Mega Man X was the beginning of a new Mega Man series and the first 16-bit Mega Man game. It was originally released in December of 1993 for the Super Famicom, barely over a month after the release of Mega Man 6 on the Famicom. There was no shortage of Mega Man games back then. Fans are begging for a new Mega Man these days, but back then, people were getting tired of them. Capcom had to shake the Mega Man universe up somehow. Their idea was to create a Super Rockman, a new Mega Man set in the future of the original series.
Mega Man X takes place about 100 years after the original series. In the year 21XX, an archeologist/scientist named Dr. Cain finds the remains of Dr. Light’s lab buried underground. In it, he finds one of Light’s capsules containing Mega Man X. X was Dr. Light’s final creation, a robot with free will. With X and Dr. Light’s notes, Dr. Cain was able to make his own robots, the Reploids. The Reploids helped humans, much like the Robot Masters originally did, until some started going “Maverick” and attacking humans. A Reploid named Sigma formed a group to hunt these robots, until Sigma himself went Maverick. Now, the Mavericks are led by Sigma and the Maverick Hunters are led by Zero. Feeling responsible for the situation, X joins the Maverick Hunters.
This was the first appearance of Zero, the long-haired, sword wielding, and generally cooler robot in red. He's kind of the X series' Protoman. The game really goes out of its way to make Zero look like the coolest robot ever. To the point where they make X look like a chump sometimes. Capcom actually wanted to make Zero the hero of the game at first, but went with a more traditional Mega Man in the end. They eventually made Zero a playable character, and then gave him his own series set in the future of the X series, the Mega Man Zero series.
In-game, Mega Man X looked very different from the NES Mega Man we knew. Mega Man was a little guy with a big head, in an 8-bit world. X looked like an adult Mega Man, the world was a little bit grittier, and the robot designs were a little more complex. It still looked like Mega Man, though. When the original series came to the SNES, with Mega Man 7, it didn’t look radically different from MMX. The change from Mega Man to Mega Man X reminds me a lot of how anime characters change from original series design to sequel series design. See the evolution of Mazinger Z or Goku for examples.
Mega Man X’s gameplay is very similar to the original’s, but faster paced and with a lot more style. X is almost like a Ninja Mega Man. X has a new dash, he can wall jump, and slide down walls. The controls definitely feel like they were designed with Zero in mind. You can also find suit upgrades for X in Dr. Light's capsules hidden around each stage, which give him even more abilities. There’s a helmet, which let’s you break blocks with your head like Mario, an upgrade for the X-Buster, which lets you charge up Maverick weapons for special attacks, and even a Hadoken. Yes, like a Ryu from Street Fighter Hadoken. You even have to do a quarter circle forward motion to use it.
Besides the Light capsules, there are also heart tanks and sub tanks hidden around the levels. The hearts increase your energy capacity, and the sub tanks provide backup energy, like a health potion. Usually, you have to use a Maverick weapon or a suit upgrade ability to get these items. Maybe you’ll use the boomerang to get the item, or maybe you’ll just explore a little off the beaten path to find it. It doesn’t quite make the game a Metroidvania, but it adds a little bit of exploration and replay value to the 8 Maverick levels.
The Mavericks, all have animal themes and levels that match the real-life environments of those animals, or their elemental weapon at least. You probably won't find Mammoths or mandrills living in factories or electric plants, like Flame Mammoth and Spark Mandrill. A lush green forest is definitely a fitting environment for Sting Chameleon, though. Much like in the original series, each boss has a weakness to one of the weapons you get from beating another boss, so there is still an order you can follow to make the game easier.
One detail I like about the levels is how they change depending on what bosses you’ve beaten. If you beat Chill Penguin’s stage, Flame Mammoth’s stage will be frozen. If you beat Launch Octopus’ stage, parts of Sting Chameleon's stage will be flooded. You actually need these changes to take place in order to get some items. Just another cool detail that adds to the replayability of the levels.
The graphics are pretty good, but nothing mindblowing. We had already seen better looking games on SNES by late 1993. Capcom themselves had already released great looking SNES games, like Street Fighter II, Final Fight 2, and The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. MMX’s graphics got the job done. MMX looked like a sleeker and more detailed version of Mega Man. This game has pretty a rocking soundtrack, though. Pun intended. It sounds like Mega Man music, but with a 90s rock influence, with lots of wailing electric guitars. It reminds me of early 90s rock music from bands like Guns 'N Roses.
Mega Man X was really the right game at the right time. It broke Mega Man out of the rut it was in, and got people interested in the series again. I’ll always love the original series, but I can’t deny how much more I like the fast-paced gameplay of the X series. MMX made Mega Man badass. It's available on Wii, Wii U, and N3DS VC and on the SNES Classic, so definitely check it out.