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Feature: The Confusing World of Mega Man Spin-Offs - Part 1

Posted by Philip J Reed

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We've already talked about the ten numbered console games in the Classic Mega Man series, but as you are no doubt aware that barely scratches the surface when it comes to Capcom's classic franchise. We could spend several weeks spotlighting all of the titles released across all platforms — and, believe us, we'd love to — but we thought it better to focus our attention on the Classic series and the multiple side series games.

This means that certain great minor titles (such as Mega Man V for the Game Boy) and other fascinating oddities (such as Mega Man Soccer) are getting the short shrift, but we hope that this overview of Mega Man's side series games makes up for it. After all, there sure are a lot of them, and we're happy to provide you with a guide to decide where to begin.

For starters, it's worth noting that even the wealth of side series games can be divided into two distinct universes. In the first, the order is Mega Man, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, Mega Man ZX and Mega Man Legends, with the games in those series released in chronological order. In the second universe, the order is Mega Man Battle Network followed by Mega Man Star Force, with those games also released chronologically.

Got that? Now let's dive in.

The most popular side series also sees, perhaps, the biggest fluctuation in quality. The games run the gamut from genre-defining to outright terrible, but the first few entries are every bit as remarkable as anything in the classic titles.

Marking the first step in the evolution of the Mega Man franchise, the Mega Man X series didn't immediately stray too far from its framework. Taking place many years after the classic series — and after the deaths of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily — we now play as X, the crowning achievement of our good scientist. Discovered and activated by Dr. Cain, X fills a similar role to classic Mega Man: he fights his way through eight stages, defeats the main boss of each, adapts their weapons for his own use and then sets out to defeat the main villain.

What set the series apart, however, was its atmosphere. Whereas Classic Mega Man was colourful and cartoony, Mega Man X was bleak from the get-go, starting from the very first stage: an introductory level that finds a destroyed city under siege. In Classic Mega Man it was your job to fight for everlasting peace, but in Mega Man X that peace is long gone, and the best you can hope to do is neutralise the threat.

The series also featured some interesting differences in the main character's abilities. The slide was replaced with a dash, wall jumping was not only possible but an absolute necessity, and in the fifth game a truly sacrilegious feature was introduced: the long-sought ability to duck!

Mega Man X as a series placed a far greater emphasis on item collection, allowing X to increase his health, defences and firepower by locating items hidden in nearly every stage. It encouraged exploration and lateral thinking, which was a nice change of pace from the relatively simple run-and-gun approach to the Classic series.

Perhaps its best innovation was the introduction of Zero...but we'll get to him later on. For now, let's shed a tear for the downward trajectory the series has taken, with an initial trio (or quartet) of great games standing as eternal reminders of what truly great gaming is like, and a string of disappointing, overstuffed, repetitive releases pulling us down.

It's hard to say exactly where the series started to drop off in quality, but we're pretty sure that the Guns N Roses tribute of Mega Man X5 and the awful — and at times impossible — game design of Mega Man X6 represent examples of a great series definitively past its prime.

As for Mega Man X7? We don't talk about Mega Man X7, and we'd like to keep it that way.

The Mega Man Zero series gave Dr. Wily's final creation a chance to shine. It builds far more upon the gameplay found in the X series than it does upon the Classic, but that's to be understood. After all, it's X that introduced the world to Zero and — unsurprisingly — fans loved him.

Zero was the Proto Man of Mega Man X, a cooler, more powerful, more conflicted character who in this case also had a far more interesting weapon: a sabre. When gamers first got to control Zero in Mega Man X3, he was received so well that he became a playable supporting character in the series moving forward. Unsurprisingly, the simple act of playing as Zero transformed the games enormously. Without a buster to take enemies out at range — and without the acquisition of boss weapons — emphasis was placed on close-quarters combat and nimble evasion. It was great.

With Mega Man Zero, many fans got their wish. Item collection was in even fuller force in this series, with upgrades coming in several ways: Zero could collect friendly Cyber Elves, pick up items, earn elemental chips from defeating bosses, learn special moves by defeating them more quickly and without taking damage, building them, and so on. In short, Zero's world was one of possibility and surprise, and the even darker tone of the series makes it feel like a much more mature and desolate experience than anything that had come previously.

With only four games in the series — and a surprisingly conclusive ending — Mega Man Zero was able to maintain a steady quality from front to back. While everyone will have their favourite and least favourite game, none of them are significantly stronger or weaker than any other. Criticism of this series tends to focus on its incredible difficulty. Completing the games is hard enough, but with unlockable items and abilities only available to those who speedrun, avoid damage and defeat every enemy, it's clear that most gamers will never see all that Mega Man Zero has to offer.

Unlike Mega Man X, the Zero series isn't quite a necessary play for fans of Classic Mega Man. It includes a buster weapon, but the emphasis has shifted entirely, and there's a stronger reliance on narrative than ever before. It's a great experience for those who can take the punishment, but for anyone who expects an easy ride it's probably best to keep moving.

Check back tomorrow as we look at Mega Man ZX, Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force. That's a lot of Mega Man...

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User Comments (34)

CapnPancakes

#1

CapnPancakes said:

Another great article Phil, the world of Mega Man is quite large nowadays so the title made me laugh. In some ways I like the X series more that the Classic but overall you can't beat Megaman 1-10.

Retro_on_theGo

#2

Retro_on_theGo said:

This was a fun little read. Lol @ the Megaman x7 comment. Yes, that game was baaaad. But honestly, I think it gets just a bit more hate than it deserves. It had a rocking soundtrack. ...that's about it, lol.
Zero series is incredibly fun. I love how fast paced it is. Can't wait to read about ZX and Legends. That article oughta have an interesting comments section.

Capt_N

#5

Capt_N said:

Great read, Phil! NL generally has good reads, anyway. Can't wait for pt2. Merry Christmas everyone! :)

Lan

#6

Lan said:

That screenshot of Vile holding X is from an emulator

WindWakerLink

#7

WindWakerLink said:

Didn't Legends come out before Mega Man Zero??
Mega Man X7...so many people HATE that game and "I suppose I can see why." But I really LOVE how challenging it was. Also, the music in X7 is SO AWESOME!! X is like SUPER BROKEN in X7. His buster can even push Sigma's 1st form back which I thought was amazing!

Popyman

#8

Popyman said:

I guess if you hated Mega Man X7 so much, Mega Man X8 is completely invisible to you...?

WindWakerLink

#9

WindWakerLink said:

I'm more of an Mega Man X fan than classic Mega Man probably because I grew up with the X series more. X5 probably should have ended the series because of how intense everything turned out...

@Popyman: "I'm not sure if your comment is directed to me, but I didn't mention X8 because I was writing too much. But I REALLY LOVE X8! X8 felt like X1, 2 & 3. Graphics were crisp; Music was AWESOME; Gameplay was fun! All the extras of X8 made the game super GREAT! One of my favorite extras was X having the Ultimate Armor with the fire uppercut from X2. Also, Zero can fight like Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter with the Knuckle attachment." :D

...but out of all the games in the X series, X2 will ALWAYS be my favorite!! ^__^

FarukoSH

#11

FarukoSH said:

No MegaMan Soccer ?? lolololol worst spin-off ever hahahaha i still remember that crappy SNES game

antonvaltaz

#13

antonvaltaz said:

Mega Man ZX? Please tell me that's a retro version of Mega Man exclusive to the Spectrum... :-)

Rapido

#14

Rapido said:

"and at times impossible — game design of Mega Man X6 represent examples of a great series definitively past its prime."

I beg to disagree. Megaman X6 is the best in the X series IMO. It has some of the most hardest stages and one of the hardest difficulty for getting the secret items. It requires great timing and high level button smashing accuracy. Very challenging game. =_=

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#15

Philip_J_Reed said:

Didn't Legends come out before Mega Man Zero??

Yes, but chronologically Zero takes place before Legends, so we're following the timeline.

As far as the side series games go, my personal favorite titles are undoubtedly Zero. I absolutely love them.

True_Hero

#16

True_Hero said:

I noticed that the Zero collection on DS doesn't have a review on NL. Was it any good?

shinpichu

#17

shinpichu said:

@Rapido
Not sure if serious.

X6 is challenging, yes, but challenging != good. The level design in X6 is absolutely wretched, and the levels usually provide a challenge by being annoying or cheap than by being genuinely difficult.

EvilLucario

#19

EvilLucario said:

Bleh.

Mega Man really fell off for me after Mega Man X. X2 was good, but I didn't find it as interesting as the first game.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#20

Philip_J_Reed said:

I noticed that the Zero collection on DS doesn't have a review on NL. Was it any good?

If you ask me I say yes, undoubtedly. Pick it up if you see it...it's fantastic. Great ports, and wonderful to have the whole series on one cartridge. There's also an easy mode...but don't do that. ;)

Tasuki

#21

Tasuki said:

That reminds me I still have to pick up the Zero collection on DS thanks Phil :). I have only played the first two MMX games but for some reason I just couldnt get into them as much as the classic MM series. One of these days I will have to give them another chance.

SparkOfSpirit

#24

SparkOfSpirit said:

X6 and X7 are total trash, and X5 was mediocre, but X8 wasn't half bad. A duff level or two, but as a whole it was a fun 2D action platformer. The first 4 are excellent, though.

Zero is probably the best series in the entire Mega Man umbrella. Especially Z2 and Z3. Those two are particularly excellent.

But other than Legends, I'm not all too interested in the other MM series. I'm more of a platformer fan and most of the others are RPGs. And the ZX series was a letdown.

Fuzzy

#26

Fuzzy said:

Mega Man X. The trilogy on SNES are probably my favourite Mega Man games.

I got the Zero collection a couple of years back. That was very good value, great game and great challenge. Pick it up if you can.

Shadowflash

#28

Shadowflash said:

I love the ZX series. Mainly because it was my first megaman game. I've never played any of the X or Zero games, but I have played Megaman 10. I also have that strange thing known as Megaman X Command.

Hejiru

#29

Hejiru said:

I'm not really involved with the Mega Man fanbase, so I don't know, but didn't the creator (Inafune, I think it was?) intend for X5 to be the last game and then Capcom continued it anyway and fans resent them for that or something?

Rapido

#30

Rapido said:

@shinpichu

Then let's agree to disagree. The nightmare system and the difficulty of getting all the secret item adds up to its replay value. I would agree if you say X7 is trash though :). Nonetheless, always a fan of Megaman Series, good or not. To each his own I guess.

shinpichu

#32

shinpichu said:

@Rapido
Eh, I guess you're entitled to your opinion, but there's just so much about the game that seems wrong, like the fact that you have to take damage/lose a life to get certain items, the fact that some upgrades can be lost forever, the fact that it is impossible to make it through the game as armorless/Shadow Armor X, and Zero's Sentsuizan(Srsly, **** whoever thought making this move ^+Attack was a good idea).

MarioKenny1992

#33

MarioKenny1992 said:

"As for Mega Man X7? We don't talk about Mega Man X7, and we'd like to keep it that way."

Thank you. Such an awful game >_<

X-Conor-X

#34

X-Conor-X said:

Megaman X is the series that is closest to my heart (Well, besides the legend of zelda series.) And I will say, x7 was horrible. X8 was pretty good.

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