With yet another “you’ve killed Sigma” medal clipped onto his lapel, the world was once again in a state of relative peace. That is of course, until Sigma seemingly immediately returns and attacks again. X and Zero head out to stop the infuriatingly persistent Maverick, only to put him down for a fifth with very little effort. In doing so, they unintentionally release the Sigma Virus, infecting every Reploid on Earth. To make matters worse, the world will be destroyed via space-station collision by teatime. In short, there’s a really big mess, and Sigma caused it.
This being the fifth game in the X series, and the sequel to some of the best Action Platformers of all time, a lot rides on X5’s shoulders. What interesting new gimmicks can Capcom inject into the series, what cool new characters and story arcs will be introduced? What awesome new levels, weapons and bosses can we play around with? Unfortunately, Mega Man X5 not only fails to live up to its predecessors, but also introduces a bunch of things that are either a detriment, or poorly implemented.
But before we get into all of that, let’s take a gander at what the game does right, which can be summed up simply by saying: this is a Mega Man game. X and Zero control just as well as they always have, with beautifully refined controls, a focus on mobility and tight combat. If you have played any game in the series prior to X5, you will feel right at home here. If you are new, there is even a brief tutorial you can partake in, which teaches you the ropes. Heck, it even has a Magma Dragoon cameo – which warmed my heart.
The game also looks stunning. Utilising the then unbridled power of the PS1, X5 is a treat for the eyes. Super slick animation, beautiful sprite work and gorgeous backgrounds. The fifth generation of consoles have a reputation of being graphically hideous, however Capcom managed to craft not one, but two, ageless classics. It is a testament to the core artstyle the franchise boasts, that it can translate into 8, 16 and 32-bit effortlessly.
The music is also fantastic. Mega Man X5 was originally meant to be the last game in the X5 series, and therefore the soundtrack comes across as a love letter. The game is jam packed with remixes and retro throwbacks that are quite easy to miss, even to a veteran Mega Man’er. There is rock, there is techno, and it all sounds great. I expect a solid soundtrack in a Mega Man game, and even 13 games in, Capcom have yet to disappoint.
Things start to take a turn for the worse from here on out however. Firstly, the games production values have taken a nose dive in quality. Gone are the anime cutscenes, the voice acting and even the localisation team. Instead we get still images, unbearably irritating text scroll bleeps, and English so broken that I thought I had spontaneously come down with a severe case of Dyslexia. Sure the voice acting in X4 was awful, but there was a clear effort made. X5 comes across as lazy, almost unfinished in comparison.
The story, despite being mauled by an awful translation, is actually pretty good. Sigma’s early appearance, and defeat, was a great way to grab your attention, quickly followed by tangibly high stakes. The questions asked in X4, namely whether or not the Maverick Hunters are truly a force for good, are further expanded upon. Mavericks are being corrupted the Sigma Virus, and the only cure worth discussing is death. It’s heavy stuff, and builds upon the dark foundation the series is known for. The game also comes with a number of endings, drastically impacting both X and Zero’s character development.
The story unfortunately oversteps its boundaries and has a direct, negative effect on the gameplay. Due to the impending extinction event, you only have 16 hours to save the day. Each hour is represented by entering, and leaving a stage, and to stop the apocalypse, you need to fix your friendly neighbourhood laser cannon – which requires the defeat of four specific Mavericks. Easy stuff so far. Once you fire off your uber-laser, there is a very high probability that it will not work, moving you onto plan B – launching a shuttle into it and hoping for the best. Again, this requires parts acquired by defeating the remaining four Mavericks. You launch your shuttle, cross your fingers, and hope that it doesn’t result in planetary annihilation.
If unbearably overbearing probability was not enough, then should plan B fail, Zero dies. For good. He’s just gone, along with any Heart-Tanks he may have stashed in his luxurious locks. This may as well be a Game Over, as playing through the end game as an un-upgraded X is painful. Not unbeatable, but not worth the struggle. You have no control over how these events play out, and utterly bricking a save because the game was in a mood, just isn’t fun. Heck, it’s flat out bad design.
Tying into all of this, is the inclusion of parts and boss levels. Bosses now scale based on how much time has passed, becoming more powerful the closer the world is to destruction. On the surface, this is awesome. It keeps bosses challenging, even as you yourself, become more powerful. As with most things, it has a downside – Parts. Parts are powerful upgrades that can only be obtained by defeating Mavericks after they have reached a certain level, which each boss dropping a specific part. If you are not aware of this, you permanently miss out on incredibly potent abilities, such as the Ultimate Buster. In order to get all the parts, you need the timer to tick down. This means dying repeatedly, and leaving the stage. Multiple times. The logic behind this decision is almost space-brain, and kills the pacing of the early game.
Speaking of pacing, the game is plagued by the latest addition to the Mega Man X cast – Alia. She is your eye in the sky, and occupies the loathsome position of irritating radio companion. She will chime in constantly to exposit, inform you of hazards, update you on the state of the weather and letting you know when your dinner is ready. Mega Man X is all about momentum and flow, and Alia’s constant chatter, shatters any semblance of that. If you ever feel like you’re in the zone, rest assured, Alia will be waiting in the bushes, ready knock you out of it.
Then we have the levels, which are a victim of bad railroading. Due to the game being split into two halves, it encourages you to tackle four specific stages first. These four stages contain some of the worst stages in Mega Man history, tarnishing your first impression quite substantially. Tidal Whale and Volt Kraken in particular, are painful to playthrough. Volt Kraken has a horrendously designed auto-scrolling jetbike sequence, followed by a tedious, time-wasting string of puzzles. Tidal Whale is another auto-scroller, only this time it is incredibly slow and has you fighting three mini-bosses. The game even has the gall to have you play the stage three times to truly complete it. It’s poor level design, and quite frankly, it’s lazy. The remaining six levels are top notch and truly well designed, which makes the poor introduction to the game all the more painful.
Despite being a bit on the ‘meh’ side, the levels in question are jam packed with goodies and collectables. You have the ever present Heart, Weapon and Sub-Tanks to keep you healthy, as well as a eight armour capsules – allowing you to craft two new suits of armour for X. You have the Gaia Armour, a super durable suit that is immune to spikes, can destroy certain walls and has a short ranged buster, but the inability to use special weapons. You also have the Falcon Armour, which packs a weaker charge shot but gains the ability to become almost indestructible, fly for a few seconds and destroy everything in its path. Both are pretty cool, although the Gaia Armour does fall into the “incredibly situational” category, and the Falcon Armour occupies the “use this for every other situation” category. They are fun rewards for exploration, giving a real sense of power growth.
Which is impressive considering X is at his most powerful…ever. Providing you select him at the start of the game, you are given the wonderfully destructive Fourth Armour – the armour you acquired in Mega Man X4. This thing comes with damage reduction, a higher ammo cap, the air dash and even the plasma shot – which destroys everything in its path. Mega Man X5 wants you to feel like the stakes have risen, that you haven’t had time to rest, and that you need to bring the big guns, straight away, if you are to succeed. It’s a power trip from beginning to end, and it admittedly feels pretty good, flaws be damned.
Zero does get shafted quite heavily in X5, mostly due to the whole dying thing. He also doesn’t receive any new armour upgrades, leaving him a bit on the shabby end of the spectrum when it comes to his fashion sense. That being said, his gameplay is more or less perfect. This emphasis on close combat, Z-Sabre action is as satisfying as ever, and his boss techniques are much more useful this time around, making him a little bit more forgiving to the newbies. Unlike in X4, you can select Zero for any mission, regardless of who you pick at the start of the game giving you free reign on how you want to tackle each stage.
The bosses themselves are interesting enough to fight with, either X or Zero, and are truly the highlight of the experience. Scaling health works in their favour, keeping the challenge at a consistent level – something no other Mega Man game has managed to achieve thus far. The weapons they drop are simultaneously great, and a bit of a let down – for X at least. This is entirely due to the power of X’s armours. The Fourth Armour’s plasma shot is effective in every situation, removing the need and desire to use sub-weapons. The Falcon Armour on the otherhand, will be flying around most of the time, whilst the Gaia Armour can’t use them at all. Of course, you can experiment if you want, but I found little in the way of motivation to do so.
Mega Man X5 is an anomaly. It is a game ravaged by bad design decisions, and ultimately fails to live up to it’s vastly superior brothers. That being said, it’s not an irredeemably bad game, it is merely an incredibly flawed one. The core gameplay is satisfying, the progression and power trip it provides feels great, when it nails the level design, it feels like a great Mega Man game. Had it spent more time in development, gotten a bit more love in terms of production, and ironed out the poor implementation of its new systems, this could have been a brilliant sequel. As it stands, it is just comes across as above average at best, and a let down at worst.
After completing Mega Man X5 several times for this review, I do not feel like it’s a game I would willingly choose to play again – at least not for a long time. There are Mega Man games out there, that do practically everything this game does, but better. Let me know what you think of Mega Man X5 in the comments below.
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