Mega Man X is often touted as one of the best games the SNES had to offer, which is certainly saying something. Its first sequel is further from consensus, but it's still safe to say that it's a great followup to its predecessor.
If you've played either of these games — and, if you haven't, stop reading right now and do that — you'd probably be excited by the prospect of a portable title that combines elements of both, reinventing and revisiting two titles from the X series, just like Dr. Wily's Revenge did with the classic series.
Now put that excitement out of your mind, because in reality Mega Man Xtreme fumbles the opportunity. It's not a bad game at all, but it's also not that easy to recommend.
The story takes place sometime after the first two games. X, Zero and Dr. Cain are faced with another Maverick uprising, and it's X's job to face digitised recreations of the bosses and levels he's faced before. Zero's job, for what it's worth, is to take to the streets and defeat all of the new Mavericks that are threatening the future, which makes it more than a little disappointing that we're stuck guiding X through a lesser retread of stages we've already seen.
The feeling of deja vu might have an in-game explanation, but that doesn't make it any more fun. Unlike Dr. Wily's Revenge, Mega Man Xtreme does not provide any unique twists on the game elements. Every stage is exactly as you remember it, only smaller, less colourful, and stripped of its charm. Sounds great, right?
Dr. Wily's Revenge might not be held up as a shining example of great design, but it certainly gets credit for attempting to advance the source material. New hazards, new items and complete stage overhauls — as well as a handful of excellent new tracks — give it an identity of its own. Mega Man Xtreme seeks to copy the identity of the first two X games, without any kind of advancement whatsoever. In fact, it simply takes the stages, bosses, music and graphics of those games and downscales them, making it feel like a lesser — and unnecessary — port rather than a title with any merit of its own.
The changes are minimal. In terms of additions, we have a new good guy named Middy, who disappears halfway through the game having served his purpose, apparently. We also have two new bosses to fight, which is nice, but their designs are uninspired and their patterns of attack are almost identical. One of them has a sword and the other has a projectile, but as long as you've mastered the art of "not standing still while something slowly murders you," you won't have trouble with either of them.
There are also a string of completely unnecessary cut-scenes that feature the most poorly translated dialogue in any X game which, we guess, is a kind of accomplishment.
That about does it for the additions. The first half of the game features three Mavericks from the first X title and one from the second. Conquer that and you'll face "Hard Mode," which is actually the second half of the game. Here you'll find three Mavericks from the second X title and one from the first. Their stages are the same except that you'll find most of the interesting things missing, such as Morph Moth's gravity manipulation and Storm Eagle's glorious entrance.
The fact that Xtreme doesn't look as good as the SNES games is academic; the Game Boy Color didn't have anywhere near the capabilities of that system, and so allowances have to made. The fact that the game doesn't play as well is another story, and that's something that holds Xtreme back.
X's movement is slightly stiff, but the real problem comes with his dash. The lack of buttons on the GBC meant that dashing was mapped to Start. Capcom fortunately saw it fit to allow an alternate control scheme that allows you to dash by double-tapping a direction, or by pressing down and A (similar to the original Mega Man's slide). While this undoubtedly works better than counter-intuitively groping for the Start button in the heat of battle, it's not a perfect solution. The down and A approach doesn't allow a dash jump, and the double tap isn't responsive enough to rely on for quick reactions. This means that the best solution is to alternate your methods of triggering the dash depending upon your particular situation, and that's needlessly sloppy. It's also yet another example of why the ability to re-map controls would be such a welcome feature on the 3DS Virtual Console.
There's also a serious problem with repetition in this game, as the "fortress" stages are identical in all three play modes. Having to slog through the same rooms several times with no changes whatsoever is very dull. Even the final boss is relegated to getting a single new attack each time you face him, the deadliest of which still fails to make him as much of a threat as Chill Penguin.
One of the main delights of the X games was seeking out hidden items and upgrades. Here, everything is exactly where it was in the originals. With no attempt made to even shuffle these around and provide old-hands with something unique to seek out, Xtreme just feels lazy. Couple this with stage elements that are present in the game but not programmed (such as Flame Stag's gas canisters) and blind jumps that stand as evidence that these stages were not even optimised for the smaller screen, and laziness feels more and more like a legitimate explanation.
The best feature of the game, sadly, is one locked away until after you finish it. One pass of the game unlocks Hard mode. Complete that, and you'll be able to play a third mode that lets you select from all eight stages in any order you like. It would have been nice to have this open from the beginning, but we're just glad it's there.
One other nice feature is the fact that your items, subtanks and upgrades can carry forward into Hard mode; though, admittedly, the game offers very confusing instructions about how to do this, so lay down a restore point before you accidentally overwrite your file. If you do this, you can find some additional upgrades that allow you to summon Zero for temporary assistance. It's nothing that great, and they're never particularly useful but, again, we'll take what we can get.
Whereas Dr. Wily's Revenge took the time to establish itself as a unique title in its own right, Xtreme just looks for the easiest way out. Instead of taking the GBC's smaller, simpler limitations and building a game around that, Capcom hacked off just enough pieces of X and X2 to get them to fit. The result is an artless collision rather than a graceful blend, and that's Xtremely disappointing.
Mega Man Xtreme is an interesting curio, but its ambitions exceed its abilities. As fantastic as a portable Mega Man X game sounds on paper, in practice Xtreme is little more than a lesser imitation of the console originals. Little in the way of unique content, copious spelling errors, and inferior visuals and audio — as well as control issues, too-frequent loading screens and repetitious padding — mean that if you can download the first two X games to your Wii U or Wii instead, that's absolutely the way to go. This is a decently fun experience, but because it does almost nothing differently it's also more than a little pointless. Mega Man Xtreme contains a lot of big ideas, but none of them are new, and all of them are better handled elsewhere.