Mega Man X

mega_man_x

Mega Man X (1994)

According to an online exercise, my job has about a 75% chance of being taken over by robots. And I wouldn’t even mind if they were laser-firing killer robots, intimidating enough to send the Terminator running. No, I am apparently in line to be replaced by the same machine that uncoils the metal guards on the vending machines and sets your chocolate bar free.

I’m none too pleased about this, of course; be a bit of a shame if I’d gone to college and kissed besuited backside only to get my nose shoved out of joint by a robot with as much capability as a wind-up music box. Still, if it means I can get my hands on some of that lovely Universal Basic Income, then sign me right up. The eggheads, Germans most of them, cite ‘disincentive to work’ as an argument against basic income. Well, duh, why else would I sign up?

But do you see what I mean? This represents a great chance for humanity. We could do with a chance to put our footsies up and take a rest. After all, we spent the 1940s knocking seven shades out of each other while trying to outdo the enemy’s war technology. The 1950s brought us passenger jets. In the 1960s we endeavoured to get to the moon, and by God did we get there, and yes I am going to say ‘we’ despite the fact that Ireland’s space program consists of bewildered rural types whacking sliotars as hard as they can towards the moon to stop it falling on them.

The 1970s brought a large oil crisis with it (a bit of foreshadowing there) but the blow was softened by the advent of modern computing. The 1980s were just magical for three reasons: Nintendo, Duran and Duran. The nineties brought yours truly. Well, OK, on a slightly more important note, it marked the widespread adoption of the internet. And we’ve been paying for that one ever since.

This brings us onto (sigh) the noughties, where it was all about social networking. Finally, we’ve managed to get to (double sigh) the tweenies without destroying ourselves, and we can see our phones get ever smarter. And in mysterious Bond villain lairs in Silicon Valley, the boffins are hard at work making self-driving cars, self-learning AI robots and probably self-firing nuclear defence systems.

We’ve done an awful lot of spiffing things in the last century, thanks in no small part to that feisty feline called electricity. The question is, are we advancing too quickly? We still haven’t found any other life in this vast dark alley that is our universe. What if other planets out there, previously full of intelligent life, were thriving too much, partying too hard and the ultimate result was their cataclysmic downfall? What if the robots actually did win? What if there were spectacular explosions, hellacious fires on every street, and there really were mimetic poly-alloy T-1000s melting and reforming as they tracked down and destroyed worthless bags of flesh like us?

We are running a fine line here, guys, letting robots do the work for us. As much as I would like to resemble the lazy fat humans at the end of WALL-E, and as much as I completely missed the point that they were not people to aspire to, I have to say I’m a bit apprehensive about this age of robotics. One minute you’re dealing with mild-mannered local constabulary bots, the next you’re getting chased down the road by a horde of Daleks spinning wildly out of control.

But it’s the egomaniacal scientists, you know, they’re the ones who keep pushing us towards apocalypse-by-robot. You probably thought Dr. Wily from the classic Mega Man games was a bit of a supervillain for creating something like 46 killer robots in the space of seven years, but the fact remains that Dr. Light’s “heroic” creation, Mega Man, defeated each of Wily’s robots easily. So what if this robot malfunctions, gives us the suspicious eye, and really goes nuts after we try to deactivate him? Does death by Leaf Shield sound good to you?

Well, not content with a mere 50/50 chance of consigning humanity to bleak ruin, the malevolent Dr. Light decided to improve his odds by creating an even more violent and capable robot, Mega Man X. Now just what is this maniacal genius’s game? X can speak, feel and think for himself. He can run, jump, he can charge his X-Buster beam gun, he can absorb enemy weaponry and now he can even wall-jump and dash. You may have just heard a scream of terror; that was me, coming to terms with the unstoppable death sentence to humanity that is X.

Having released six classic 8-bit Mega Man games in the space of nine months, even Capcom realised that they were beating a dead horse somewhat and that there were better ways of bringing their little blue boy into the 90s than releasing Mega Man 6 mere days before Super Metroid released.

So we have Mega Man X, which inevitably spawned a heap of sequels. But as the original, this game hit a spot we didn’t even know existed. Suddenly, the beepy-boopy cutesy nature of classic Mega Man looked so squee, so toyish. Certifiably, Mega Man was now cool.

Somewhat unfortunately, the flow of the game is still very much the same and so you can continue to count the number of levels on your fingers and toes. This time, you do get an intro level which has now become famous as a wonderful example of how a game can ease you in, free of mundane tutorials or a depressing ream of text boxes. Once that’s done, you have 8 Robot Masters – sorry, Mavericks – to battle. Rather than fighting Ring Man, Dust Man and Fedora Man, you’re up against animal themed abominations like Flame Mammoth, Boomer Kuwanger (me neither) and Armored Armadillah.

Probably the three juiciest aspects of this package are the 16-bit graphical power, the 16-bit rocking soundtrack and, more than anything else, the array of hidden upgrades to be found in each stage. Each of the 8 Maverick stages has a hidden Heart Tank health upgrade to find, as well as Sub-Tanks and even the Hadouken from Street Fighter, if you’ve got a guide handy.

It’s all of this juice that brought Mega Man kicking and screaming into the radical 90s, and hugely expensive sequels inevitably followed. But, as it always is, the original remains the highest rated and with good reason. The Mega Man formula is still there, preserved and refined, and while things may seem unassailably difficult at first (and no matter how good at the game you are, forget about taking on Launch Octopus or Sting Chameleon first), you will rapidly improve, you will learn the boss patterns, and you will acquire the Horming Torpedo all for yourself.

And if you still can’t take down the fiendish animalbots, then you can go and sniff out some upgrades. X will learn and grow stronger before your very eyes, becoming an unstoppable portent of death and destroying all in its path. By the end of the game, when you take down the evil bald cad Sigma, you’ll be mighty glad that he’s on your side. But for how long…?

22 May 2018

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