Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: 12/07/2004
The Mega Man franchise as a whole has had one hell of a busy year. In 2004 alone, we’ve seen the release of Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge, the Mega Man Anniversary Collection, two versions of Mega Man Battle Network 4, plus Mega Man Zero 3 and the RPG Mega Man X Command Mission. Speaking of the latter, X returns to his platforming roots in his latest title, Mega Man X8. Hot off the heels of last fall’s lackluster Mega Man X7 (reviewed here), will the series’ eighth installment prove to be better or worse?
I pity the world X lives in. Things just keep going from bad to worse! In the aftermath of Sigma’s war against humanity, Earth is a complete hellhole, and humankind is desperately trying to escape and start a new colony on the moon. To achieve their goals, they’ve built an orbital elevator (dubbed the Jakob Project) to simplify transfer of equipment and personnel off the planet. Additionally, a new generation of Reploids is being mass produced to assist the colonists; in fact, X’s friend Axl was the prototype for these next-gen units. Well, as you’d expect, Sigma’s returned (along with another MMX character we haven’t seen in ages), and he’s corrupted these new Reploids to turn them against their human creators. X, Zero, and Axl take off to investigate the problems and shut down Sigma’s henchmen once more.
The story in the MMX series has been relatively constant since day one: fight off Reploids, destroy bosses, gain weapons, eventually defeat Sigma. It’s a tried-and-true formula that while unoriginal still works well. The gradual expansion of the MMX story into a true world-spanning fight to save the planet has been most welcome. The only big downside to all of this is that plenty of other scifi series share the same basic post-apocalyptic setup. MMX8 is no different; it’s all been done before, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Early coverage on MMX8 seemed to indicate that it would be using the same graphical engine as its predecessor. This doesn’t seem to be the case, as the graphics look much better this time around. Everything moves with incredible fluidity, and there seems to be a lot more detail. The shading and textures look especially tight.
Some minor tweaks to X’s armor have been made; he’s got a few seams that weren’t there before, and his boots are slimmer than the giant cones he used to run around in. This is likely a precursor to the heavily altered armor he sports in MMX Command Mission, which takes place much further down the timeline than the regular MMX games.
The voice cast from MMX Command Mission is back, and thankfully, the script is much better this time around. Every character in the game has at least a few lines of spoken dialogue, and the English voice acting is surprisingly good. The music and sound effects fare just as well, too; many of the classic MMX sounds are there, but they’ve been retooled a bit as necessary. The music isn’t anything absolutely mindblowing, but the various tracks have more of a scifi feel and fit each stage perfectly. The usual techno-rock stuff is scattered about, but plenty of symphonic melodies are there to be heard.
Praise whatever god or gods you worship: MMX8 is a 2D sidescroller. Or, to be more accurate, it’s a 2.5D sidescroller. Even though everything is 3D rendered, the game plays on a 2D plane. There’s a few 3D-esque sequences, but those are automatically handled by the camera, so there’s no element of confusion. No more camera problems, and no more getting blasted to pieces by enemies you couldn’t see!
After viewing a few cinematics and completing an intro stage, you jump right into the meat of MMX8: fighting off the eight Maverick bosses before going after Sigma himself. Defeating a boss will earn you a new subweapon (for X and Axl) and a new special move (for Zero). Each boss has a weakness against a certain subweapon or move, and it’s up to you to figure out which is the most effective.
You’ve got three characters to choose from (X, Zero, and Axl), but only two can be taken into a stage at a time. You can switch characters on the fly, and if one dies, the other will automatically teleport in to take his place. If the second character dies, you fail the mission. Some items will resurrect a fallen character while you’re using the second character, which is very handy indeed. Each character has their own specific abilities: X has his charge shots, Axl has his rapid-fire and hover-jump, and Zero has his Z-Saber and double-jump. As you attack various enemies, you’ll build up your attack gauge; when this is full, you can unleash a “Double Attack” upon your foes if you get close enough. The Double Attack causes both characters you’re using to team up against your target, inflicting massive damage. This is quite useful against bosses, naturally. An amusing sidenote is that when you use Double Attack, both your characters and your target are transported to a realm filled with Matrix code for the duration of the attack. I’m not kidding…there’s glowing green lines of gibberish everywhere. Funny stuff.
Not only do you have to choose the proper characters for a mission in X8, but you also need to choose the proper navigator. Starting in MMX5, you had a female Reploid named Alia communicating with you and offering advice as you traversed various levels. In X8, she’s joined by Pallette (a stage layout specialist) and Layer (a boss strategy specialist). If you’re going through a stage for the first time, it’s wise to pick Alia, as she’s a jack-of-all-trades. If you’re stuck on a boss, choose Layer, and if you’re returning to a stage you’ve already completed to hunt for items, go with Pallette.
Special items have long been a mainstay of the MMX series, and there’s plenty to be found in X8. Aside from the usual armor upgrades for X, you’ll also acquire “metals” from defeating various enemies, and sometimes you may even come across rare metals hidden away behind locked doors and such. Metals are used in the R&D Lab to create “chips.” Chips can be either one-use items (like energy refills) or permanent character upgrades, like Zero’s Saber Skill 1. Each chip costs a certain amount of metals to develop, but luckily, there’s tons of metals to be found in each stage; plus, if you lose a life, all the metals will be there again when you return to a checkpoint. This also applies if you return to stages you’ve already beaten. Find a stage with an overload of metals, and you’ll get plenty of chips in no time.
Every rose has its thorn…and MMX8‘s pricker is the vehicle stages. The game would’ve rated a 9 or a 10 in the gameplay department if it wasn’t for these. There’s two stages that make use of this, and in them, you’re piloting a Ride Chaser (hoverbike) while blasting enemies and dodging attacks. This would all be well and good, except that the control is a bit dodgy and there’s many cheap shots by your enemies. Since you’re moving so quickly, you often won’t see things coming until it’s too late. I understand that Ride Chaser levels are a big part of MMX history, but these could have and should have been designed better.
With loads of chips to develop, not to mention hidden items and varying endings, there’s advantages to playing through X8 a few times over. Unfortunately, once you find everything (which isn’t excruciatingly difficult), there’s no more reason to play at all; this isn’t a Pokémon title. For most gamers, a single playthrough will likely be sufficient.
MMX8 seems to be a bit more difficult than the last two games, but this is due to ingenious level design rather than sloppy programming or poor camera control. The gravity lab stage in particular makes use of numerous puzzles that really make you think in order to proceed. The difficulty will likely turn off gamers who are used to something easier, but fans of the series of of platformers in general should find it intriguing.
Let’s take a look at the bosses, shall we?
- Burn Rooster
- Dark Mantis
- Gigabolt Man-O-War
- Earthrock Trilobyte
- Avalanche Yeti
- Optic Sunflower
- Gravity Antonion
- Bamboo Pandamonium
How many games have you played where a sunflower is a powerful boss? Or a panda, for that matter? Even though it seems like Capcom’s been scraping the barrel in order to design new Mavericks, you can’t deny that many of them are pretty damn original, albeit weird. The overall originality of the game suffers, though, as it is just a sequel.
As is par for the course with any series game, fans of MMX will go nuts over X8. Even if you keep getting blown to bits, you’ll keep coming back for more, just to earn more metals to build more chips to become more powerful to…you get the idea. Retro gamers and other fans of 2D sidescrollers will have a blast with X8. The challenging levels alone would keep them occupied. The game’s a tad shorter than other entries in the franchise, but that doesn’t really diminish its strengths.
MMX fans who were disgusted by the last few games will breathe a sigh of relief. MMX8 is just about everything they could’ve wanted in a 3D MMX game, Ride Chaser annoyances nonwithstanding. Platforming fans in general would do well to check this game out, and even shooter fans may enjoy it, due to the excessive amount of weaponry. With competition from Jak 3 and Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, though, MMX8 may very well fall on the wayside. It’s a good platformer, but there are much better ones out there at this point. The fact that it’s a sidescroller and not a 3D exploration fest like many are used to may bother some, too.
I know I’ve constantly mentioned X7 in this review, but I can’t stress enough just how much of an improvement X8 really is over the previous game. Capcom seems to have learned from their mistakes, and for that, they deserve massive credit. X8 is everything that X7 should’ve been, and more. The challenge is satisfying, the story is captivating, and the gameplay is great. If the series proceeds in this fashion, we should be in good shape.