Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
Mega Man X was one of my favorite games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The developers had taken the original idea of a favored character and changed the look, setting, and parts of how the game played, all for the better—as far as most fans were concerned. After Mega Man X3, that was about to happen again, even if it was to a smaller degree, as the X series jumped from the previous generation of consoles to the new disc based era of gaming, finding a new home for the hero on PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Does Mega Man X4 use its new powers for good though, or allow Maverick corruption to doom the franchise?
That may have sounded a bit dramatic, but there is a good reason. Mega Man X4 was the first game in the series that I did not have to go searching for the plot or feel let down about how little story there was. Oh, and this game is really over dramatic, which makes it more fun in a way.
“What am I fighting for?!”
X4 opens with an animated intro that is eye-catching, energetic, and immediately engaging with the player. There are several of these cutscenes throughout the game, anime segments with good art direction that brings X’s world to life in a way that most fans had not seen before—other than those lucky enough to play certain versions of X3, but those scenes were not done anywhere near as well. I am also sad that these were not continued in the series (we don’t count what X8 did).
The development team wanted to focus more on the story here and it shows in several different ways. The aforementioned cutscenes helped by establishing a Reploid faction that was wrongly accused of going Maverick (bad), and hinted at political intrigue in a storyline that I thought we would never see in a Mega Man game. The themes of the story went even deeper than that, creating some devastating moments, horrifying revelations, and causing the characters to seem more self-aware than any other time in the series. We have more than just the eight Mavericks to fight this time around, and each villain feels more connected to the protagonists. This is helped by blurbs on boss screens that explain what each respective baddie has done to take hold of an area or what their intentions were. This is the most I have ever been into a Mega Man story since part three in the original series, and my only complaint here is with such a good setup, why they felt the need to throw Sigma in once again. I feel like Capcom needs to be hugged and told that it’s okay to change main antagonists once in a while.
Players may choose to control either X or Zero in this adventure, which is technically the first game in the series that this is possible, as X3 only allowed limited play as the blonde sword wielder. Each hero plays differently, and choosing Zero changes the gameplay as well as how the players approach enemies significantly. I found myself utilizing dash a lot more and paying closer attention to my health bar. I mainly chose to play as X, because if someone is a fan of the tight platforming with jump and shoot mechanics, X gon give it to ya. I will have to admit that Zero’s story is better in this title, as it goes further into his origin, while X has a more personal journey and his relationships are centered on respect.
The art and design for these levels is excellent. Each one is divided into two or more sections and usually has a gimmick of some sort—screw Jet Stingray’s stage. Interacting with the environments feels natural and the amount of detail makes each section seem like they belong in the world. The mini-bosses are back and manage to be less annoying this time around.
“Time to get serious!”
These certainly were not my favorite cast of bosses. The big nod here though has to go to my boy Magma Dragoon, who betrays the Maverick Hunters (X and Zero) in the beginning, just for the opportunity to fight them. His look and abilities are also a nod to Akuma from Capcom’s Street Fighter series. Though the designs for several of these bosses are quite cool, using the appropriate weaknesses against them results in extremely boring fights instead of just making the encounters a bit easier. The bosses that do not have a weakness usually require memorizing a simple pattern or finding a spot on the screen that their attacks do not reach—cough General cough.
I was not a big fan of the weapons in this one. Zero learns maneuvers with his sword and X gets a new type of shot after defeating each boss like usual, but they are almost too situational and many of the charge shots are boring and not creative. There are only two sub tanks available now and a weapon tank to go along with the hearts, which I like, since having more feels too much like a safety net. There were no ultimate weapons like in the last few titles but they did add a Nova Strike and unlockable black armor for each character.
Mega Man X4 works because it kept to its core while managing to feel like it had enough real change. That is so often hard to find in a long-running series. The game is fun while being a bit difficult and its quirks—like the poor voice acting and excessively blatant WARNING signal at the beginning of each boss encounter—make the experience fun and memorable. I have fond memories of playing this game after school in a friend’s basement, trying to figure out the boss order while listening to Metallica, so I worried nostalgia might cloud my view of the game, but here I playing it through a second time already again, with no desire to stop anytime soon. Not a hard title to find for around $15-$20 bucks with the case, but it can be even cheaper if it isn’t meant for a collection. There is also the Mega Man X Collection, which is excellent (I own it on Gamecube for the Wilds Collection), but that gets pricier. In short, I cannot recommend this one enough for fans of Mega Man or just tight-knit platformers. Most importantly though it did justice to the series and hides its flaws well.