Mega Man X6
Mega Man X6 is a frustrating game. On its surface, there are a lot of cool pieces here; an RPG upgrading system taken from X5 that’s better explained, rotating optional boss fights taken from X2 that encourage you to replay stages or try new ones, among other things. A lot of these however are surrounded by, and forced through ideas that cause nothing but irritation, and as much as I adore the series, I haven’t ever been as upset at an entry in the series like I have with X6. I want to love the game, and there are parts that shine that I adore. But there’s so much that one has to wade through to get to those bits and appreciate the highs, it makes the lows all the more apparent.
I should mention that X6 was done in less than a year. It was made to be done for a Holiday release after the success of X4 that had close to two years, and X5 which had a little more than three. X6 was done with X5’s engine in 364 days without the help of series creator Keiji Inafune. The crunch and personal absence are definitely felt.
Starting with the things that the game carries over from X5, there are different armor sets to collect and change around as you see fit. You’ll begin the game with the Falcon armor, but over the course of the game you can collect two more (and Zero) to run through levels with. The game also carries over rescuing fellow Hunters in the levels, and depending on who you save, you’ll unlock upgrades to attach to yourself. These could be anything from a faster charge for your weapon, to an increase in your dash or movement speed. These are cool ideas to put together. However, they are both flawed in their execution.
The armor pieces are now, more or less, in extremely conniving places. So if you plan on getting them, and you should because certain levels are next to impossible without one or the other, you’re going to go through a lot of trial, error, and cheap deaths. The upgrades aren’t handled like they were in X5 as well, where each suit can hold a certain number of upgrade slots. Now it’s tied to your Hunter Rank, which brings me to another downer for the game; the enemies.
There are like ten enemy types in this game, and each level is largely populated 95% with one: the Nightmare Virus. These are special octopus looking enemies that when killed, drop an orb that you need to pick up to increase your Hunter rank so that you can equip upgrades onto your character of choice. Killing other enemies has no effect on improving your rank. This also means that because the majority of the enemies are now the Nightmare Virus, health and weapon pickups are extremely slim because these enemies only drop the orb needed to upgrade your rank. It feels lazy and tiresome. Some pickups like armor capsules, heart containers and sub tanks are all largely and frustratingly out of reach unless you’re able to equip one or two of the Hunter upgrades. But those upgrades can also just become permanently inaccessible if Nightmare Viruses kill the Hunters you’re trying to rescue, making the game more difficult as a result. So if you want to upgrade your character, you’re probably going to be replaying certain levels. A lot. You can’t even equip upgrades until you’ve improved your rank a little.
Upgrades aside, I feel like the levels in X6 are okay. On paper they have interesting quirks that make each of them unique. One has you avoiding a giant robot’s lasers, while another has you defeating a giant circle enemy six times throughout the stage. These feel less like interesting ideas though and more the biproduct of not having as many enemies to defeat. They cause more frustration than excitement. One level in particular has a ceiling lowering on you while you’re trying to move through a backwards conveyer belt while also trying to avoid spikes. This was just not fun, and like fighting that circle enemy six times, was infuriating for me. If you’re able to get around those, the stages also have optional second parts where there will be a hidden boss at the end. This is the key to getting Zero as a playable character, and defeating the boss High Max will also let you start the final boss stages early. I generally really like the bosses floating to new areas, but felt like sometimes I was forced to fight an impossible boss with my current ability set, and had to die a full set of lives to try a new stage.
So what’s good about X6? I feel like I’ve been very harsh on it up to this point, and I don’t entirely hate the game. If you’re able to upgrade enough and get the necessary armor pieces, blasting through levels is still fun in that Mega Man way. The Blade armor in particular made me feel like a Dragon Ball character with the way the air dash works, and that was very fun to use. The music in the game also has some of the most metal standout tracks in the series, however not all of them are as memorable. Blaze Heatnix though and Infinity Majinion are incredible tracks that are just what I want from Mega Man, and that level select song showcasing the bosses with its searing guitar gets me pumped every time. Beyond those things though and a few clever and fun level ideas, the game is overshadowed by bad ideas that take the whole experience down. The last set of levels is just an exercise in cruelty with large pits and spikes everywhere, and the final boss specifically feels more like a Castlevania boss than something I’d do in Mega Man, where you're more fighting the pit than the boss itself. X6 loves instant kill hazards. The stages sometimes feel like they fight you for trying to have a good time playing Mega Man like you have in the past, and maybe it should have looked more towards the past to see why a lot of the previous games play so well. But having just started X7, I don’t think that message came across.