The Mega Man X series was huge when the first game was released in 1993. Mega Man X was a great new take on the classic Mega Man formula. Mega Man X2 and to an extent, X3, built on the new twist in gameplay and were both fantastic games in their own right. Mega Man X4 was one of the early Playstation titles. It was actually one of my first Playstation games along with Final Fantasy VII. It wasn’t nearly as good as X or X2, but the updated graphics, music, and cutscenes plus the inclusion of the ability to play through the whole game as Zero made it a memorable title.
I was excited to play Mega Man X5 when it came out. I bought it right away, but it just fealt really strange and I honestly never got any further than beating a boss or two. The game just didn’t feel right due to a few new gameplay additions, which I’ll get to. The presentation wasn’t nearly as good as Mega Man X4, either. I’ve had the Mega Man X Collection for PS2 for a long time, but never bothered trying X5 again until recently. I was pleasantly surprised.
Mega Man games never really have great stories. Sometimes they kind of work, and can be kind of interesting, but they aren’t ever compelling narratives. X5 is no exception. The maverick hunters are trying to prevent the destruction of the Earth from a space station that is on a crash course with the planet. X and Zero have to collect parts for a giant laser, and later, a space shuttle, to blow the space station out of the sky. There is a sub plot involving the Sigma virus, and how it’s taking over reploids and turning them maverick. It’s honestly not a terrible story, but it just isn’t presented well.
In X4, you had some really cool animated cut scenes. In X5, you get slow moving text and still pictures. The artwork is good, but the pacing is kind of terrible. I’d honestly rather have sprite based graphic cutscenes like in the SNES Mega Man X games. The stage select screen also looks kind of rough. It doesn’t look nearly as polished as any of the earlier X games. There are also a lot of points where Alia, who is kind of like the Maverick Hunter dispatcher, stops your gameplay to tell you what to do next. This REALLY bugs me. Why do this after 5 games? The things Alia tells you aren’t things that you couldn’t figure out in gameplay normally.
The graphics and music are a step down from X4. This game doesn’t feel as polished as previous games. There is that word again. The whole game feels like it was thrown together quickly. The maverick bosses just aren’t animated well. The music is largely unmemorable, other than the awesome remixed Bubble Crab music from X2 that’s playing in Duff McWhalen’s stage. The menus also just look kind of thrown together without much thought.
Now, up to this point, you probably are asking yourself how I was pleasantly suprised by this game. Well, I’m here to tell you that the gameplay in Mega Man X5 is really good. The ability to switch between Mega Man X and Zero between levels is awesome. I love this! You can pick which character to use based on their strengths and weaknesses. Also, you get TWO new X armor sets, on top of both the X4 armors that carried over from the previous game. You have multiple different character types. X and Zero can now duck, as well. Also, X can’t shoot through walls anymore. This makes gameplay a little more balanced and strategic.
The addition of a time limit makes the game a little more exciting. You have to plan out which stages you visit and revisit so you don’t run out of time before the space station falls to Earth. You can always restart from a save file if you mess something up, so you aren’t really ever stuck unless you save after making mistakes. The game also gives you some leway, so you aren’t cutting it down to the wire by the end. I’ll be honest, I used a guide to kind of help me get through this as best as possible.
X and Zero can also be infected by the Sigma virus during gameplay. X will have his abilities stunted if he gets too infected, while Zero actually gains power from the infection. The reason for this is touched upon in the story.
The last new addition is the introduction of player and boss levels. Depending on how well you get through each stage, your character will gain or lose a ranking. Your character’s ranking, paired with how much time you have left before the space station falls, will level up boss mavericks. The higher the boss maverick’s level, the more health he has. You can also get minor stat boosts and abilities based on which armor parts you pick up after boss fights. These range from immunity to the Sigma virus, to the ability to charge your X buster very quickly.
The gameplay isn’t without it’s flaws. Alia’s interruptions as I mentioned earlier are irritating. Also, the speeder bike stage is almost too tough and took me a ton of tries to get through. Some of the level design doesn’t feel as inspired as it could have been, but it generally isn’t bad.
The additions to the standard Mega Man X gameplay were welcome and really made the entire a more enjoyable and unique experience.