Mega Man X2
Review by AkumaZ
"One of the best Mega Man games ever."
Mega Man has been in more sequels and spin-offs than what could be counted on human digits- both hands and toes. Before being deluged by cash-in sequels, each new Mega Man series has brought several new additions to his vast gaming universe. The 1994 release of Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo saw Capcom reinventing the wheel, giving its blue mascot new abilities, a darker storyline, unique bosses, and the muscle of 16-bit hardware pumping out gorgeous graphics, animation and sound.
The next year, Capcom quickly returned to the well to capitalize on X's success. Mega Man X2 at first seems like Capcom on auto-pilot: take the same formula and reheat. However, X2 is one of the few sequels in Mega Man's history to be able to not only extend the storyline of one of gaming’s greatest characters, but to create a game that can stand alone on it own merits. It is a sequel in the best sense, as everything- graphics, music, story, and fun factor- is turned up one notch above its predecessor. While X2 was swallowed up in the hype of several big-name SNES games- namely Donkey Kong Country- and the waning popularity of the 16-bit generation of systems, it still carries the quintessential elements of what has helped Mega Man stand the test of time along with gaming's greats.
For those unfamiliar with the “X” series, X2 takes place six months after the events of the first game. Sigma has been defeated, but only after X's friend Zero sacrificed himself to save X. Three reploids- Serges, Violen and Agile- have set out to rebuild Zero with their true intentions- and controlling interest- clouded in mystery. In addition, the Mavericks have regrouped and eight (isn't it always eight?) are stationed to present a challenge for the blue Maverick Hunter. Once again, X has to defend the world against the threat of the Mavericks, but he also has another challenge: to investigate the disappearance of his friend and partner Zero.
The story may sound a little stale in comparison to the depth of modern games, but action/platformers stressed tight gameplay and blasting thrills over a complicated story-arc. Considering the future massacre of the “X” storyline in later follow-ups- particularly the later PlayStation “X” games- the storyline of X2 is good; it is slowly building up a back-story filled with tension and a startling surprise to come, but you only begin to sense something after the experience is over.
Graphically, X2 is the best of the SNES X games- including X3. Every character is animated well, from the main players to insignificant enemies. From physically gigantic bosses- with one taking up the height of the screen- to visually stunning effects, X2 goes places where no Mega Man game ever attempted. There are even little nit-picky touches to the graphics, with different animated effects in correlation to specific weapons. Wire Sponge's death (via a certain weapon) stands out as an example of the extra graphical touches. The backgrounds spring forth with life, as the SNES hardware is put to good use to pump out tons of parallax scrolling, weather effects (rain, wind creating dust storms, etc.), and huge environments. Although touches of slowdown occur with numerous characters filling the screen- a common occurrence in 2D games- the moments are few and far-between.
X2 was also the first Capcom cartridge game to introduce 3D polygon graphics via the C4 chip. Embedded within the cartridge, this tiny processor enabled the developers to create polygon-rendered boss showdowns- although the tradeoff was graphical slowdown. While the first 3D boss encounter seems to be merely for show, the creation of the final boss via wire-framing was awe-inspiring for its time- on a Super Nintendo no less.
Sound-wise, Mega Man X2 stands up equally with its predecessor. Musically, X2 takes a different approach compared with its predecessor. While Mega Man X went for a more dramatic and classic approach for its music scores, X2 is all about getting the player pumped for the action. Whether it is the guitar-driven frenzy of Flame Stag’s stage music, the hi-tech frantic strains of Magna Centipede’s stage or the serene notes of Crystal Snail’s BGM, each track is perfectly placed for the stage. Personally, I feel that X2 has THE BEST soundtrack of any Mega Man X game- and perhaps near or at the top of my list for any “Blue Bomber” game- as each stage have never been captured so well sonically. It is opinion of course, so don’t let that sway you. The sound effects are accurately captured, and each explosion and hit perfectly matches the onscreen action. The SNES sound chip doesn't get a workout here, but makes everything sound great.
The control of a game is an important factor for me, and Mega Man games- and most Capcom games- excel in this area. The “X” series added a few new moves to the standard arsenal, which required new controller maneuvers and more dexterity. Mega Man games are known for their rock-solid controls and tight feel to every jump, dash, and leap-of-faith. With that said, X2 manages to pull off the expected with flying colors. You always feel you are in control of X, and any deaths as a result of poorly-timed jumps or hits are the fault of the player.
The challenge of X2 is one of its few weak spots. Mega Man games have a reputation for difficulty, recently seen in newer incarnations such as Mega Man and Bass and the Mega Man Zero series. While I personally found Mega Man X to be balanced in its difficulty, X2 feels surprisingly easy in comparison. Most of the stages feel like a cakewalk, with the bosses presenting a mild challenge. The boss patterns- long a sore spot of one-dimensionality for Mega Man detractors- are exploitable once you find their rhythm and use the right weapon. In its defense, newcomers to the series will find a nice challenge in learning how to fight the bosses.
None of these game components would be of any matter if it wasn't for one main thing- the reason why people play video games: how fun the game is. Fun factor determines how much enjoyment you get from the game, and is influenced by how well all of the game’s aspects- both aesthetically and emotionally- come together. Playing Mega Man X2 is a blast, and for those who grew up with the Blue Bomber, X2 is an especially giddy-like-a-schoolgirl-in-love experience. The sharp controls make playing the game a breeze and the scenery and aural sensations only enhance the experience. The familiar gameplay and slightly forgiving challenge, in a way, actually give the game a kick-in-the-pants feel for newcomers and veterans alike as they tear through each stage. Unfortunately, many of the “X” games that followed lost this sense of platforming enthusiasm.
Capcom's notoriety of milking its franchises has all but worn out the blue man's prowess of late, pumping dry milk out of the ''X'' series and running the same potential risk with its newer ''Battle Network'' and “Mega Man Zero” side-stories. However, out of all the additions to the Blue Bomber's legacy, there are only a few that advanced the little guy's status as a legend in platforming goodness. Mega Man X2 would qualify as such an addition. With sharp graphics, pumping soundtrack and tough-as-nails control, X2 perfectly captures the Mega Man formula at its best. On its own, it is a great action/platform game, but it truly stands out among the best Mega Man games. It is well worth dusting off the Super Nintendo (or just popping in the cartridge for those who still play their SNES like myself) and taking a trip to when the “X” games were still amazing experiences.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/20/03, Updated 04/20/03
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