The Mega Man series has exhibited some incredible longevity. Since the early days of the NES, the Blue Bomber has delivered some of the best pure gameplay ever experienced. Without worrying about points or a complex story, Mega Man showcased an absolute mastery of game design: tight controls, beautiful graphics and stellar level design. The formula changed little over time, but it didn’t need to. It was that good.
With the advent of the Super Nintendo however, Capcom decided to spin the franchise off in a more mature direction. Enter Mega Man X: A flashy re-imagining that layers on light exploration elements and a heavier story. While later entries in the X franchise went off the rails a little bit, the extra mechanics were well-received and did a lot to enhance the already-incredible gameplay. If the trade-off was a step back from the perfect level design of the classic series, then so be it. It was still an absolute blast.
But which series is better? That’s a tough question, and one must consider many factors when asking it. What makes a game better than another? Can you really compare two games that are so similar, yet miles apart in their make-up? Leviathyn Editor-In-Chief Ron Hoffecker and staff writer Nathan Petrillo weigh in with their opinions on the X and Classic Mega Man series.
The Classic Series (Nathan)
If you were to ask me what my favorite game series of all time was, I would immediately answer Mega Man. Few games have ever been able to completely suck me into their universe as deeply as Mega Man has. With a story and cast of characters as grand as Mega Man’s, it was only a matter of time until sequels and spinoffs were created. Some took place years after the classic series such as the acclaimed Mega Man X series and some even took place in parallel worlds but featured similar characters such as the Mega Man Legend series. Now I’ve played a lot of Mega Man in my time beginning with probably my favorite game of the entire lineup, Mega Man 3 (with the second following closely behind). Having played many of the titles after the classic series I can say with no doubt that the Mega Man X series would be my second favorite (of all time as well). While no one really needs to explain to me why they might prefer the X series, I’m going to talk about why I believe the classic series to be the better of the two.
Now it’s easy to point out that without the classic era, the X series wouldn’t exist. It all started so simply; robots became mass produced tools and in the wrong hands became very dangerous weapons. Not only that but it is also a tale of betrayal. Light and Wily worked together for a long time but Wily always seemed to be overshadowed at every turn leading him down his dark path. Without this rivalry, without this world, X, Zero, and Sigma would never have been built. If one was to look at the grand scheme of things, the classic era should deserve a bit more recognition solely for its creation of the X series.
The number of games in each of the series is pretty comparable which leads to my next point. The characters in the classic era are just that, animated and very colorful characters. The X series has its fair share of characters as well but not as many memorable ones. Mega Man X4 is a great example. Colonel, General, Iris, they were all very cool and memorable to a point but upon fighting them, it seemed less emotional than it should have. Looking back, I find it strange to not think they all would have become enemies at a point in the story but we never got much insight into them. Back in the classic era, the featured characters were a bit livelier. In his first appearance, we learned very little about Protoman. As the series went on, we learned about his connection to Rock, his flawed energy device, and his attitude toward life. The same can be said for Dr. Light, Rock, Roll, Bass, Dr. Wily, Auto… The list goes on a bit. There are only three characters in the X series that I feel we actually got to know, X, Zero, and Sigma. The entire X series was practically about X’s growth and on the side Zero’s origin. Any other characters we met were pretty one dimensional. What’s the story behind Dynamo’s loyalty to the maverick cause? He seemed to follow Sigma blindly, he never seemed infected. What was the story with Signas? Where did he come from?
Let’s examine the gameplay and mechanics a bit. The classic era featured very simple actions but the game catered to that and based its challenges on these simple actions. The X series featured a very similar style but made things a little bit more complex. A dash was now implemented and the collected armors or power ups such as heart tanks all had an effect on the main challenge. Once again, the game utilized these mechanics accordingly. What am I getting at? While the added features in the X series were very well done and did add enjoyment, they were not required. The simplistic controls and actions of the classic series have remained largely unchanged, even with the newest additions, Megan Man 9 and 10. While being very comparable to Mega Man 2 or 3, these titles were able to capture exactly what made the classic era games so much fun. Rock had his ability to copy weapons, use his dog Rush to reach out of the way areas, nothing had to be added and I find that very admirable. One could argue the same gameplay could get stale after so many games in the series but if it still works, why change it? In actuality, it wasn’t until these latest iterations in which fans received something they had been clamoring for ever since his appearance; Protoman as a playable character. Did we need this mode? No, not at all, but like the X series, the implemented feature did add to the enjoyment of the game.
The X Series (Ron):
For me the debate between Classic and X rides on two things: nostalgia versus substance. The Classic series will always bring me back to my first console: the NES. I have fond memories of playing each Mega Man game and finally upgrading to the SNES and continuing with number 7 and so forth. My issue with the Classic series is that nostalgia is all that it brings.
The X Series brings much more to the table and has evolved through the years while the Classic series continues to devolve. X started out on 16-bit and proceeded to 32 only to go even further than that on the PS2. Classic went from 8-bit, to 16, to 32, and then back to 8-bit. While I enjoyed Mega Man 9 and 10, I can’t say that the experience was better than, say, X8.
After the travesty of X7, Mega Man X8 was a great hark back to the old times with some new mixed in. It was a step towards the future for Mega Man. That’s really what the X Series is all about. Mega Man X took us into the future and into an ongoing war against Sigma and the Mavericks. It was more mature, had collectibles, finely tuned gameplay, and a story.
For most of the Classic series the only story was “stop Dr. Wily”. With X we got the plight of Zero, the rise of the Reploids, war against Repliforce, planetary disaster, and an exodus to the Moon. There was so much going on and with every release the plot thickened and included more hints to how the series tied into the Classic timeline. In fact, the X Series had more story about the Classic series’ characters than the Classic series itself!
I can’t bring myself to defend the Classic series against the X Series. X just put it all on the table and said, “here’s what Mega Man truly is about.” It’s about warfare, robotic evolution, moral judgment, and responsibility. If you really paid attention to everything the X Series had in it, you’d see just how much X evolved and grew.
If only Mr. Inafune had his intended wish and ended the series with X5, we’d be set with the picture of X holding Zero’s saber as he charges into the unknown ready to go. A far cry from when he was defeated by Vile on the highway in X1 and questioned his role in the world.
(Featured graphic provided by Benjamin Sawyer. To see more of his work, visit benbrush.com or benbrush.deviantart.com)