If I answer the phone to you, consider yourself privileged

Mega Man X5 Logo

Mega Man X5 (2001) NOTX

People are always asking me why I never answer the phone when they ring. Isn’t that obvious? In my book, calling somebody is probably the most selfish everyday thing you can do. It’s as if the caller is telling you, “stop everything you’re doing, you have to talk only to me now.”

If your number comes up as one of my saved contacts, you should know that you have about a 20% chance of being answered. If it’s a number that I don’t have saved, I shall let it ring out and Google it later. I may then ring back if there’s potentially something good in it for me, or pat myself on the back for my vigilance if it’s dodgy. And if it’s a private number, or from Botswana, you can forget about it entirely – waste of time.

For that reason, Mega Man X5 may well be the worst game I’ve ever played. Oh certainly, it runs with the same winning formula, a reskin of X4 right down to almost carbon copy menus. But the bit that rankles again and again is that you now have a helper, an annoying voice in your ear, that constantly interrupts the stages with a litany of text boxes.

You never asked for Alia, cutie though she is, to be present and on the blower to you constantly. It’s the same as having your missus try to ring you while you’re at work – it’s worse than an offence, it’s an affront. You’ve got serious work to do, so who cares if you need to pick up milk? Now if it was bread, I’d understand. Bread supply is critical. Bread is life or death. But otherwise, when you’re on your important mission to save the planet from colony impact and implosion for all, the Nokia tune you do not need.

I’m serious, it’s text everywhere in this game. You’ll be staring down the barrel of a spike-filled section and she’s into your ear immediately, telling you to watch out for the spikes. That’s wonderful Alia, thank you, I had mistaken them for a bed of nails and I was about to have a nice rest for myself. You may be mid-jump, your next move planned and timed meticulously, but too bad – your phone’s on auto-answer.

You can’t turn this off, either. I wouldn’t even mind so much if you could stick her on loudspeaker, just have Alia’s text droning on in the corner or something. Again, ideally you could have her be like when your wife insists on giving you full chapter and verse about her day and you’re only 10% there.

Lads, you all know what I’m talking about here. Those times where you have to occasionally interject her stories of office bitchiness with a murmur of assent or a snort of disapproval, depending on what her tone of voice demands. In Mega Man X5, you’re stuck on the phone multiple times per stage, and you’ll be mashing every button on the face of the controller, on the face of the earth indeed, to get back to the game.

And the game, as it is, does try to do a few more new things. Mega Man X can now duck, which is quite a big deal actually. You can play as unarmoured X, Zero – or the version of X from X4 fully kitted out with all his cannons and doodads. I’m not sure why you would choose regular X over RobocopX4 here, apart from difficulty I suppose.

But what is a trifle disappointing is that any armour pieces you find cannot be used until you’ve put the full complement together. I always enjoy finding the Dr. Light chip capsules hidden within the stages, and then charging around like a hybrid robot built out of any old parts left lying around. It really does make you feel like you’re slowly getting stronger. Alas, X5 takes away some of this fun.

There’s some plot about the goodies firing an ancient laser at a space colony that Sigma (who else?) has put on a crash course with earth. You need to fire this laser in time, or we all die. You sometimes feel as if you’re missing a cutscene or two here, because suddenly, and without warning, everyone takes it as read that you’ve got to power up this laser to blast the colony to pieces. No War Room or sit-down meetings or eggheads chipping in or “where do we go from here” sessions. Perhaps it was all exposited in the myriads of text that I’d skipped?

Anyway, if you fire the laser in its initial state, the thing will probably implode and singe Zero’s bum instead. You’ve got to power it up by defeating Mavericks and stealing components from them. But there are only four components, and you’re expressly told which Mavericks possess them – while at the same time, you’re given a superfluous four more Mavericks to fight. There’s a rudimentary time limit as well, 16 hours, and each time you begin a stage you progress the clock by one hour. So why on earth would you dawdle with the non-entity Mavericks?

The cracks are really starting to show, if I’m honest. There was this one jetbike level where I actually died while the game was still asking me if I was ready. Before I could press a button, I’d plunged into a bottomless pit. Thankfully, an explosive death and elaborate reconstruction doesn’t cost you ingame time, only a few real-time seconds, but still I had to laugh. Capcom were now actively taking the mickey out of me.

I then died a million times more, like seemingly everyone else who’s ever attempted the level, before getting through by the skin of my teeth. There’s actually an option to slow the gameplay down here which can help, but that’s like safe sex or covering your mouth while sneezing – far too timid for real men.

One more thing: for whatever insane reason, the Anglicised versions of the Maverick’s names have taken on a Guns ‘n’ Roses theme. I know you don’t think I’m being serious, but it’s the God’s honest – you’ll be doing battle against Grizzly Slash, Axle the Red, Duff McWhalen, Squid Adler…

Now, there had been a bit of this already, with Neon Tiger’s music from X3 resembling My Michelle almost exactly. But this is where it went fully over the top. This was some GNR fan doing what he or she wanted. And to be honest, I can’t help but enjoy that. If you’re gonna stop trying, stop trying with style.

I wouldn’t say the whole of Mega Man X5 is a case of Capcom no longer trying, but the sequel decay, temporarily allayed by X4, was definitely beginning to set in for good. The producer, Keiji Inafune, later thrown out of Capcom for being plainly mad, had decided that he wanted X5 to be the denouement of the series. Of course, that would have been most unCapcomlike, to coin a phrase, so the higher-ups demanded even more sequels, every year without fail. And as we’ll see, things were set to get a whole lot worse for the X series.

11 October 2019

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