Tweety and Capcom have a lot in common – they’re incessant, yellow, and they’ll bully you all day long

Mega Man X2

Mega Man X2 (1995)

One thing from the cartoons that I’ve always wanted to do, apart from being able to travel the world with Misty and Brock, is to float towards food. You know, the succulent smell of a pork roast wafts over to Hector the Bulldog as he rests in his kennel. Eyes closed, nose in the air, expectant smile on his mush, he levitates majestically towards the grub. He might even still be asleep while he’s doing this, a floating toasty cinnamon bun with a rumbling stomach. Then he gets to where the food is, and something terribly disappointing happens. An explosion in his face perhaps, or the house falls down or Tweety throws boiling water all over him.

It’s a bit like that with Capcom and sequels. Six Mega Man games on the NES was, not to put too fine a point on it, approaching overkill. They needed some clever clogs to come up with a new idea, something fresh. No, it wasn’t Mega Man Soccer. The answer is never, ever Mega Man Soccer. It was Mega Man X, still held up as one the quintessential examples of the side-scrolling action patformer.

The minute that Mega Man X gave off even the slightest hum of popularity and sales, Capcom were like Hector all over again, except this time they were approaching Granny’s tasty gingerbread men at breakneck speed: Mega Man X2 came out in Japan 364 days after the original. They almost lasted a year, but blew it right at the end. Don’t you find that incredible? That’s EA Sports levels of yearly release schedules. Update the eight-strong roster of evil Mavericks to take down, change the music out and away you go.

Like its predecessor, and like all Mega Man games except for wild ones like the aforementioned Soccer experiment, X2 is an action-platformer game where you blast through a small amount of levels and battle a legion of bosses. The aim, naturally, is to be an even bigger and better sequel to the seminally popular first game.

Well, ever one to do things by halves, Capcom tried to kick this improvement off by including some sort of chip in this game and its sequel (but of course) X3, a chip that allows for the most basic polygonated and wireframe enemies to be rendered. Sounds nice, looks OK, but why not go the whole hog and stick an FX chip in there? Because they didn’t want to reduce the game to 4 frames per second as you fight robots made out of origami, you’ll say. OK, point taken.

The levels are a bit more drab. Each Maverick gets a theme of course, usually along the lines of fire, water, air and all that lark. But when you’re fighting against bosses like Overdrive Osterich and Magna Centipede, you start to think “we can do better than this”. Ultimately, the game doesn’t do enough new, and doesn’t even a try a leg in its attempt to beat the first game. Case in point: the music is a kind of odd, chirpy contrast with the first game, more high-pitched synthesisers and wailing notes than electric guitars.

There are some new moves and upgrades, of course, but they fall a little bit flat. You can do an Air-Dash now, which is great news, although you’ll get hand cramp before long trying to keep all the buttons held down during wall jumps. The Helmet Scan item is a faff as well, requiring constant use just about everywhere to detect invisible walls or nooks and crannies that would otherwise be absolutely non-descript.

Thrillingly however there’s a Suicide Vest weapon in the game, which works very simply – you take a bundle of hits from enemies, which stores up energy, and then you can choose to release it at any time. X jumps into the air, and with an almighty roar (well it’s silent, but he looks menacing), lets rip with an explosion that levels every enemy on screen, leaving you intact.

I’m an accursed PAL gamer, and worse than that, I have a snobbery towards NTSC games. It doesn’t even bother me that the NTSC games perform better, have less borders, faster speed, are correctly optimised, and most importantly of all, they’re usually cheaper. None of it matters to me – if it was released in Europe, I have to have it that way and nowt else will do. In layman’s terms, I’m snubbing fugu fish in favour of corn beef hash. But then, isn’t it more bourgeois to choose to pay more money for worse quality products?

After all, when something tries to put itself forward as a premium brand, like Burberry, Ferrero Rocher and BMW, then you can guarantee that the chavs will dive on it quickly and make the brands look rather gauche in a hurry. PAL games are the second-most expensive wine on the menu, the one that those in the know order. The most expensive wine, in this case factory sealed games, is simply too vulgar a choice. And you’re only fooling yourself and your attendant date if you go for the cheapest option, Japanese cartridges.

I end up really paying for this PAL fetish with Mega Man X2. The price of the first game is creeping up all the time, about €70-€80 now for the cartridge by itself with its peachy green label. X2 brings the X series swiftly to remortgage-your-house levels, with about 50 copies available only in rural backwaters in 1995 Germany. You might get a cartridge for 250 notes if you’re lucky, and if you want the boxed version to make your shelf marginally more impressive, then get ready for four figures.

It’s why I tell any young child I see, don’t bother collecting games – get into drugs instead. You’ll get a great, instant return on investment and it’ll be cheaper and better for you too, in the long run. Try X2 for cheap on the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, or go about it a less savoury way. Otherwise, save your money and float your way towards a big slap-up meal or six instead.

24 May 2019

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