It ultimately feels redemptive to make significant progress in Bluepoint Games’ 2020 rendition of Demon’s Souls when I consider that in 2009, a younger version of me gave up in disgust in the original’s first level. This is not to say this shinier Demon’s Souls is sanitized in any way, mind you, as even the game’s most timid enemies brutally punish minor mistakes. It deftly marries deliberate, fluid combat with esoteric mechanics and lore and I cannot emphasize enough how much the PlayStation 5 controller’s haptic feedback enhances the former. I’m thrilled it is now playable on a modern platform.
Astral Chain is mega rad. The end. Do I need 100 words for that? I mean, I guess I could talk about the difficult to master but ultimately rewarding controls, the over-the-top anime action, or mostly forgettable plot, but at the end of the day, the main thing that matters is that the game is a lot of fun and very satisfying to play. This is universally true when slinging chained space monsters into enemies and hurtling wildly after them, but less so when wandering aimlessly collecting keywords for ostensibly investigative purposes. That said, Astral Chain is an overlooked gem.
After X7, there was really nowhere to go but up, and Mega Man X8 certainly fulfills at least those very low expectations. Mercifully, it returns to a primarily 2D format, although there are some segments that still take place in 3D. As one might expect, these segments are some of the game’s weaker points, including, what else, a fully 3D auto-scrolling level that gives X5 Volt Kraken’s stage a run for its money on terribleness. However, newcomer Axl feels better to play than in X7 and the controls are vastly improved in general, resulting in a much stronger game overall.
Mega Man X7 is really the pinnacle of the series when it comes to awfulness. The previous two games weren’t great, but the level of strength required to be a Mega Man X7 apologist is likely beyond what mere mortals could muster. To put it lightly, Mega Man X did not make a smooth transition to 3D. Between despicably bad camera angles, laughably bad controls, ear-splitting sound effects and voiceover, and yes, oh yes, yet another agonizingly bad auto-scrolling level that is somehow one of the game’s better levels, Mega Man X7 disappoints even those with the lowest of expectations.
Mega Man X6 is about as direct a continuation of Mega Man X5 as you could imagine, which isn’t great news for anyone who might have been expecting a fresh take on a deteriorating series. Level design continues to be frustrating and hunting for collectibles and upgrades more obtuse than ever. X6 does feature a more interesting arsenal than the previous game, but this does little to distract from the fact that some upgrades are locked behind rescuable reploids that can die before you get to them! The entire game is a slog only broken by reasonably tolerable boss fights.
While Mega Man X4 was solid all around, X5 is a mess. It also establishes some tropes that the series could have done without, like the poorly explained virus mechanic and the ability to rescue reploids scattered around various stages. Rescuing reploids ultimately amounts to an annoying chore, especially since it’s generally a nightmare to navigate the game’s levels. This is never more true than in Volt Kraken’s stage, likely the worst auto-scrolling level in the entire series. Death is likely within its first few seconds. There is little of redeeming value for X5 aside from its traditional core gameplay.
Mega Man X4 finally pulled out all the stops for its debut on the PlayStation by upgrading Zero to a fully playable character that learns entirely different abilities than X. Zero’s also much more responsive than in his X3 appearance. Because he must dispatch his enemies in melee, his playstyle is considerably riskier than the range-centric X. X4 in general has a much glossier 2D look than its predecessors and feels floaty and slightly less fluid. X4 does a lot well, but commits a sin the X series would continue to repeat by featuring a miserable auto-scrolling jet bike level.
Mega Man X3 is often considered to be among the hardest in the series thanks in no small part to stage-hopping minibosses that must be defeated in order to unlock all of the game’s content. It’s also notable as being the first game in the series to feature energy saber-wielding Zero as a playable character, although in an admittedly limited capacity. He feels especially sluggish to play when compared to later iterations. For X, a new vertical air dash causes more problems than it solves. X3 is a tad more frustrating than the first two games but otherwise pretty strong.
Always content to capitalize on their successes, Capcom quickly released a follow-up to Mega Man X with a very similar formula. X2 works in much the way its predecessor does but adds some new traversal mechanics to even further distance (heh) itself from the classic series. Air dashing is a lot of fun, although occasionally unwieldy. The arsenal of weaponry at X’s disposal is noticeably less impressive, though, and a series of annoying roaming bosses that pop up in random stages is a sore point. A less than memorable soundtrack also does it no favors. MMX2 is serviceable but nonessential.
The classic Mega Man series stayed on the NES for six games until Mega Man X arrived on the SNES in 1993 as a paradigm shift for a traditionally campy series about a wacky robot boy vanquishing a series of themed villainous robot men. Mega Man X is sleeker, has more action, and emphasizes platforming less. Gone are languid slides and hops for fast dashes and wall jumping. It’s remarkably fluid to play and has a killer soundtrack that has lived on in the gaming music community for decades after its original release. Mega Man X just gets everything right.