After releasing six games in the classic Mega Man franchise, Capcom had a working formula for the Blue Bomber down to a science, but things were getting rather tired. Mega Man needed something more than a charge shot or a slide move to mix up the gameplay, but that core loop of action platforming and fighting robot masters didn’t need to be changed. Thus Mega Man X was born, a new Mega Man for a new generation, evolving the formula to its next logical step. With the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, we now have a way of experiencing all of this sequel series in its full glory, and at least for this ‘part one’, it’s definitely a must-have for Mega Man fans.
Mega Man X introduced the world to a new Mega Man, one with a decidedly more mature and gritty design. Based in a war-torn world with a heavier focus on story, Mega Man X made it clear from the get-go that this wasn’t quite the Mega Man you grew up with, and that you were in for quite the ride. Everything about Mega Man X expanded on the original games in some notable way. Instead of E-tanks laying around stages as one-off consumables, they were now refillable canisters that you topped-up with any excess health pickups. Alongside the upgrades to your weapons that you got with killing each Robot Master — now called ‘Mavericks’ — you could find optional armour and buster upgrades throughout stages to bolster your combat abilities. As a first pass at this new kind of Mega Man, Mega Man X got a whole lot right and arguably stands as one of the best games ever made.
Mega Man X2 wasn’t nearly as memorable, then, purely because it wasn’t first, but stands as just as strong as the first due to how it builds on that foundation. Mega Man X2 boasted of some updated graphics (due to a special chip that Capcom included in each cartridge) and a deeper story that helped to build out the world more, with the enigmatic X-Hunters taking the stage this time as antagonists. So, in a sense, Mega Man X2 was more of the same, but it also felt like a worthy follow-up that helped solidify the new ideas experimented with in the first game.
Mega Man X3 marked the beginning of building on the foundation of earlier games in the series, most notably adding in the ability to play as Zero — X’s powerful Maverick hunting partner — who helped mix up the gameplay with his stronger buster shot and Z-saber. It’s rather disappointing that Zero’s inclusion is so limited here — he can’t fight bosses and can only lose one life, after which he’s unusable for the rest of the game — but it was still a cool idea that would later be built on. X3 also saw the inclusion of enhancement chips, further upgrades to the collectable armour parts which were extremely powerful, but similarly limited in their use. Even with these changes, some would say that X3 was where the series began a gradual decline, but it still stands as an excellent action platformer and holds up well today.
Wrapping up the first part of the collection is Mega Man X4, which saw the series jump from 16-bit to 32-bit. The pixel art of the first three games was great and still looks fantastic, but the new detail afforded by the additional horsepower in X4 took things to a whole new level with fantastic animations and bright colours abounding. Alongside the fresh coat of paint was a series of animated and fully voice acted cutscenes, and while these are pretty cheesy to watch now, they’re delightful in their campiness. On the gameplay side of things, players could finally play as Zero as a full character, complete with his own storyline and abilities to further differentiate him from X. Mega Man X4 was the most fulfilled realization of the Mega Man X formula up to this point, and it made plenty of notable additions, but this is where fatigue was already beginning to set in.
All told, these first four Mega Man X games may have been slightly uneven in their quality, but they all did a great job of showing how the classic Mega Man gameplay could be evolved and expanded for a new generation. These games may have lacked the simplicity that some fans of the original may have loved, but they made up for it with the deeper gameplay and more mature storytelling. Any way you cut it, 2D action sidescrollers don’t get much better than this, and any fans of the original series will surely have to give them a go.
Naturally, Capcom wasn’t content to just toss ROMs of these four games together and call it a day; numerous other extras have been added to make for a fresher experience. Most notably, a new ‘Rookie Hunter’ mode has been added, which alters the games to make for an easier experience for any newcomers. Mega Buster shots can be charged faster, characters can take a lot more damage, spikes don’t kill, more lives are given, and so. While purists may argue that it ruins the appeal of these games, it certainly can make them more tolerable for the more infuriating sections. At any rate, Rookie Hunter is a welcome inclusion that ensures more players will be able to enjoy these games in their fullness.
On top of this, a new ‘X Challenge’ mode has been added, which essentially acts as a boss gauntlet with a twist. After picking three special weapons before entering a round, X is pitted against two bosses at a time — pulled from any game in the series — for some seriously intense battles. These fights are about as fair as they sound, but it can be fun to see how different boss patterns complement each other and challenge your existing strategies. Though it does seem a bit one-note, this mode is a great inclusion for veterans of the series who enjoy a deep challenge, and the ability to pick between three difficulty levels before going in helps to make it a bit more approachable for players of all skill levels. Make no mistake, however, this is a hard mode to get through; it’s the kind of thing to take on after having played through all the games in the collection.
In addition to all this gameplay content, Capcom was also keen to include a deep museum feature, which has a staggering amount of side content to view and read in between games. Featuring character bios, concept art, old commercials, scans of merchandise like t-shirts, toys, and trading cards, and a full soundtrack, the museum features just about everything that Capcom ever branded or published relating to Mega Man X, and it’s a lovely feature that should especially appeal to all you history buffs and longtime fans of the series.
The emulation for the games seems to be just about as close to the originals as possible, we didn’t notice any input lag or washed out colours in our playthroughs. Each game features a letterboxed screen with game art on the left and right borders, though you can change this to stretch to widescreen if that’s your kind of thing. The games also each come with a gross ‘pixel smoothing’ option enabled that gives things a weird, rounded look, but this can be easily turned off on the pause screen, and you can even enable a CRT filter for that extra '90s flair.
All told, Mega Man X Legacy Collection is a fantastic re-release of several must-play gaming classics, presenting them as authentically as possible while still including a few modern features on top that help to improve the overall experience and keep it from feeling antiquated. Throw in the new X Challenge mode and an enormous archive of museum content and this stands as the definitive way to play the Mega Man X games in the modern era. Four fantastic games, a bevy of extra content, and the ability to play at home or on the go make this one an easy recommendation.