Hunters, and the enigmatic Dr. Doppler. A Utopia was constructed for all Reploids, and it looked as if peace would reign. Of course, such a notion cannot exist in the chaotic world of Mega Man. As quickly as it came, peace was shattered as residents of Doppler’s town launched attacks on Maverick HQ. X and Zero are then dispatched to put an end to the devious Dr. Doppler, propelling us into our third major Maverick outbreak.
Mega Man X3’s story, particularly the introduction, is excellent. It acknowledges the previous games (something not often done in the Classic series), it sets up a new villain and keeps it simple enough so new players can hop right in, with no prior knowledge. More importantly, it contains enough hype, thanks to the triumphant return of X and Zero as a duo, that returning players will get a kick out of it. This being a Mega Man game through and through, the story concludes in an unsurprisingly predictable way, but that is all part of the charm at this point.
Getting past all of the fluff will reveal that X is the same ol’ robot we have come to know and love. He comes pre-equipped with his pellet-pew’er, charge shot and ground dash. He can also collect Heart-Tanks, Sub-Tanks and acquire fancy new armour to further enhance his abilities. These include the mighty air dash, which has been altered to allow for vertical dashing, essentially giving X a slightly more awkward double jump, and a charge shot that can hold, combine, then fire two charges for maximum devastation. A few quality of life improvements have been added, such as unclaimed collectables being revealed on the stage select screen, but overall, X feels like he always has – powerful, fast and awesome.
Mega Man X3 also introduces Zero as a playable character for the first time, which unfortunately manages to be simultaneously amazing and disappointing. Zero comes with a huge health bar, two charge shots and an incredibly powerful Z-Sabre attack. He is incredibly fun to use, has buckets of power and would have been a fantastic addition had they not half arsed his inclusion. Zero can only be used once per stage, he will leave a stage the moment he encounters a boss/mini-boss door and if he dies, he is gone for good. Zero basically becomes nothing more than a meatshield to keep X healthy for the boss at the end of the stage. It’s a missed opportunity to say the least.
Questionable decisions become more apparent when you look at the list of collectables on offer. Outside the usual suspects, you have four extra armour ‘chips’ that enhance one of our armour parts, although only one can be equipped at a time, and four mechanised ‘Ride Armours’. The chips are all incredibly powerful, providing massive damage reduction, auto-charging Sub-Tanks, the Hyper X Cannon (as awesome as it sounds) and the ability to air dash twice. These are all fantastic, but as you can only hold one, it almost forces you to pick the air dash enhancement, as mobility is so integral to the X series. One would assume having four Ride Armours would mean there would be quite the emphasis on their unique talents, durability and power; however that assumption would be incorrect. At a stretch, two are worth using. That usefulness is so infrequent, that they might as well not be there at all. They boil down to being collectables required to nab actually useful collectables. Being included purely for the sake of padding – bloating the experience quite significantly.
Luckily, despite all of the additional baggage, X3 manages to deliver in just about every other area. Controls are spot on, although may take a little getting used to once you nab the vertical dash. Stages are challenging, with plenty opportunities to let loose, whilst the Mavericks, who still die a bit too quickly when exposed to their weaknesses, look and feel great. An unexpected side effect of having an oversized list of upgrades, is that levels feel a bit more expensive than previous titles, which is always a positive. Sub-Weapons come with an alternate firing mode, as is to be expected, with most of the weapons being satisfying to use, with quite a bit of utility to boot. Screen nukes, a giant razorblade on a rope, drill launchers and even a gravity bending wasp swatter – this game has it all. Enemy variety is noticeably lacking however, with many enemies appearing to have been given hefty health pools, which occasionally verges of on the side of tedium. A slight blemish on an enjoyable experience.
X3 also manages to sneak in a few extra bosses to mix things up. As you go about eradicating Mavericks, you will encounter Bit and Byte. These blighters are here to add a bit of spice to the mix. Whilst the eight Mavericks themselves are rather simple, these two will put up a substantial fight. To beat them, you will need to use all the tricks at your disposal, which ultimately leads to a thrillingly challenging encounter. There is even a hidden stage, within a stage, housing a familiar foe. A mysterious third boss that ramps up the challenge even more. These guys feel like the three optional bosses from X2, but better, which is awesome. My only complaint is that in X2, they were optional, so you could avoid them if you didn’t want the added challenge. X3 forces you to fight two of them, which can be quite the hurdle if you are not prepared.
When you reach Dr. Doppler’s Domain, you go through the usual fortress shenanigans – Interesting bosses, Maverick-rush, a fake-out final boss etc. It’s all present and accounted for. It provides a great little gauntlet that puts your skills to the test. The final boss however, slaps you in the face with a stick made of refined sadness. The fight itself is an incredibly challenging, multi-part encounter that requires incredibly precise aim to beat. It would have been a fitting end to the SNES trilogy, had they not added a brief, yet incredibly fatal escape sequence. If you die here, which is surprisingly likely if you are not expecting it, then you are forced to do that whole fight from the beginning. Mega Man so very rarely ventures into the realms of unfair bollocks, but this little is certainly one of those times, tarnishing the ending if you fall for the trap.
Being on the SNES, X3 has the privilege of being one the best looking games the series has ever produced. The 16-bit style is one that perfectly balances minimalism and graphical flair, leaving a game that will always look great on the eye. There have been a few graphical improvements over the previous entry, namely the special effects, bosses and animation variety. Despite the relative irelevance of the Ride Armours and Zero, they all look fantastic. The limited pool of enemies does hurt the overall visual package, but it is undeniable that this game is a good looking piece of kit.
Holding everything together is the music. The opening stage and Zero’s theme ensures the game starts off on a high note with some of the best tracks the series has produced thus far. That same quality can be found throughout most of the game, with only one or two not quite hitting the mark. It is a 90’s rocky, metal mix filled plenty of synth guitar, bass and classic SNES drums that give the game that traditional ‘X’ flow. A mostly great soundtrack, to accompany a mostly great game.
Overall Mega Man X3 is incredibly solid. Whilst not everything it brings to table is executed perfectly, many of those missteps will be refined and turned into series staples; namely Zero. It may stumble from time to time, but this is a great, often overlooked, entry to X series. A fittingly brilliant end, to a spectacular trilogy of SNES games.
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