Mega Man X’s final exam just about scrapes a pass – could do better

Mega Man X8 (2005)

I’ve always felt I had a decent head for numbers and cash figures, so long as they’re my own assets. One of my favourite hobbies as a child was counting money, quite literally sifting through every single scabby coin I had and sorting them all out, getting all of that lovely coin poison all over my hands. No way was I gonna make a career out of it, though – I speak with accountants every so often and, when they’re not chasing tight-arsed suppliers for stray tenners, they spend the rest of their time studying for exams.

Exams?! You may have just shuddered, as I certainly have. There aren’t many more putrid words than “exams”. Maybe moist is one, and gunge is another. Luckily I’m decent at taking exams, which is a big thing in Ireland – from the way those ever-deceptive teachers talk to you, your final exams in school will decide your future and shape your entire life. It’s no wonder that cheating was rife on the big day.

In Ireland, your college career really does all come down to how you perform in those final exams. There was barely any continuous assessment or project work to do ahead of time, something that might have you sitting pretty in terms of grades, weeks before the real thing. So if you bottled it on the day of the exams, then that was it for you. You could always repeat, but do you know how long a year is when you’re 17 or 18, and all your pals are starting college?

Mind you, it’s not only for the students to bottle, here’s a humdinger for you – when I was sitting one of my big exams, some nimrod handed out the Paper 2 when he should have handed out the Paper 1, and a few students caught sight of it. This big security booboo, which happened miles away from me somewhere else in the country, meant the original Paper 2 had to be cancelled, and we were all forced to give up a Saturday to sit a replacement exam. How Father Ted is that?

Anyway, after the exams were all said and done, the omens were not particularly good on the day I went to collect my results. I’d just come back from Marmaris, which has thankfully retreated back into the shadows of grotty resorts, and I had a bit of a hangover head on me walking up to the school to get the old results.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the enormous dead rat I found in our front garden, just after I left. Is that a bad omen or what? In any case, when I got my results and found they were way off what I’d needed or hoped for, I still didn’t care. A mate of mine passed Maths, when he was in real danger of failing, and not to sound like some sort of Care Bear, but I remember being more happy for him than I ever could have been for myself.

I resolved never to put as much effort into anything as I did with my school exams, and when college came along I made good on that – and doubly so with working life. Still, I definitely broke that new mantra a bit by putting a lot of graft into drinking and partying for the rest of that summer, the end of that wonderful period in life between leaving school and starting college, where you’ve just turned 18 and anything went, party any day you like.

My whole point here is that you never really know what you’re going to get in your exams, unless you sit in either extreme – whether you’re a dreadful swot or an academic bottom feeder. When I went to college, and stayed up all night for every single end of year exam, I was getting higher marks in modules I hadn’t even attended once, than in the ones where I almost put in an effort. How on earth do you even predict that?

That’s why I have to laugh when I get a grade after every stage I play in Mega Man X8. What is it even based on? How can you possibly get an A in this game? Especially when there’s so many curveball and gimmicks coming your way and you have no idea how to react to any of it.

As my short-lived stint in the Honours Maths class proved, when you start getting 18% on tests, the only way is up. Hence I couldn’t imagine this game being any worse than X6 or X7. Well guess what, X8 actually does manage to pass that entrance exam, at least. It doesn’t dip its toes too far into the 3D pool, except for a few occasions when the gimmick demands it. It be said though, there really are an awful lot of gimmicks on display here. I suppose no two stages being alike is a good thing, but where’s the consistency?

I suppose releasing an eight stage “thriller” to the PS2 in the same year as GTA: San Andreas needed a bit more to back it up, but there simply isn’t enough standard Mega Man X fare here to get you interested. When you play this, you just feel a bit of disbelief that Capcom managed to get to eight X games so quickly, that same disbelief you get when you turn over your exam paper and you encounter a lot of words that you’d never seen before in your life.

When you do finish a stage, which usually comes after you’ve smashed up a boss with an awkwardly animated (but no less radical) Matrix-style double move between your two partners, you’ll be given a grade. I wasn’t getting many As, let’s just say that, but I had bundles of Ds. I was getting close to being able to spell out the word ‘beefed’ at one point.

Oh well, who knows how these grades were even calculated? All I know is that the levels were pretty tedious, almost as tedious as studying, or indeed cramming. I need to tell you something here actually, and please picture me blushing as I say this because it is godawfully embarrassing. But it was after I finished my final exam, which I think might have been the Honours Irish class. There were only six of us in the class, which might give you some clue about the state and future of our language.

Anyway, as I walked away from the school for what would essentially be the final time as a student, I – wait for it – gave it the full John Bender, Breakfast Club fist-pump of triumph. Embarrassing or what?! My brain sometimes reminds me of the moment at night in case I want to fall asleep, mockingly chiming “Don’t You Forget About Me” around my head and torturing me for a bit longer.

That’s a memory as cringey as you like, but I can’t deny that it felt nice, at the time. The Mega Man X series ended with X8, and we’ve probably just about ruled out any chance of a retro styled X9 by now. Mega Man X8 marks the last stop then, and it emerges with a little bit of credit. But I can’t tell you that it scores particularly high marks, and it definitely wouldn’t warrant a Bender fist-pump. Put it this way, if you were a strict parent, you’d give Mega Man X8 an absolute hiding.

10 December 2021

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