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Mega Man X2

It was a foregone conclusion.  It took Capcom many years to bring Mega Man to the SNES and when they did rather than retread the same ground they created a new character with a new continuity.  Mega Man X reinvigorated the franchise with some much needed improvements to the well trodden formula.  We all know how much Capcom loves to milk a series to death so it was no surprise when Mega Man X2 was announced the following year.

Mega Man X2 was released in 1994 in the US and Japan.  Following the events of the original game. 3 new maverick leaders called the “X-hunters” appear claiming to have pieces of Zero’s body in an attempt to distract X for some unknown purpose.  8 new Mavericks are dispatched and the adventure begins.  Largely the same as its predecessor, Mega Man X2’s sole innovation is the inclusion of the C4 chip, designed by Capcom to allow polygonal effects during gameplay.  While the effects it allows are underutilized Mega Man X2 remains an excellent addition to the series but loses points for being a carbon copy of the first game while dropping some of its more creative advancements.

An action platformer, most of the systems pioneered in Mega Man X apply here.  All 8 initial levels can be tackled in any order and have numerous hidden secrets to discover.  Heart tanks, sub tanks, and armor upgrades can be discovered throughout the levels with some hidden in very clever spots.  This time around there are 2 plot branches available depending on your actions in the levels.  The 3 X-Hunters are hidden randomly in the stages and defeating them will score a piece of Zero.  In truth the plot changes very little whether you defeat them or not; it’s more of an added challenge for those who seek it.  In many ways Mega Man X2 is a bigger & badder version of the first game but is still a step backward, most importantly in level design.

The levels have increased in size with many nooks and crannies not immediately obvious from the start.  The locations of the hidden items as I mentioned are very clever; you’ll really have to comb every pit and suspicious rock and sometimes even take leaps of faith.  Capcom definitely did not make it easy to fully power-up and that challenge is very welcome.  Some of the enhancements for X’s armor will assist in finding hidden power-ups and they are almost mandatory.

However one of the best features of Mega Man X, completing certain levels and causing massive changes in another is gone.  This is a huge blow to the game; not only did it make you consider the order you fight the mavericks but you could also consider the changes that would occur because of it.  Some of the changes were subtle, like the removal of particular enemies as you ascend the tower in Boomer Kuwanger’s stage.  It also added to the replay value by increasing the challenge and giving you twice the levels (almost).  You could argue the X-Hunters make up for this, since they change locations after every boss killed and will disappear after a certain point but it isn’t as well thought out as seeing Flame Mammoth’s stage completely frozen after defeating Chill Penguin.

But at least it’s a pretty game.  The X series was created with a more “hardcore” (those were the creator’s words not mine) look and it shows with the sophistication of the Maverick designs.  With an engine already in place Capcom were free to push the system further with more parallax scrolling in the backgrounds, sometimes 5-6 layers deep.  The C4 chip, while not as impressive as they would have hoped does still amaze in the way it mixes 3-d effects with 2-d graphics.  Some of the larger bosses feature impressive rotational effects and the occasional polygonal enemy, while gratuitous and out of place, has stunning animation.  Personally of the 3 SNES installments Mega Man X2 has my favorite soundtrack, equal parts rock and slow soothing tracks.  It’s a sight better than the third game that’s for sure (blech at that OST).

While not as original as the prequel Mega Man X2 is still an excellent action platformer.  If they would have kept some of Mega Man X’s ideas and taken them further then without question this would be the superior game.  As it stands it will have to settle for second best.

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