Back in 1994, an old friend was re-invented in a big way in the form of Mega Man X. By updating the gameplay and giving the story a more mature edge, they managed to revitalize a floundering franchise just in time for the SNES. So it was no surprise to anyone when Capcom released the sequel a year later. In fact after I got this game I seem to remember my friends parading through my living room despite many of them owning the Sony PlayStation! Why, you ask? Because Mega Man X2 is just that damn good!
Part of what elevates this sequel is the superb direction that completely turns the tables on its predecessor. Take the introductory sequence: It’s been six months since the Maverick rebellion has been put down, and X now leads the Maverick Hunters in mopping up the remaining pockets of resistance. The first thing you do is infiltrate a Maverick base single-handedly and blow it sky-high! It is nothing short of brilliant, giving us a glimpse of just how far X has come in fulfilling the potential spoken of in the first game! Where the first game told us “You’ve got a long way to go, X2 tells us “You have arrived!”
And yet despite X’s growth, the war is far from over. The Maverick Virus continues to infect reploids and now three powerful figures have risen to orchestrate the counter-attack. This comes in the form of eight new robots intent on causing as much mayhem as it takes to keep X occupied. Mega Man X2 continues with the animal designs and delivers exactly what we wanted: New Mavericks that play COMPLETELY different than the first games’! From a centipede that slowly sucks out X’s functionality to an Alligator that spends most of his time underwater and invulnerable, X2 seems intent on not repeating the same bosses as X.
That is saying nothing of the stages themselves, and this is where X2 really begins to shine for me. The idea of the “counter-attack” is used in full force here, with every level playing like an assault on X and his allies. Overdrive Ostrich’s stage is a missile silo where he is attempting a launch! Wheel Gator’s level is a gigantic tank which he is using to flatten the city! Morph Moth is recycling and rebuilding fallen Mavericks at the Scrapyard! It is nice to see a video game plot that trickles into the design.
Levels are larger than the ones found in X, containing more secrets and alternate paths and offering an interesting take on gameplay. The computer mainframe is a stealth level, and it is fun to see the difference between getting caught and sneaking through. Just do not get caught too much as it affects the powers of the stage’s mini-boss! The weather is constantly changing at the weather station, and this can even be affected by your weapons! Trust me when I say you will want to replay all of these at some point, since you’ll need tools that you do not initially have access to in order to see everything a level has to offer.
One thing I am sad to see fall to the wayside is how beating one level completely changes another. X2 makes up for this by using yet ANOTHER design/story tie-in. The three X-Hunters will move around the stages, giving X the opportunity to find them in hidden boss rooms scattered throughout each level! While each is a joy to fight, the real reason for taking them down is to grab hold of an item that can change the game’s ending sequence if you get all three! It’s an interesting addition to an already loaded experience.
Weapons in X2 are some of the most diverse and useful in the series. While the first game saw weapons that generally all operated like the X-Buster, X2 diversifies. A grappling hook, a homing mine, and a fire dash give us a ton of options in completing these stages. Oh, and each boss is weak to one of them. Earth shattering, I know …
Hidden collectibles are included in the stages, each imparting advantages and letting you control the difficulty. Sure there are the usual health increases and armor upgrades, but they DID get creative with some of these powers. From a Mega Buster upgrade that lets you fire TWO charged projectiles to the ability to dash midair, X2 provides a lot more functionality to keep you entertained.
Graphically the game is vibrant with large sprites and good use of the SNES’s various technical tricks. Art direction is also good with varied locales such as Crystal Snail’s Stage (hearkening back to Gemini Man). The only real difference is the use of Capcom’s new Cx4 chip, which allowed for limited wire-frame graphics. So next time you admire that cool-looking sword mini-boss in Magna Centipede’s stage or stop to reflect on the way that gigantic first boss rotates, you can thank the Cx4!
Musically the game shines, and while the first game’s music is better overall, there are some true standouts here. The X-Hunter’s theme is both ominous and mysterious, and who can honestly say they cannot rock out to that Dinosaur Tank Theme? The boss theme also fails to disappoint, with just the right tempo to distinguish it from common enemies. As for sound effects, they are typical Mega Man fare,and work well to support the overall auditory experience.
It is a rare and precious thing when a sequel on the same platform as its predecessor can shine with its own light. Mega Man X2 manages to do that with style by taking us into the next phase of the war on the Mavericks. It is a game that evolves rather than alters what made the first work so well and is never afraid to give us more of the same. Safe but rewarding, Mega Man X2 just begs fans of the first to give it a try. This is a war worth enlisting in.
5 out of 5 stars
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