It’s an interesting time to be a Mega Man fan, that much is certain; going from being Capcom’s ugly stepchild, locked in the attic with Nintendo desperately trying to slide snacks under the door, back to its former glory, with three games released this year so far building up to the brand new adventure Mega Man 11 later this year. For a long time Mega Man’s nickname “Blue Bomber” just referred to how his review scores bombed, but the collections for the original Mega Man franchise were warmly received, adding a whole bunch of fanservice in the fan-tastically in-depth museum (see what I did there), and quality of life changes across the board. But in moving to cover the eight “X” series games, do these next batch of collections X-cel, or fall short of X-pectations? In order, a decisive “yes” and a hesitant “eeeh.”
For reference, since everything outside of the actual games themselves in these collections is pretty similar, this first review will focus more on the extra / added content (because the games are all superb) whereas the review for Mega Man X: Legacy Collection 2 – which side-note is more of a mouthful than about 5 pounds of popcorn – will focus more on the games, which vary in quality enough to make Sonic the Hedgehog look consistent. With formalities and about 225 words out of the way, let’s get started.
Mega Man X: Legacy Collection features the first four Mega Man games (which in an astonishing move are titled X, X2, X3 and X4), the first three of which were SNES games released between 1993 and 1996, with X4 appearing on the PS1 and Sega Saturn (remember that existed?) in 1997. They follow the adventures of Mega Man X – you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to start noticing a pattern here – in the year 21XX, where humans and reploids, sentient machines, live in harmony. A malfunction in the cortex of these reploids, however, causes them to “go maverick” and they begin to stage a revolution. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact plot of “ambitious emotional journey” Detroit: Become Human done 25 years earlier, like David Cage thought nobody would notice. Tsk tsk. Anyway, Maverick Hunters X and his buddy “best ponytail in gaming” Zero are tasked to go out and, you guessed it, hunt Mavericks. The individual games start to pull the signature Capcom move, best seen in the Resident Evil franchise, of getting convoluted to the point of incomprehension; it probably transpires Big Boss Maverick Sigma is X’s dad or something, but it’s not too confusing in these 4, yet – just you wait until Legacy Collection 2.
As suggested earlier, these games are some of the best platformers ever made, with the original in particular being a mainstay of “best games ever” lists almost universally, and for good reason. Extraordinarily tight controls and fluid movement that just blows away anything the NES Mega Man’s were capable of like Storm Eagle with a cold. This great gameplay is matched with a huge jump up in graphical quality too – greater detailed sprites and backgrounds (which are also incredibly clean so hold up very well today, in part thanks to very professional and authentic emulation), as well as smoother animations – though that was something of a given considering that the original Mega Man’s walk cycle had literally two frames, like the laziest flip-book ever. Finally, a bombastic soundtrack to match: while the original’s tunes are great, the SNES’s sound chip is where things truly get nostalgic, and the bit-crushed electric guitars and trumpets of X’s level themes are one of the single most important inspirations to gaming music. Even without the extra features Legacy Collection provides, having these four games available anytime on the go for £16 would be an absolute steal – but it’s not all run and gun fun, because the museum is an excellent time-waster in and of itself. As well as a music player where the aforementioned tunes can be pumped, blasted, or whatever the kids are saying these days, there’s an art gallery stuffed with classic and unseen concept art, as well as, perhaps most excitingly for a nerd with a loose grip on his wallet like myself, a complete “product gallery,” detailing all Mega Man X merchandise past and present. A lot of care and attention has gone into the presentation of this archive, and it shows.
It’s a shame, then, that the same can’t be said necessarily of the rest of the package itself. First and most egregious is the absence of two of the most well-received features of the original Legacy Collections: save states and the “rewind” feature. On the switch in particular, the ability to save anywhere and shut down made the games a true portable must-have, and yet its nowhere to be seen in X Collection, instead just having a save / load button tacked on to the password screen of the first three games. I don’t know if this is because the later games already had saving, or something to do with how the emulation is handled, or if Capcom just couldn’t be arsed (I suspect the real answer is a delicious blend of the former two with a pinch of the latter for flavour), but it’s incredibly conspicuous in its absence. In its place is the poor replacement “Rookie Hunter” option, which just halves the damage you take; like sending astronauts on the International Space Station a replacement bus service. Also gone are the challenge levels from the original, instead being replaced by the “X Challenge” mode, fighting bosses spanning the four games in 2 on 1 scenarios. A neat idea to be sure, and features some nifty visuals and boss remixes, but bosses are paired thematically instead of how well they actually complement each other, which is like choosing your spouse based on eye colour, so more often than not the screen descends into a random cluster of projectiles after a few seconds, removing all real skill entirely. As we’ll learn when looking at X Collection 2, Capcom knows that experimenting with formula can go horribly wrong, so it’s a shame the celebrated improvements weren’t carried over here.
Strange exclusions aside, the fact remains that offering these four games, which are rarities in their original formats and will set you back anywhere between £50 for X1 to almost £300 for X3 each, in one package, with a wealth of bonus material, is a no-brainer. The boy in blue is back, and if you’re curious why his fans endured so much nonsense for so long, you need look no further than the quality of the games in this bundle. An absolute no-hesitation must-buy for Mega Man or even just platformer fans, and something every Switch owner should strongly consider.