Mega Man X8
The Maverick Hunters are back. After dealing with the Red Alert Syndicate and adding another member to the team in Mega Man X7, this band of heroes can finally get back to policing the future and kicking bad guy ass. They’ve been dispatched to Jakob Tower, a gigantic elevator that connects the city to a newly built space station on the moon. But just as they get around to securing the tower, their old enemy Vile shows up and bombs the hell out of the place. If Vile has returned, that can only mean one thing: Sigma, the primary villain of the Mega Man X series, has been resurrected again. Doesn’t this guy know when to quit? The mechanized madman has a new plan to rule the world, but it’ll take our heroes a bit of investigating to find out what they’re up against this time.
Even if Sigma keeps his intentions hidden as the story progresses, he still falls back on his usual strategy: recruiting eight Mavericks, sending them to different places to wreak havoc, and pray that the good guys don’t kill them too quickly. Our heroes will have to explore various levels, track down each of Sigma’s cronies and try to figure out what the villain is plotting. You’ll have to explore lush forests, sneak past surveillance spotlights, descend into an active volcano, and visit plenty of other dangerous locales. Capcom apparently learned their lesson from the previous game and dropped the 3D levels; aside from two rail-shooting areas, the levels of Mega Man X8 focus on 2D sidescrolling action. Each of these levels is littered with baddies just begging to be blown into scrap metal. Like in previous Mega Man X games, platforming also plays an important role in the progression of the level; each area has more than enough spikes, bottomless pits, and plenty of other hazards that can kill you in the blink of an eye.
However, the Maverick Hunters are more than capable enough of taking on the challenge. Before you begin a mission, you’re allowed to choose two out of the three heroes and use them in combat. X comes packing his signature X-Buster, a laser gun that can be charged up and fired with varying degrees of power. His slower speed balances out his power to make him a well-rounded fighter. Zero has also returned with his classic weapon, the Z-Saber. Apparently he’s learned a thing or two since the last game, because he can execute a decent variety of slashes, thrusts, and other combinations with his trusty laser sword. However, his extremely limited range and average speed makes him a little harder to use. Axl, on the other hand, has been vastly revamped and improved since his introduction in the previous game. His weak little pistol now has semiautomatic firing, which makes using him far easier than before. Axl’s automatic lock-on targeting has been tossed out in favor of eight-way shooting, which allows him to shoot in just about every possible angle in mere seconds. It’s up to you to figure out how to utilize each of the heroes’ unique capabilities to make it through each area unscathed.
And that’s just the basic stuff.
Mega Man X8 goes a step further than its predecessors when it comes to the gameplay experience. Each character now gets their own specialized weapons whenever a boss is defeated; X will usually get a direct copy of the boss’s main attack, Zero will get access to different kinds of blades (including Sigma’s badass sword!), and Axl’s gun can be modified as well. Weapons aside, there are plenty of extra stuff such as secret armors for each character and tons of other unlockable features. There’s also a slew of items that can be purchased by using the game’s metal currency system. Also, not only do you get to choose which heroes to take into battle, but you’ll also get to select the mission’s navigator as well. If you’re sick of hearing Alia yammer on about obvious obstacles and enemies, then Layer’s specialized boss tactics advice or Pallette’s scans for secret items could prove more useful. Though these ladies may not seem to play a big impact when you first play, you might have second thoughts once you unlock and send them into battle. Oh, and did I mention the alternate endings? Yeah, this game will keep you busy for a while.
But if the sheer amount of extras won’t keep your eyes glued to the screen, then the game’s excellent graphics probably will. Mega Man X7 was Capcom’s first attempt at a 3D Mega Man X game, and their lack of experience showed. The characters had wooden movements, the walls lacked texture, and enemies look pathetic. Mega Man X8 far surpasses the previous game’s presentation. All three heroes have been redone with incredibly fast and flashy attack animations, complete with gun recoils, streaks of light whenever they dash, and some great voice acting too boot. The enemies are far more detailed, allowing you to see sparks as circuits short out, dented armor, and other little details. The levels are even more beautiful; you’ll get to slosh through small streams of real-looking water, see birds scatter whenever you take a shot into the air, see the bright glow of neon signs and hallway lights, blast you way around a bustling city on a flying motorbike, and glide across an snowy wasteland. As far as graphics go, Mega Man X doesn’t get any better than this.
After botching Mega Man X6 and doing a lackluster job on Mega Man X7, I was a little tentative about giving Mega Man X8 a chance. Thankfully, this game is one mighty fine addition to the series, as well as a quality platforming/action title in its own right. The story is no worse than those of its predecessors, but at least it the trio of heroes have plenty of personality and style. The game features the sidescrolling gameplay that we’ve come to expect, challenging platforming, and intense combat, and some incredibly detailed 3D backgrounds as well. The sheer amount of hidden items, extras, and unlockables will keep you replaying long after Sigma’s been turned to scrap metal for the umpteenth time. After years of half-assed Mega Man X titles, Capcom finally got their groove back.