Mega Man X6 is what happens when developers throw too many ideas at a wall, and a publisher doesn’t give enough time for those ideas to materialise into something worth playing. It’s a self-destructive mix of overambition, laziness and greed. A cacophonous concoction of criminally convoluted mechanics, level design, enemy placement and boss encounters. A combination that ultimately became one of the least enjoyable experiences I have had to endure in recent memory. After 16 back-to-back Mega Man games, it truly hurts to review a title in such a negative light. But let’s put aside the introductory doom and gloom for now, and jump right into the review.
First things first, regardless of what negativity may come after, Mega Man X6 controls like a dream. X6 is a Mega Man game through and through, and therefore it’s tighter than a jar of peanut butter at a squirrel convention. Moving, jumping, dashing and shooting are all on point, and feel great. The addition of the Z-Sabre gives X a nice melee option, albeit a limited one, and the return of the crouch adds a strange new dimension to dodging. Zero makes a return, bringing all the flashy flair he always has. Each of the unlockable armours feel unique and powerful. Most of the core elements that make up Mega Man X are undeniably here, and function fantastically.
X6 also opens with an admittedly great introductory stage. You are given a relatively safe environment to fiddle with all the game’s mechanics, and even get to beat up a traditionally paper-like boss. Whether you’re new, or old to X6, this level is perfect. You get to skip cutscenes, ignore your radio companion, Alia, and even experience the (somewhat nerfed) Falcon Armour straight away. These are all great changes and additions. The Falcon Armour in particular, gives you the all important air-dash from the get go, making X6’s rendition of X the most mobility diverse X in series history.
It’s a shame then, that every stage after the introduction ranges from bad, to irredeemably awful. Levels fail to deliver interesting, or even fair, platforming challenges. Enemies are placed in such a way that it is a struggle to gain any momentum, or flow. They even come with just enough health to be tedious – quite literally body blocking you with walls of gears and dials. It feels like the game has been coated in a thick layer of adhesive, that artificially extends your experience in any given area. If you are not falling into a death-pit, you are running into an enemy you couldn’t see, or standing around spending too much time killing a roadblock. One stage literally has you fighting a Robotic-Donut-Snake mini-boss five times in a row. The game even expects you to slog through these fights twice if you want all of the upgrades. It’s just lazy game design.
Stages become even worse when you factor in X6’s biggest gimmick – the ‘Nightmare’ system. Every now and then, a stage will become a Nightmare stage, radically increasing the level’s difficulty. This could be by throwing anything from unavoidable damage at you, to making you certifiably blind, to awkwardly removing platforms to make collecting upgrades more difficult. The game will highlight which stages have been randomly selected to be Nightmare stages, which is handy. What the game doesn’t tell you, is that defeating certain bosses will trigger a seemingly permanent Nightmare state on certain levels. In short, if you do things in the wrong order, you are going to be dealing with this system a lot. What little balance X6 had in its level design is quite literally shattered with this inclusion.
As with any Mega Man game, X6 is jam packed with collectables. Health and weapon recovery returns in the form of Sub Tanks and Weapon Tanks, and X can collect parts for two new suits of armour – the Blade Armour and the Shadow Armour, both which are awesome additions and provide unique ways of tackling Gate’s cronies. Had the game stopped here, then I would be singing its praises. Naturally, the game did not stop there. No, X6 decided to bring back the parts system from X5, and somehow make it worse. Parts are locked behind rescuable Reploids. These guys are scattered throughout each stage and merely touching them, will result in their safe return. Two things ruin this system. Firstly, these reploids can permanently die if certain enemies touch them. Secondly, to use parts you need souls, which require the killing of specific enemies to obtain. In short, that means grinding.
The issue with grinding, is that it is almost mandatory if you want to beat with any sort of player agency. Default X and the Shadow Armour X are unable to overcome the last few stages due to the game requiring specific abilities those armours do not provide. Alternatively you could use a combination of parts that require a significant amount of soul investment to equip. It is entirely possible for players to reach the final stages, beat multiple bosses and then hit an impassable roadblock, simply because they weren’t aware. It wouldn’t surprise me if players assumed you couldn’t overcome that part of the game with those armours. After the nonsense X6 puts you through, it’s almost expected at this point. Such a scenario should not exist, and it is a testament to the horrendous design of X6 that such a thing slipped through testing.
Thankfully the bosses in X6 are actually interesting to fight – to some degree. Like in X5, Mavericks have scaling health, and different attack patterns based on what order you do them in. This keeps the challenge somewhat level, regardless of how powerful you become. It’s a great system that’s been well refined between entries. The Mavericks themselves are also pretty darn cool, with the roster containing a Necromantic-Robo-Shark, a Falsely-Labelled-Nonconformist-Clam, and even a Magma Dragoon knock-off. Even the weapons you obtain after killing them are awesome, giving some nice variety to the gunplay. Unfortunately, like so many things, the ball does inevitably get dropped. You encounter a number of extra bosses throughout your journey, most of which are easily beaten with a bit of practice. That being said, one of them is potentially unbeatable should you encounter him too early – High Max. This monstrosity has an incredibly ponderous, and random, attack pattern. Additionally, he cannot be hurt by conventional means, thus can force a game over if you don’t have the right weapons. His inclusion at all is baffling, but he is not the worst offender.
No, that honour goes to Gate. This guy was clearly designed by someone who not only hates gaming, but clearly humanity as a whole. Like High Max, Gate has a completely random attack pattern, and is immune to all attacks, but this time, his arena is suspended over a giant death-pit. It’s not uncommon for this guy to do nothing for minutes at a time, destroy platforms, alter the fabric of reality, more-or-less remove your ability to jump and generally frustrate you to an unfathomable degree. It took me hours to beat him, and the time I did finally beat him, was entirely down to chance. He just so happened to do the one thing that hurts him, repeatedly, and he died in about 40 seconds or so. Thankfully he is immediately followed up by Sigma, who goes down if exposed to a light breeze.
What kept me fighting till the bitter end, was actually the plot. After the successful destruction of the Eurasia Space Colony, a Reploid known as Gate becomes infected by recurring villain: Sigma. In a virus related madness, he goes about his villainous ways, once again bringing chaos to the world of Mega Man. X jumps into action once more, brandishing his former partners Z-Sabre, and the cycle begins anew. To anyone familiar to the X series, none of this should be surprising. It’s a cheap and cheery way to get you into the fight, and it does it’s job. Typical Mega Man.
Outside of the opening crawl, Mega Man X6 does actually manage to deliver an almost compelling story. It continues to build upon the concept that X, despite his limitless freewill and potential, is a slave. A mere tool used to commit mass murder in the name of justice. It’s compelling stuff that really develops the X universe, X as a character, and many of the Mavericks in a satisfying way. As with X5 however, the localisation here is dreadful. Dialogue is painful to read, killing any emotional weight the story could have. Entire sentences devolve into nonsensical, garbled gibberish by the end, reducing the games plot, to nothing more than comedic claptrap.
Graphically, X6 is a surprising step back. Whilst it retains the stellar sprite work found in the rest of the PS1 trilogy, everything feels a little bit messy, almost overcrowded. I often found myself feeling overwhelmed with the amount of ‘stuff’ on screen, losing track of projectiles and the like. That being said, character models as a whole look great with a special mention going to the bosses, as per usual. This isn’t an ugly game, merely an unpolished one at times.
Despite my dislike for X6, I cannot deny that it has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. I would go as far as saying it is one of the best the series has ever produced. Top quality rock and metal accompanied by some bopping techno and electronic pieces hit all the right notes, even as the rest of the game is having a fit atop a broken drum kit.
Mega Man X6 is a low point in the series that I simply cannot recommend. Every minor positive is vastly overshadowed by an endless tyrade of substandard, unsatisfactory and thoroughly unacceptable negatives. Mega Man X6 is a game for the hardcore Mega Man fan – those of us who willingly want to suffer at the hands of their Lord and Saviour. It’s little more than self flagellation, delivered through the medium of gaming. Do yourself a favour and give this one a miss…or cheat. I wish I had.
Have you played Mega Man X6? Do you intend to? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below
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