Graveyard: Mega Man X4

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

The Mega Man X series breathed new live into the stagnant Mega Man franchise in 1993. The 8-bit entries had become something taken for granted due to a perception of them being far too similar to one another and minimal evolution. The reality of the situation was a bit different, as Mega Man V and VI did change things up a bit, but perception became reality and it needed some freshening up. The X series gave you a more mature storyline that actually evolved a bit. Gone were the days of just good vs. evil and Dr. Wily always escaping.

The X franchise presented a story with some shades of grey and pitted you against warring factions with human-like robots known as reploids against mavericks. Beyond adding to the storytellng depth, the X games greatly expanded on the core gameplay. You still jump and shoot a lot, but the addition of wall jumping enables far more complex gameplay scenarios. Levels could go beyond just what was offered up before, and wall jumping alongside jumping up large walls to save yourself from pits greatly reduced frustration from players. The X franchise gave you a ton of challenge still, and changed things up with more playable characters.

Zero could be used sparingly in X3, as a single death was a game over for him. X4 was the first time players could go through the entire game with Zero, and really experience how different the entire game could be when using him. His short-range style is a lot riskier, and it’s something you never really thought of before in the series. Mega Man and X each have an inherent advantage by being long-range characters. They can strike from afar and might do less damage, but they can avoid taking damage as well. Zero’s more bold, and his sword’s greatly-increased level of power compared to any buster. Zero also didn’t gain boss powers, so you really had to master his sword.

Zero really does increase the game’s replay value, and the increased polish on the core mechanics helps things out tremendously. Each character has been better-looking models and a minor boost in animation – which does help modernize things compared to the prior 16-bit entries. They each play differently enough that the experience is different for each character in a significant way, but retain core things like the dash that make going from one character to the other is fairly seamless. Fighting exclusively at close range ensured that you paid more attention to your surroundings too. You didn’t have the benefit of distance, where if you make a mistake, you can at least still do some damage. In that sense, playing as Zero is kind of like its own hard mode – only with a unique storyline.

Speaking of which, the storyline here is good in theory – but hurt by the awful voice acting. Much like Mega Man 8, you’re usually left with a bunch of melodramatic voice work that negates the somewhat serious storyline. It turns things into a farce, and like MM8, would benefit from a more modern fandub or better yet, a redone official dub. Fortunately, the soundtrack is still outstanding and delivers richer music than ever before thanks to the increased capacity of the CD. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the songs are quite as good as what was heard in the classic Mega Man series, or even MMX, but it’s all pretty good and worth listening to in the game while a handful of the tracks are good enough to listen to outside of it.

The core game is outstanding and shows off just what 32-bit pixel art could do to advance what was done in the 16-bit era. Colors are incredibly lush and every boss is meticulously-detailed. Both Zero and X feature a lot of color and subtlety to their designs that simply couldn’t be done before. There’s also very little slowdown and that ensures that the game’s faster-paced sections, like the melting ice bridge race-style sections, can be done without a hitch. You may still die a few times, but you can’t blame the game for it. It’s easily the most colorful and detail-rich entry in the series to this point – even outdoing the arcade Power Battles games.

In its day, Mega Man X4 received fairly high marks — but wasn’t quite as revered as it is now. Then, 2D sidescrolling games were viewed as old-hat and not worth their full asking price — a trend that has continued a bit today with so many games viewed as being viable for digital releases and not physical ones. In hindsight, X4 was the last great X game and something that has become more cherished because of how little has been done with Mega Man relative to the fanbase’s love for the series over the past decade. X4 can be had for $6 on the PlayStation Store, and is playable on the PS3, PSP and Vita as a PSOne Classic.