It would not be overly remis of me to say that after Mega Man X7’s jump to 3D failed to garner much in terms of critical or player praise, and that the series was in quite the pickle. Formula stagnation had well and truly set in by this point, attempts to modernise were rejected and they had delivered three subpar – or downright awful – games back-to-back. In short, Mega Man was in a death spiral and Capcom needed to stabilise its descent, or let it crash and burn. Strangely enough, Mega Man X8 managed to do both simultaneously.
Guess Who’s Back?
The story kicks off in the same brow-furlingly idiotic way you will have come to expect if you have any experience with the series. A new breed of Reploids has emerged. A species so advanced, they are immune to any, and all, form of virus. With their coming, heralds the potential end of the Sigma virus, and peace will surely ensue. In a move that I can only assume was meant to be a joke, they decide to prove their new ability by morphing into Sigma enmasse. We are also introduced to a new figurehead antagonist by the name of Lumine (who is quickly forgotten about), and are shown a cool new elevator to the moon. Of course everything goes incredibly wrong, incredibly quickly, so iit is down to X, Zero and the returning Axel, to save the day once more.
As far as Mega Man plots go, this is certainly up there with the most outlandishly stupid of the bunch. As is always the case however, this is merely designed to be another excuse to run around eight themed levels, killing eight thematically relevant Mavericks. There’s no nuance, character development, or anything remotely worth investing in beyond this. This approach is not uncommon in gaming, however when a series insists on putting you through this rigmarole every entry, it gets more than a little bit tiring to say the least.
A Return To 2D
Once you skip past all of the drama, you can get into the meat and potatoes of the matter – the gameplay. On paper, Mega Man X8 is exactly what you would want from a Mega Man game. A 2D action platformer with 3 distinct characters fighting across eight diverse levels and taking on eight larger than life bosses who are designed to be the ultimate challenge. Mega Man X8 delivers on all of these fronts, to some extent, and even makes positive changes to the formula that I would love to see in future titles.
You begin each stage by selecting a character, of which you can bring two. Each character comes with a unique set of abilities and play styles, significantly changing how you will tackle each challenge. Poster boy X comes with his standard X-Buster. This bad boy can fire single pellets or powerup for a charge shot capable of wiping out a screen of enemies with ease. Zero has limited ranged options, however comes with an incredibly powerful Z-Sabre that decimates enemies at close range and has the ability to double jump. Axl is arguably the most interesting, if only by the comparable list of abilities he has. Axl has a rapid fire pistol that can fire in all directions (unlike X, who can only fire in a straight line), he can hover for a significant length of time and he comes prepackaged with his signature ‘Copyshot’ ability. Copyshot allows Axl to transform into any humanoid sized enemy he kills, unlocking even more temporary abilities to manage combat, platforming and puzzle situations in new, and interesting ways.
Shame It Ain’t No Three Way
The problem with having three playable characters, and only being able to bring two along to the party is that, naturally one will be left behind. In my case, despite having a fairly interesting kit, Axl was the guy who was cut from my roster. When all was said and done, Axl, for the most part, felt like X without the immensely powerful Charge Shot, and taking two ranged characters felt a bit redundant. Finally, Axl’s Copyshot simply didn’t have many scenarios that encouraged its use, resulting in me forgetting about it fairly regularly. It is nice to see Axl return after his poor X7 debut, but the core issues with his design have not been resolved, which is a shame.
Your exposition depositor, Alia, makes a return, ready to splurt various tidbits during your missions. After you complete the introductory stage you even get introduced to Layer and Palette, alternate navigators you can bring along instead of Alia. This opens up what kind of advice you want to be given when out on the field, such as boss weaknesses or secret hunting. More importantly however, you can turn them all off and go in blind. I personally found this to be my preferred option as being interrupted mid stage really broke the game’s flow. That being saids, they are nice additions for those who want a smoother experience.
Once you get past all of the menus and dialogue and teleport into a mission, things start to get interesting. X8, for all intents and purposes, is a classic X game at heart. Running left to right, jumping, shooting (or slashing) and partaking in the occasional vehicle section, is all present and accounted for. Combat is fast, explosive and satisfying thanks to tight controls and great visual feedback. Enemies come in waves of fodder, perfectly placed for quick disposal, or as larger, tankier enemies requiring a bit more thought to tackle. Platforming for the most part was also great, with each character having a satisfying jump height, the ability to wall jump and a dash for more horizontal momentum. Combined together, X8 gives you the opportunity to dash through levels at hyperspeed, destroying enemies with ease and bypassing platforming hurdles like they were nothing. Mechanically, X8 is a welcome return to form.
It is a shame then, that the level design is nowhere near as well refined. X8 suffers from a serious amount of padding that ultimately detracts from the overall experience. Each stage drags on for a substantial length of time, with the intrigue of the theme or gimmick being long gone before you make it to the end. Those are the good stages. The bad stages, when they crop up, are simply frustrating. One stage is composed mostly of slow auto-scroller sections, artificially extending the length to ludicrous degrees. Two whole stages are jetbike focused, both of which drag on for far too long, utilise a badly throughout mechanic and are easily the worst stages in the game. To top it all off, most stages are covered in instant death spikes, more so than usual. It felt like the developers didn’t have time to flesh out any of the stages, so put difficulty spikes and roadblocks to beef out the play time. It doesn’t matter how good your mechanics are, if the platform you are utilising them in, sucks.
Thankfully the boss battles themselves manage to pick up the pieces somewhat. Each of the eight bosses has just enough health to feel threatening, but not enough to incite frustration. They are not overly susceptible to their weaknesses, and when they are low on health, they gain a boost in terms of aggression, keeping the fight interesting right till the end. Some bosses are more enjoyable than others, but when considered as a whole, the roster on offer is fun to hunt. Killing a boss grants you a fancy new weapon, but as seems to be the case with most of the later Mega Man X titles, are not actually that great to use – especially on X. The X Buster is simply too powerful in its base form. As a result, I only really used them for boss killing. Zero on the other hand gains additional melee techniques to play around with, making his character more complex as you progress.
A Move In The Right Direction
After you pop a boss and return to base, you are given the opportunity to upgrade your characters. Each character is able to purchase various bonuses from the ingame shop ranging from simple health upgrades, to entire new weapons. The shop expands as you explore each level, and acquiring the currency to splash out on these enhancements is as easy as blowing up some enemies. Never before has it been so simple, or even straight forward, to get your band of misfits to max power which is absolutely a change I can get behind.
As with all Mega Man X games, there are unlockable armours for X to find and equip. Unlike in previous titles, you can mix and match each individual piece of armour to create the suit of your dreams, with each part granting new abilities. This massively opens up X’s options on a stage by stage basis, and if you do decide to equip a full set, you even get an additional bonus, adding an extra layer of depth. It is a shame Axl and Zero have no access to this system, but it’s inclusion in its current form is certainly a step in the right direction.
Out the box you can tell that more attention was put into X8’s presentation that X7. Everything from character models, to effects, to backgrounds have a noticeable increase in fidelity. Character models have had a change in style, making them look like they have elongated limbs, but compared to their bizarrely proportioned first outing, I much preferred the gangliness. Animations are where things really make huge strides however, especially with walk cycles. Instead of appearing like you are ice skating, X and the gang actually move naturally. This adds noticeable weight to movement, greatly improving how the game feels to play. Sound is also much improved, with voice acting finally achieving a level of adequacy that I can call it unironically good. The music is quite forgettable unfortunately. It exists, it does its job for the most part, but it doesn’t really stick with you once you move on.
As a complete package, Mega Man X8 is a good game held back by deadlines. The core mechanics and changes to the formula are great, but the level design puts a significant damper on the fun factor. Regardless, X8 is an undeniable improvement over X6 and X7, and is certainly worth playing. It serves as a fitting end to a series that struggled to maintain quality after the halfway mark. At the very least, Mega Man X8 concluded the X series on a much higher note than one would expect, but ultimately put the series into a well deserved stasis that, as of writing, shows no sign of being revived.
Toast Tentative Seal Of Approval
We did it everyone, we made it to the end of the Mega Mega Man X Marathon, making this my 18th Mega Man review! What a ride it has been. I was fully intending on moving onto another series of Mega Man games, but needless to say, I am a little bit burned out. Mega Man will return, but not for a little while. In the meantime, feel free to check out my other marathons (Castlevania springs to mind), and look forward to my next marathon which should be starting soon. Spoiler, it is about a residence that may, or may not, be full of evil.
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