Mega Man Retrospective Addendum: Reranking X1-X6
Mega Man X related stuff has taken a lot of my time and attention as of late. And the other day, I looked back on the retrospective series I did on the Classic series, as well as X1-X6, some time back, thinking of how my views have changed - especially while doing the Masochist Runs that have forced me to look at X4-X6 from a fresh perspective.
I don't know why a lot of people would care about this, but I may give it a shot anyway.
So, this is Mega Man X1-X6 ranked from best to worst, as far as they stand with me right now.
#1 Mega Man X
To the surprise of no one, I'm opting to be a walking cliché, and apologizing to absolutely nothing for it. If you don't like it, I don't care one iota.
There's just no other Mega Man game I could realistically place as #1 other than the original X.
Some of it is nostalgia goggles, but some of the reasons are also very legitimate. Despite the fact that later entries in the X series alone could be called objectively better, the original X is to me what Mega Man 2 is to a lot of people in the classic series. That timeless classic that holds its value despite how many million times I play through the 30-minute game.
To have a better understanding of what made the original X so special, one has to go back to 1993 - when the Super Nintendo was all the rage.
A lot of us who loved and grew up with the original NES were excited to see what kinds of transformations our favorite games and franchises would see on this shiny new 16-bit console.
Mega Man X, to me, is the absolute poster child of pulling this sort of transition off.
It took the familiar elements of the original series, and took them to a new and exciting direction.
Hearing that awesome heavy metal guitar riff kick in the first time I turned on the game still stands as one of my all-time favorite gaming moments.
And even though we all hate the intro stage these days, back in the day, it was a great introduction to the game. I remember being shocked when I first discovered when can climb walls now. Fuck the classic series, I can wall climb now! However, after having played the classic games to death, it was a shock at first to see how inadequate X was compared to the old Mega Man. His health bar was pathetic and he seemed outmatched against the enemies he was put against.
Then if we managed to make it to the end of the intro stage, there was this Boba Fett knockoff kicking our sorry ass, and there was nothing we could do about it.
To make matters even worse, our ass gets saved by the infinitely cooler Zero whose buster shot was so powerful, it cut off Vile's arm in one blast.
Now we're thinking: "Why can't I be like that guy? That's the Mega Man I want to play as."
After the intro, we pick an arbitrary stage and get our ass kicked again. We keep wondering what the fuck is going on until we finally stumble upon the dash boots in Chill Penguin's stage. And now things finally start to make sense. Everything is a little easier, we pick up a few more upgrades, some heart tanks and sub tanks.
We grow stronger little by little until reaching Sigma's first fortress stage where Zero makes his sacrifice and leaves us his Z-Buster.
Even though it's possible to find the buster early on in the game, I'm confident this was intended to work out the way it did for most of us, and it was good job by Capcom.
Unlike any other game in the series, the original X has a mood and an atmosphere about it that can't be matched, in my opinion.
The biggest thing to set the mood here is the soundtrack during the four Sigma stages. The music goes from Judgement Day in Sigma 1 to epic and heroic in Sigma 2, to threatening and depressing in Sigma 3 the deeper we go into the fortress, until finally it's just that creepy piano and the worms in Sigma 4.
No other game in the series does it like that.
And, honestly, they really couldn't.
X1 is the only game in the series where we are playing as a new hero facing a new threat, and we're unaware as to whether or not this new Mega Man is up to the task.
Every game after the original is just X going through the motions. And while that's not a bad thing in and of itself, the mood of the original game can't be matched by any of the sequels.
That's the long lasting appeal of X1 for me after all these years, and a big reason why I still find myself going back to that game.
The inadequate feel of X from the offset, coupled with the soundtrack, the sense of growth, and an epic conclusion make this my favorite Mega Man X game.
It has very little to do with things like boss AI or stage design, even though I love every stage in the game.
There's just something so timeless about X1 that places it as my favorite game.
#2 Mega Man X3
This is something that surprises a lot of diehards.
But yes: I'm putting X3 as #2. The funny thing is, I can think of a lot of reasons why X3 shouldn't be #2, and definitely not above X2.
The boss AI is mostly silly; the stages suffer from a lot of empty stretches with nothing going on; the game has a lot of ideas, but they're somewhat half-baked and unfinished.
The soundtrack is... okay. For the most part.
But there's a charm in X3 that isn't found in any of the other games in the series, even X1. And even if the ideas X3 tried out were half-baked, I always appreciate it when late entries in a series try out new things, instead of relying on the already tried and tested formula.
Being able to play as Zero was, albeit brief, cool for the first time. The upgrade enhancement capsules were a neat idea, just slightly broken. And there was a threatening, apocalyptic atmosphere present in X3, similar to X1, which was missing in X2.
The multiple ways you could alter the late game stages and bosses were a good touch, too.
I also appreciate the fact that X3 was the first X game with an actually realized difficulty level. Enemies deal more damage and take more hits, and they're often placed in spots that make it easy for you to trip over them. A lot of people don't like X3 because of its artificial difficulty, but those of us who enjoy the challenge can find a lot to like about X3.
The first two Doppler stages are among my favorite stages in the series, too. They're the good kind of hard. They challenge you make you learn them, but they're nothing soul-crushingly painful. Fun to rush through, but never too easy.
A big flaw in X3 is its weird fetish for drawn out elevator segments. I never understood the thought process behind them, other than maybe Dr. Doppler felt that boring X to death would be an efficient way to get rid of him.
As for speedruns, I enjoy watching X3 speedruns the most because there's little RNG and the run is mostly technical execution.
#3 Mega Man X2
The game that should really be either #1 or #2.
X2 smoothed out the flaws of X1, technically giving us the same experience, only better. X2's level design is much better than X1's; it lends itself so well to speeding through it without stopping for anything, feeling exactly how you're supposed to feel in a Mega Man X game, which is completely unstoppable.
The X-Hunter/Zero Parts concept was fun, and overall X2 is a great experience.
What drag it down are A) soundtrack, which is very impressive-sounding given the hardware at the time, but lacks the oomph of X1 and X3, and B) The lack of an atmosphere.
X2 never feels threatening, and it never feels like you're saving the world. It's mostly business as usual, going through the motions for X.
And I do love X2. I like how it feels like an old Sonic game in the sense that it's not hard in any way, but all the more satisfying to fly through. The lack of a feel and atmosphere to it is more of a nitpick than anything else.
I still loved it the first time Violen came out and kicked my ass before I even had to time to wonder what in the fuck I was doing in a boss fight that early in the stage.
A special mention goes out to my favorite intro stage in the X series, as well as the first X-Hunters stage which is one of my all time favorites.
I never get tired of playing it, or watch it being played right.
#4 Mega Man X5
This is something I didn't see myself doing when I first played X5.
I would like to note that for X5 and X6, I am speaking strictly of the Xtreme difficulty which is the only difficulty option I've ever used for either game.
The game felt so needlessly convoluted, and requiring a flowchart just to find the optimized way through it felt unnecessary.
But once I played through it some more, got used to it, et cetera, I started to appreciate the fact that X5 was as ambitious as it was. It was supposed to be the last game in the series, and wanted to reinvent itself. Thatäs something I can respect.
I also like the fact that we could finally choose between X and Zero on a stage by stage basis.
That said, X5 suffers from some character bias, in the vein of Mega Man and Bass from back in the day. X is not welcome in this game, as X5 is completely designed around Zero.
Want to have a good time? Play as Zero.
X is terribly unprepared for some of the challenges in X5. X5 and X6 in particular differ from all of their predecessors in the sense that the designers didn't want you to play as Unarmored X - under any circumstances.
You're supposed to overpower the fuck out of yourself from the get-go.
And for a player like me, it doesn't really sit well.
Having said that, however.
X5 features some of the best level and boss design in the series with involved patterns, challenging enemy placement, and traps that never really repeat themselves.
Every stage comes with a gimmick and every gimmick is unique, which is something I have to appreciate. There's not really a boring stage in the game - other than Duff McWhalen on repeat playthroughs, but even Duff was pretty fun the first time around.
It's the fact that you need to visit Duff three times in a 100% playthrough that makes it rough.
It took me a while to appreciate it, but I really like how the overall level design in X5 is an amalgamation between the Classic series and the X series.
What I mean by this is that X5 is much more of a pure platformer than any of the other games in the series.
It threw me off at first, but considering it was supposed to be the end of the series, all the call backs and love letters to the history of the franchise are actually kind of neat.
And going through some of these stages as Zero is just pure fun, and can result in some of the best time had with a Mega Man X game.
Not to mention the battle between X and Zero, which is just the most badass moment of any Mega Man game - Classic, X, Zero, or ZX - period.
The reason X5 is #4 is simply because I don't have quite the attachment to the PlayStation games as I do the Super Nintendo games. Call it nostalgia, call it whatever you want, but it's my list and I'm sticking to it.
Every game on the list I like very much, though.
#5 Mega Man X6
The one everyone hates. But you know something? I don't hate it - even despite the fact that it's probably the least subtle cash cow I've come across in gaming.
X6 is special case.
I do admit that a big part of me liking it probably has to do with witnessing people getting personally attacked for liking X6 - which inspired me to try and find out why these people liked it enough to defend to the naysayers.
X6 can be rough. The Nightmare enemies, the Nightmare effects on the stages, High Max and Gate's boss fights... as well as the fact that it's possible to enter a stage or a boss fight without the means to beat them, meaning suicide is your only option.
I think some of those issues were just the result of a lack of playtesting.
I do like the fact that, after X5, X6 is a return to simplicity. I beat the intro stage, pick a Maverick stage - and there's the action.
I don't need to find a Power Point presentation to learn how to approach X6. It's there, ready to be played like any old X game.
And then, of course, there's the difficulty. At least on Xtreme, X6 still manages to kick my ass, despite several playthroughs. And I like that.
X6, moreso than any other X game, makes you feel like a badass when you blaze through it. Mostly because the game is indeed challenging.
I'm not a big armor user in the X games, but the armors in X6 serve a purpose and are very good, in my opinion. Much better than in X5. And X5 didn't have anything even closely as amazing as the Shadow Armor.
The inexplicable appeal of X6, to me, is the fact that I'm addicted to the pain. I enjoy doing Unarmored X stuff in X6 simply because it's so beyond anything any of the other X games can throw at me.
It annoys me how people's complaint of X6 is the fact that it's difficult. It's not supposed to hold your hand. You're supposed to get good.
X6 is also home of the best soundtrack in the series, outside of the original.
There are some plotholes and whatnot - or so I've heard - but I've never paid attention to the plot in any of these games, so I don't particularly care. Considering how Capcom and good storytelling are sworn enemies anyway, I don't see a reason to.
I guess I ended up loving X6 because... I don't know. I'm a freak like that. It still manages to catch me by surprise from time to time with the sheer amount of bullshit it can punish me with.
I mean. There has to be something to respect and appreciate about the levels of absolute insanity it can go to. The lengths X6 goes to in order to kick your sorry ass is admirable.
The bosses are some of the most complicated in gaming, and the levels to which their patterns and attacks change based on boss levels and difficulty settings is something to love.
Maybe not for normal people, but for an idiot like me - yeah, bring it.
#6 Mega Man X4
This is the X game most people cite as either their favorite or second favorite. And I don't hate it, or even dislike it. I can have agreat time with X4. But X4, out of all the X games, is least remarkable for me. I have very few feelings towards it, positive or negative.
Running through it is fun, but it's fun with all of these six games. I often seem to have the least interest in returning to X4, for whatever reason.
It has good level design, fun bosses, you can now play the whole game as Zero... but there's something lacking here. I can't even put my finger on it, to be honest.
The soundtrack is my least favorite of the bunch, despite the amount of love it seems to get. Outside of the Sky Lagoon themes for both X and Zero, I can't name a tune in the game that I particularly like.
I don't hate them, either. But, again, it's a very unremarkable soundtrack.
The final stages lack, too. They're probably the most underwhelming set of final stages in the series. No sense of danger or urgency. And the final Sigma form in X4 is just weird.
I'm not saying I don't like X4; if I pick up X4 and run through it, I'm going to have a good time. I'm just trying to justify its placement on this list - especially since it's generally such a beloved game.
It just hasn't managed to hold its appeal with me as well as the other ones, I guess.