To gamers of a certain age, the Mega Man series has earned its place in the pantheon of platforming greats. They will greet these collections – which together encompass Mega Man X 1 through to 8- with open arms on the promise of warm, fuzzy nostalgia. The big question, however, is how to welcome newcomers who have no connection to the series, and are therefore more likely to be deterred by the notoriously punitive difficulty levels.
Thankfully, Capcom has worked hard on accessibility and, to that end, have included a new ‘Rookie Hunter’ mode across all eight games. It’s a masterstroke and quite literally game-changing. This increases the damage Mega Man can absorb, eliminates some of the pit/spike deaths and generally makes the game a little more forgiving. Purists will scoff at what they will view as a sacrilegious addition, but it’s absolutely necessary to help the games find favour with a wider audience. Rookie Hunter mode can also be selected in-game, and in no way dilutes or detracts from the action. For me, it lends the games some much-needed balance, and I’ve no shame in admitting it was the mode I stuck with throughout. Give this mode a go – it could save your Dualshock from some serious damage. Mega Man masochists can, of course, forgo this mode and play the games as they were back in the day: hard as nails.
The core gameplay has never strayed too far from the original template: jump, run and gun. Enemies are numerous, often take multiple hits and are usually located in the very spot that will cause maximum difficulty, for example as you are attempting a jump. You will frequently be overwhelmed and will retreat only to find that enemies continue to pursue. Boss fights are a regular occurrence, and, in the time-honoured tradition, depleting their energy bars can sometimes feel like an interminable war of attrition.
As always, Mega Man will acquire new abilities along the way and utilising all of these is the key to success, whether it’s the charge function to unleash more firepower, or the dash ability to evade enemy attacks. The action is fun, intense and well suited to short bursts of play. The games span 1993 to 2005, with incremental improvements and small tweaks to the formula – for example, new weapons, combo scores and switchable characters – helping to distinguish the games.
The titles serve up plenty of visual variety, too, complemented by an array of infectious soundtracks. You’ll find yourself dipping in and out of the individual titles, naturally curious to make comparisons. Thankfully, in line with modern expectations, all games are supported by a save system. A special mention goes to the challenge modes which, ominously, the game advises you leave until the main campaigns are completed. This mode pitches you against two bosses simultaneously in a timed battle and gives the collection a little more longevity.
To Capcom’s credit, this is no bare-bones release and it’s replete with a wealth of extra content, as well as options to customise the experience. You can apply different filters and screen sizes and switch between the Japanese and English versions of the games. Mega Man aficionados will positively swoon at the museum section, with the opportunity to access game trailers, soundtracks, concept art and background information. It’s lavishly presented and unashamed fan service, a delightful way to delve into the history of the games.
So, do the Mega Man X collections walk the tricky line between serving up nostalgia and encouraging new players? I reckon they do. Rookie Hunter mode makes for enjoyable play whilst still providing a challenge, and there’s plenty of content (four games per collection) to justify a purchase. My main reservation is around repetition. You’ll doubtless have fun, but as you work your way through the collection, you are bound to experience a sense of deja vu as, despite the tweaks, the basic gameplay is largely the same. Still, there is much to admire in this retro round-up and both collections merit serious consideration from platforming fans who hanker after a challenge.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*