Mega Man X6
Get thee out of my PlayStation, Satan!
Originally posted December 15, 2001
Life is a long-term learning experience. Every day I discover something new or am granted insight into the strange and unexpected mechanisms of the cosmos. Things I've taken for granted - job security, the guaranteed ability to ride safely in an airplane, the McLean Deluxe - have at one time or another been snatched away from me with no warning. And ideas I never could have imagined, like being referred to as a "celebrity" for doing something as mundane and stupid as making fun of video games on the Internet*, seem to burst into reality with alarming frequency. No matter where life takes me, it invariably sets aside a moment to lecture me - a quick thirty-second discourse on a new and surprising fact at the end of each episode. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle!
In the case of Mega Man X6, the other half of the battle mostly involved me restraining myself from punching a hole clean through my PlayStation in irritation at the game's sheer badness. It's funny; you'd think that after 14 years of reprising the same basic game over the course of nearly 45 different installments, Capcom would have the Mega Man series down to a science. But the shameful lesson taught by Mega Man X6 is that Capcom doesn't seem to have much of a handle on what makes this series work despite having been rehashing it for a decade and a half. Yeah, it's nice to see them try to innovate, but it's depressing to see them go about it without any clue of where to innovate. The Mega Man X series is in desperate need of a reinvention to be certain, but the "tweaks" inflicted on poor X6 are the equivalent of taking a beautiful Victorian mansion in danger of collapsing due to having its load-bearing supports eaten out by termites and hoping that a fresh coat of paint and maybe a little lawn work will prevent it from imploding and killing everyone inside. Right idea, tragically misguided application. If only it had taken a mere thirty seconds for me to realize this rather than thirty dollars. Thirty precious dollars I could have spent more wisely on a huge stock of rat poison to drink. Or on enough ammunition to color my house red with self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Or on a dozen kitchen knives with which to skewer my eyes and internal organs. Any of these would be vastly preferable to another minute in the presence of this digital atrocity.
OK, "digital atrocity" is an overstatement. An atrocity is something like the murder of six million people for not being blond, or killing thousands of New Yorkers simply because they work in a really tall building. In the great metaphor of life, Mega Man X6 is far from being a gaming version of mass murder and much closer to being something like the Bay of Pigs invasion, burned onto a CD and marketed as a new chapter in a beloved video game series. Several steps beneath genocide to be sure, but certainly enough of a disaster to get a president impeached. Or at least capped by an anonymous guy on a grassy knoll.
It's hard to describe exactly where Mega Man X6 fails. Partly because the nuances of what makes a given installment of a long-running and generally static series "suck" or "r00l" are highly specific and difficult to put into words... but mainly because it fails in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin making a list.
Perhaps the first grievance should be with the translation? Capcom rarely releases games in the US within a few months of their Japanese debut; the company is geared toward its homeland's market first and foremost, and translations are doled out as the company sees fit. Generally the higher a game's technological and media profile, the faster we white devils see a port. Second-tier games offering SNES-level technology on obsolete hardware? Those normally take half a year or more to come to the US, if at all. So how then to explain the fact that Mega Man X6 arrived in America within a week of the release of Rockman X6's Japanese release? Happily (or perhaps "depressingly" would be the correct term) such an explanation is not difficult at all to come by. All the original Japanese voice acting in X6 has been left in place (which is quality voice work, but it transpires atop static illustrations with slowly-scrolling text and becomes more interminable than the final hour of MGS2 after a few minutes); none of the Mavericks have been given Americanized names such as "Chill Penguin" or "Ozzy Ozbat"; and the script is incomprehensible at its best, laughably bad at its worst. Rumor has it that localization duties were given to an elementary school class in Tokyo who had an hour to translate the Japanese text into English before it was re-input into the game. And most of that hour was spent eating paste and giggling about how Ground Scaravich throws doo-doo at Mega Man.
Now I'm a big fan of vicious irony, so I'm delighted to see that Capcom finally answered the complaints of diehard MMX fans who demanded the English games should maintain the high quality Japanese voice acting... by putting minimal effort into the translation. And I also derive great jollity from the fact that right when Capcom becomes interested in adding PS2-era depth to the X series (there's quite a lot of text in this game, much of which is character background for NPCs) they suddenly revert to NES-era translations. CONGRATULATION!!
Ah, but translation is only one small consideration - especially for a game whose plot is ultimately little more than an excuse to allow you to blow up hundreds of robots. So perhaps the first shortcoming that should be mentioned should instead be the atrociously broken gameplay. Capcom seems to have given up on the notion of creating interesting stages with solid level design and has resorted to gimmickry and outright cheapness. There's the level, for instance, where you're constantly being attacked by an enemy in the background - not in a Yoshi's Island "occasional Bullet Bills" sort of way, but by a relentless stream of energy beams that will hit you if you pause for a moment. Another stage has instant-kill ceilings, another has a constant rain (inside a tree, for some reason) of water that somehow saps your life meter, yet another has relentlessly-rising instant-kill lava - which wasn't fun in Sonic the Hedgehog and isn't fun 10 years later. The only real saving grace is that they gave the auto-scrolling hoverbike gimmick a rest, but I attribute that less to consideration than to the fact that every stage is about three screens long and making a bike course would have taken too much effort.
To make matters worse, the special Maverick power-ups are essentially worthless here; true, Zero gets a few nice techniques (although these are mapped awkwardly to the controller and are guaranteed to cause your accidental death on more than one occasion), but X's upgrades are next to useless. No practical Metal Blades or Magnet Missiles here - you'll only use the Maverick weapons to defeat other Mavericks or get past stage gimmicks. That seems fitting, since the Mavericks here are mostly jokes - only two or three pose any sort of challenge whatsoever, and the coolest-looking ones are the easiest to kill. For instance, the sleek and colorful Commander Yammark dies in less than 10 seconds, and our old friend Ground Scaravich (the poop-flinging Dan Hibiki of Mega Man X) is equally a joke.
On the other hand, the hidden upgrades, tucked away in remote corners of the game, are absolutely vital to your success. Which means playing through stages multiple times. Incidentally, most stages have a secret portal to hidden bosses - one of whom can only be defeated with Maverick weapons. It's possible to reach him before acquiring any special weapons, though, meaning it's entirely possible to enter an unwinnable, unescapable fight. The ultimate in poor game design, and proof positive that this game being released less than a year after the previous chapter precluded any sort of niceties. Such as, you know, "play testing."
But gameplay is something that takes a while to judge, especially when it's a good foundation of gameplay that flouders in the details. A much more obvious shortcoming in the game is the visual appeal - namely, there is none. Featuring graphics that make MMX3 look like a masterpiece, X6 has the most dithered, awkward visuals I've seen in a 2D platformer since the early Genesis years. The PlayStation has a reputation for poor 2D handling, but this is ridiculous - after masterpieces like Symphony of the Night and Metal Slug X, there's no excuse for this. I know Capcom can do better than this - they gave us the sublime Street Fighter Alpha 3. So how do we explain the fact that there's rarely more than 16 colors on screen at once (look at those backgrounds! Look at those 2-color Mavericks! Look at the snowslide! Look at the magenta lava!) and the fact that Zero and X are the only characters with more than 2 frames of animation? We face reality and say "Capcom is lazy and wanted a quick, low-effort cash-in on a popular brand, even at the expense of cheapening that brand." Thanks, guys. Thanks for pissing on my fond childhood memories.
Or maybe I should begin by listing the horrible problems with the story. Pardon my spoilers (as if you care), but once again Sigma is the "surprise" villain manipulating the game from behind the scenes. And Zero? Well, he died at the end of the previous game, but by complete chance I happened to meet him, still very alive, before I even faced a Maverick. His explanation for disappearing before his resurrection? "I hid myself while I tried to repair myself. I had to wait until I was healed." Wow, thanks for the clarification. If you play through as Zero it's possible to find a little more plot exposition that explains someone else (whose identity is never disclosed - so mysterious) repaired him, but that's about it for explaining why Capcom cheapened the dramatic events of X5. Meanwhile, Alia returns to become Rose to X's Raiden, offering excrutiating chatter after the defeat of each boss... not to mention incomprehensible chatter. Actual dialogue sample:
Gate improved his knowledge from him. Then Gate had him go to a forbidden area. It was the place you were both discovered. I saw Scaravich enter the place... I felt bad, but I disposed him. Gate didn't seem to care... I didn't want to remember this...
What are we supposed to take away from this? It is a mystery. Apparently Alia had previously killed all the Mavericks. And then some guy named Gate (who didn't seem to care) brought them all back to fight against Zero. Who was already dead. Or something. On top of that, there's a guy named Isoc who may or may not be a Reploid containing Dr. Wily's brain, but who definitely has a roll of mechanical toilet paper attached to his chin. Like every other seemingly important thread of the X storyline, Isoc's tale is unresolved at the end of the game and he gets pushed out of the way for another appearance by Sigma (definitely the most embarrassing show the guy has put in; he's so tired of being dragged out for the obligatory Final Boss appearance in these games that he can't even form coherent sentences. "JUSTDIE! ZELLLLLLO!").
So, what do we have? A game that falls flat in its gameplay, in its story, in its translation, and in its overall polish and presentation. In short, a resounding kiss-off from Capcom. The X games have never been my favorite version of Megaman, so this doesn't make me terribly sad - but it does worry me. Will this be the fate of my beloved Mega Man Legends series 10 years down the road? Or of the promising Battle Network games? Does Capcom truly not have the sense to end these series before they've become unplayably awful and putrid? Magic 8-Squall tells me "...Whatever." An ominous sign indeed.
There's one small sliver of hope on the horizon. One of the endings of the game leads directly into the upcoming GameBoy Advance title Rockman Zero. Which means either Zero won't be showing up in any further MMX games, or - dare we dream? - Capcom's going to give the X series a rest for another 100 years until he wakes up. Or more likely, they'll think of some horribly contrived reason to bring both Sigma and Zero back for X7, which will be released in 3 months and feature levels consisting solely of spike-lined pits with a 10-second time limit to clear the stage, and whose English script will be written by Japanese infants banging on a computer keyboard with their teething rings. A bit of a step up, really, but still nothing I'd want to play.
When I finally got sick of the game and removed it from my PlayStation, I heard a disembodied voice say, "So, you're human after all." Then they killed Meryl, the bastards. But I couldn't help it... I gave up Meryl's life to protect my own, from X6.
Honestly, I can't decide where to begin listing this game's shortcomings. And that makes me feel guilty, because I want to warn people away from this disaster in blue, but I can't think of how. I can only pray that those unfortunate enough to experience MMX6 - perhaps "suffer through MMX6" would be a better description - will forgive me for my failure to alert them to its horrors. And that god will have mercy on their doomed souls.
I feel somewhat guilty about my treatment of Megaman XTreme 2. Since it was first announced, I've written the game off as a foregone failure, a tepid sequel to a crippled GameBoy rehash of decade-old games. Imagine my amazement when the game turned out to be incredibly fun. The change to GameBoy Color-only status (from its predecessor's GB/GBC cross-compatibility) really improves the playability. The game is faster, the control is tighter, the overall feel is simply more solid. It has its share of cheesy gimmicks to be certain - spike-lined walls and deadly floods of water - but the gameplay is so much more refined than the ostensibly superior MMX6 that it's not even funny. I suppose it makes sense, as - like previous handheld MM games - XTreme 2 is built largely of components of other games. In this case, Megaman X through X3 - games vastly superior to X6. And for an 8-bit handheld game, it has an incredibly impressive feel. Dare I say, it even rivals most GBA platformers (barring CotM and Wario Land, natch).
The drill is largely the same as in the first MM Xtreme here - the plot being some lame excuse to dig up old stages again, relying on the idea of robots having souls and DNA as a dramatic contrivance to justify the whole affair. And yeah, Sigma shows up at the end. And the game does the same stupid thing that the previous game did - you have to beat four stages and the final battles before you can open the next four Maverick stages to play. But despite this, MMXTreme 2 is significantly more enjoyable than the game which came before it, and a lot more fun than its latest PlayStation counterpart. In fact, XTreme 2 and X6 stand with their predecessors as surprising inversions. Whereas X5 was unexpectedly playable, XTreme was dull and uninteresting. Now it's X6 that deserves a trip down the commode and XTreme 2 that shines.
Capcom seems to have some sort of bipolar disorder that makes buying a Megaman X game a complete crapshoot. But as long as the dice occasionally come up winners, I'll keep rolling. And Capcom, I'm really sorry about making fun of XTreme 2 in my Battle Network review. I promise to buy Battle Network 2 as penance.
Ground Scaravich - poop-eating bug or brilliant symbol?
I've already lamented the nature of Ground Scaravich elsewhere - he's a robot that emulates a beetle that scavenges for camel droppings, for crying out loud. Which would be bad enough, except that Capcom decided that it would be a good idea to create mechanized feces for Scaravich to use. But the character himself turned out to be rather amusing in the game - easy to defeat, without a doubt, but hilarious with his determined voice sample and ability to roll out bigger and bigger balls of cyborg camel poo, until they're half the height of the screen. But I wonder - is Capcom telling us something? Is Ground Scaravich a Shinji Ikari-like stand-in for Capcom themselves? If you take the robotic droppings as a metaphor for the Megaman X series, it all makes sense. Every time gamers complete an X game, Capcom rolls out another one that's a bigger load of crap than the one before, until finally getting to X6 - the biggest pile of them all. Hideo Kojima can try his best to make his games deep and important, but Capcom respects the elegance of simplicity. And for all X6's faults, I can respect its metaphorical honesty in accepting its own shortcomings. Hats off to this brilliant symbolic encapsulation of everything that is Megaman X.