Review by SethBlizzard

"Close but no capsule"

I don't know about you, but whenever I play Mega Man X2, I get this persistent, nagging thought in the back of my head saying 'unfinished'. Somehow, X2 feels like a less polished and characteristic game than Mega Man's SNES debut. That's not to say that it doesn't have it's good points, because it does. It does have two great Mavericks and some good music and imaginative stages, and yet, it feels like something vital is missing. X2 isn't going to repeat what Mega Man 2 did in surpassing the original, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. Not a all, in fact.

Those who have played the original X will feel right at home with this one. The control system is exactly the same, and this time you don't have to find Dr Light's capsules in order to be able to dash. You will, however, have to search for his capsules in order to air-dash, as well as hearts and E-tanks in order to stand a chance against the foes ahead. This is a good concept that I commend X2 for incorporating. Light's capsules are often ingeniously hidden and you'll have to use a bit of elbow grease to find all of them.

The graphics don't seem to have taken any obvious dips - if anything, there are a few nice touches. The detail-demanding levels through which X battles are beautiful. My favourite level is the Dinosaur Tank; a gigantic machine exactly as its name suggests, laying waste to the city in its path. A wonderful touch is how the longer you take to play the level, the more daytime passes, until eventually it's nighttime. There are other good graphical features, such as semi-static for the Maverick screens. The Mavericks are very well rendered; whether they're beautiful and charming characters is another story.

Sadly, the characters and character design is a major step down from X1, and in a franchise as dependent on its bosses for character as Mega Man, this is bad news. Instead of the big mammals/vertebrates of the first game, it seems that gastropods and similar life forms became the new fashion. Only Wheel Gator, Overdrive Ostrich and Flame Stag really justify their existence as Mavericks; the rest range from crabs to centipedes to moths and even a sponge, and they are bland and forgettable. Wheel Gator is probably the unofficial star of the game, firing spinning spiky wheels at X from underneath a pool of sludge. Not to mention is he a pleasing character to behold. The same can be said about Flame Stag (the beauty, not the sludge). A Maverick needs to be a good character, not just to have a gimmick (which is about the only thing the rest have going for them), to register. Both X1 and X3 have stronger Maverick casts than this game, and it's a serious slip in their quality.

There's a fine line between 'gimmick' and 'characteristic'. Overdrive Ostrich has probably the game's most unusual and memorable battle, which takes place out in the desert. No matter how far you run over the sandy hills, you never meet a barrier. Should you stray too far away from your foe, he will be shown running far in the background and then jump toward you, and you better dash away to escape heavy damage. Flame Stag's battle takes place in a shaft, which makes him hard to hit and even harder to dodge, especially when you consider that he spends most of the battle jumping from wall to wall. Morph Moth's battle is almost as unusual as Overdrive Ostrich's, in that you fight a larva for half the battle, then the moth himself in the latter half, whose dangerous attacks are hard to dodge. I'll give credit where credit is due; even though the quality of the Mavericks themselves is inconsistent at best, their battles are imaginatively set up, a seed of creativity that would eventually serve games like X4 well.

The story is tied into the game itself in an interesting way. While X and the rest of the Maverick hunters are tracking the last resistance Maverick group to an abandoned Reploid factory, a group of three Mavericks calling themselves the "X-Hunters" plan to get revenge on X for destroying Sigma, and to rebuild Zero. After a few levels, you can go to certain levels and - by straying from the path a bit - battle one of these X-Hunters. Some of them are quite tough indeed, like Serge, who forces you to both avoid mines on the floor and avoid his projectiles as well as wait for the few moments when he's vulnerable. They will be even tougher when you meet them later in the game, however. You have to be careful to fight them as soon as you can, to get Zero's parts, if you want to avoid battling Zero later in the game. You heard that right; unless you go out of your way for challenge, you'll actually fight against your blonde friend. The X-Hunters are a charming group of villains that give a much-needed layer of character to the game to make up for the poor Maverick roster. Kind of the opposite of what would happen in X3, huh?

No offense to Yuki Iwai but this is probably the most bizarre Mega Man soundtrack I've ever heard. Many tunes have unusual or even difficult rhythms to follow, making it hard to hum along to them even if they sound good in theory. A few of them are top-notch, though, in particular Wheel Gator's violent and high-charged, wailing guitar-techno track. Flame Stag's guitar-heavy track is another winner (very catchy). Wire Sponge has an eerily haunting and captivating theme, and Crystal Snail's plinky-plonky guitar number is quite infectious. The rest, however, just aren't that memorable, if not downright irritating, especially the two quite putrid tunes before and after (not during) a boss. Something about the soundtrack sounds kind of off-putting, if oddly fascinating. Much like the game itself. The X-Hunter boss battle tune is quite hilarious, let's leave it at that, and again with that renegade rhythm. The sound effects are quite ear-grating, too, including the powered-up shot (not the charge) and especially the marbles-meet-glass sound as an energy bar is filled up.

After you beat the Mavericks and have beaten the X-Hunters a second time round (that is, if you faced against them earlier), you of course catch up with their leader. X2's final boss battle is deservedly one of its most recognizable traits, where you fight Sigma in the form of a virus head, spewing enemies (useful for energy) and other attacks. He has no energy bar in this form, but he will change colour and eventually tactic after several hits. One of the last and most dangerous is a possessing attack that can deliver big amounts of damage on you.. I'll give the game extra points for this battle, which is quite memorable (and the music doesn't spoil matters).

So what is it about X2 that misses the mark, in spite of its goodhearted intentions? The Mavericks aren't great, but hey, there are some good challenges. The bosses aren't that difficult, but hey, most have gimmicks. The trouble is, there's only so many ways you can present a flawed model. X2 really needed an overall sturdy soundtrack, a memorable set of following levels and, most importantly, a strong cast of Mavericks. Without these, an X game can be good, but it lacks that greatness. Even X3 makes up for Bit and Byte just for possessing those points. Aside from the game's philosophy of gimmick above character, X2's main flaw is simply how easy it is. I still have trouble beating at least one form of Sigma in practically all of the games, but not here. There is the tricky Serge, true, a boss much harder in both his forms than either of Sigma's, but you know you've got a problem when a sub-boss mops up the floor with your final boss.

For the unscrupulous, Mega Man X2 is an enjoyable platformer. It all comes down to character and replayability. The problem X2 faces is that it's sandwiched between two much more memorable titles. Mega Man X2 doesn't entice me to play it again as much as X1 or even X3, and rarely am I inspired to actually give the game a complete playthrough. It lacks something... Namely that character and personality so shining throughout the predecessor. X3 is practically X2's mirror image, with a great cast of Mavericks and main stages but losing practically all of its energy when moving on to the final stages. I find that to be a somehow much more forgivable flaw, though, than to have a mediocre cast of villains and have everything else just kinda measure up. Even so, X2 is, in its own way, an enjoyable and challenging game. It's a step down, but as far as steps down go, it's quite good.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/20/09, Updated 02/06/13

Game Release: Mega Man X2 (US, 01/31/95)

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