Author: John Legendoffzelda
The original, great Mega Man X could very well have remained its own game; a strong, mature companion piece to the main Mega Man games. But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, Capcom saw a potential in X that they no longer saw in the main series, and the conflict between the peaceful Reploids and dissatisfied Mavericks was expanded into a fresh, new sci-fi story. Sadly, this series was not one of those long-runners that could stay consistently fresh for eight whole installments, and signs of wear began to show rather early – to be specific, they first appeared with Mega Man X3. The third installment and the biggest of those on the Super Nintendo, its grand production scale is about the only thing it has to show for itself. It’s still as functional as either of its prequels, but X3 also feels bored with itself and it virtually makes no case for memorability.
The mighty X, weathered by his battles with his nemesis Sigma and Sigma’s acolytes, the X-Hunters, must now face the evil Dr. Doppler. Doppler is a Reploid scientist who cured all Mavericks of their evil nature, and out of gratitude they built a Reploid township in his honor named “Dopple Town.” Under mysterious circumstances, Doppler went Maverick, and both X and Zero must go to Dopple Town and wrestle back peace from his hands. This story is a placeholder in the X mythology; serviceable on its own, but except for a very-last-second plot twist, unexceptional, and the big reveal may remind players of the lousy reveal in Mega Man 4. There are eight more Mavericks, with eight more stages to complete, but also two new main enemies. Bit and Byte, dangerous minions of Doppler, will target the player after defeating two Maverick bosses; they will appear at complete random, in designated sections of each stage that are marked by special barriers. Both are ridiculously hard to defeat (A third main enemy, revived from the first X game, also comes along with them and he appears at the end of a secluded bonus stage).
X3 is huge, and a lot of that is credited less to gameplay than to spectacle; grand stages, overly long animations of bosses and sub-bosses exploding into blue starbursts, not to mention leftover wire-frame graphics from X2. The stages for all of the Mavericks have rich, unique palettes that fit their themes, but they’re also long-winded collages of hallways and doors, and all of them beef up the wrong components. The corridors are vast and the ladders are excessively wide and the path is divided by barriers that may or may not house a sub-boss, and in the midst of his running and shooting, X gets nothing to do. The stages hardly play with the terrain that much, and their idea of an action set-piece is a slow elevator ride on a giant platform. For those who are patient, all of these images may be nice to look at, but they still feel like they’re just compensating for the game’s emptiness. At best, trudging through those long corridors gets boring, and at worst the pace of the game becomes uneven, either by having to pass through the empty rooms where Bit and Byte would otherwise be waiting; continuously having to fight them (and they are hard, even with their weaknesses); or by being repeatedly knocked down a vertical shaft by an enemy and dealing with the way they respawn.
X still controls well, retaining his abilities to jump, shoot and dash, and he gets some pretty images for himself, like a flashy green X-Buster upgrade and bonus orange armor. Along with his ability to dash through the air from X2, this game gives X the ability to dash upwards in the air (Given all of the vertical shafts in the stages, X will need it). The other new armor upgrades here, like a grid map that shows further upgrades, are pointless. To try and spice up the gameplay, modified mech-suits from the first game can be collected and selected from special platforms for use in the stages. Although crashing through walls and enemies is fun for a little while, the suits fail to make the gameplay more interesting.
With a partial exception for the robot turtles that swim around in Toxic Seahorse’s stage, the enemy designs are really bland. Not a single definite feature among them except a common pair of scowling eyes, a remnant from the prequels’ enemy designs this game took without taking any trace of charm or humor. It’s almost as if they aren’t meant to be anything but interchangeable enemies in a video game. The Mavericks have better character design; being modeled after animals like before in the series, they at least reflect something that exists in reality. But their designs still feel haphazard and weak, and the secondary weapons they give are only useful for fighting other Mavericks and searching for upgrades – their practicality in surviving the rest of the enemies is almost nil. Regarding these and other problems, the two best bosses here are the stampeding Blizzard Buffalo and bouncing Neon Tiger; Buffalo has the most interesting attacks, like an ice beam that resembles the old Touchstone Pictures logo animation; Tiger’s Ray Splasher is the most useful sub-weapon; and the stages for both have the best music.
The music for this game is astoundingly dull. Now, Blizzard Buffalo’s stage music is a cool, moody electronica arrangement, and Neon Tiger’s sounds like “My Michelle.” Otherwise, the rest of the soundtrack is homogeneous hard-rock, with synthesized electric guitar slathered everywhere. The music isn’t even grand; it’s just uninspired guitar punctuation that doesn’t accompany the sprawling size of the stages at all. When there’s hardly even any good music to interest the player into continuing on, the stages become even more of a boring slog.
The big failure of X3, as well as the biggest waste of its own potential, is Zero. This game is the first in the series to make Zero a playable character, and playing him through the action X would regularly face would greatly strengthen the partnership they share. He has a grand entrance too; dropping through the ceiling in the introductory stage after X is kidnapped by a traitorous Maverick Hunter. How does Zero’s gameplay go? He has a bigger hitbox than X, but he can’t dash through the air, he can’t face bosses or even sub-bosses, he can’t use sub-weapons, he can only be played once for an entire stage, and losing a life with him puts him out of commission until all the Mavericks have been defeated. It’s a stunning disappointment; Zero, once the amazing, life-saving paragon of heroism in Mega Man X, is reduced to a secondary character that’s less practical than X is. Zero’s life bar may be bigger, and his laser sword may be more powerful than the X-Buster, but he’s so limited in his mechanics that his whole character feels like an afterthought. That’s the entire problem with Mega Man X3: it’s so complacent it can’t recognize a good opportunity for gameplay innovation.
Although it was released in the twilight of the Super Nintendo, Mega Man X3 was not the end for the series. There would be two more installments that brought back the magic of the first one, and then another two installments that fans would prefer to ignore, then a last installment that occupies a middle ground. If the Reploids’ tale ended here, it would not have been a fitting send-off. As always, the basic jumping and shooting is solid, but a weak story and huge level design with a lot of secondary elements slopped onto it make this game a lesser middle chapter in this fine saga.
Three out of five stars.
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