Mega Man X5
I'm conflicted about Mega Man X5. It does some things that are definitely a step forward, but at the same time, it does take a step back in other areas as well. All in all, I don't think it holds up as well as X4, but I still had a great time with it.
Starting from the very first level, it controls a lot better. X5 adds a crouch button that helps you get those pesky guys that are too short to hit with a normal shot, and generally feels a lot more polished in how it moves than the previous game. Depending on the character you choose to start the game with, you'll also either get a powered up X or Zero. At the beginning of each stage after the intro, you get the option to be either character now, so you're not stuck with either for the entirety of the experience. X now also accumulates armors, so if you power up X at the beginning by having him be your primary, you'll unlock his "Fourth Armor" from X4, alongside the standard Mega Man armor. Zero unfortunately never gets any new armor sets per tradition, but this means that when you unlock the other two armor sets for X, you can choose to use them in any level after that, or a different one of your choosing if it plays more to your style. The stages and bosses are all more balanced in a way that makes Zero more fun to play as well, which is a great step up from X4.
The game leans a lot more heavily on narrative this time around. X4 dabbled in it a little bit, but sometimes X5 can feel like its forcing a lot down on you. Because of a Sigma virus you have 15 hours to get materials from bosses. This basically means that you get 15 chances to go through four stages, where if you don't, the game will just unlock the final boss stage for the bad ending. I feel like this was more of a way they were trying to funnel players to play certain stages first, but it really doesn't feel as effective in practice. I played the stages they wanted because I wanted the good ending, and never had any moment where I was short on time (you get even more time after beating the first four bosses, and you only 'lose' an hour if you leave a stage after running out of lives). I feel like beyond assisting the plot, it was better implemented in something like X2 where you have the extra bosses that roam around randomly.
The stages themselves though are all pretty varied and fun to go through, though I wasn't a huge fan of all of them. The water level has a pet peeve of mine where you can only move as fast as the screen chasing you. Besides this one though, they're generally better paced than some in X4 that all had 2 parts to them. I felt like I went through stages much more quickly in this game. That is, I would, if it wasn't for Alia.
Alia is the computer operator. Her role is supposed to give you intel from home base, but she constantly is stopping you to tell you very obvious things. Like "There are spikes up ahead. Be sure to avoid those", or "This area has bombs! We need to make sure to blow those up before they reach zero". Previous X games have all relied on you recognizing the situation and adapting and learning as you play, and Alia makes every stage feel so sluggish because she can't go two or three screens without stopping you to open a text box and open her mouth. She's useful a handful of times when she will hint at where an armor piece could be, or what a boss weakness may be, but generally the things she tells you are things you would already know just by walking two steps ahead. She even continues this in the post level screen where she tells you that you got a new power and you should try it on new bosses because every boss has a weakness. Even if this is your first X game, you need that information once, not after every single level. Besides this character though, I really enjoyed the other interactions, especially the banter between you and the boss before every fight (even though all the characters are pretty much new and we've never heard of them before).
Music has taken a big step up. There's definitely a lot more energy coming out of each area, and each level is pretty easily identified by the theme. The water theme is actually a direct pull from the water level in X2 (which incidentally shares a lot of level design quirks as well), but the theme is remixed with more modern sound recordings. I really don't have a lot to complain about with this section. The tracks generally aren't as catchy or memorable as Mega Man at its best, but also definitely not where it is at its worst. They're awesome tracks and are really effective for pumping you up in that way you want.
Some new game quirks, just like the time limit, aren't as successfully implemented. There's a new system where you accumulate buffs to attach to characters, like a super jump, or one that makes health pickups more effective. Each armor has a set number of slots you can set to these. The main problem with these is that they're never communicated in how they're given out. They'll randomly show up after each level like you got it from a boss. It's still unclear to me how you receive them. There are stray Maverick Hunters in each stage to help out who will give you an extra life if you save them, and its possible you get this from saving them. Alia also occasionally asks if you want to upgrade your health or energy, and its possible they come from this process. I'm not sure. With all the explaining Alia does, you'd think she'd tell you, but she doesn't. Besides it being a confusing mechanic, it definitely is cool to experiment with these new parts to help tailor the armors to your liking. If not though, it doesn't harm your experience if you never touch it at all.
The mechanic of changing armors also has its downsides. It's super cool to go through a different stage with a new set of abilities, and to be able to do it when you choose to, but the armors have very specific purposes that you use maybe one time. It would have been super fun to discover alternate level routes designed around these specific armors if you've acquired them. There is usually just a small branch in some areas that utilize the armor's abilities a single time that hold an upgrade before sending you on your way back to the normal path.
All of these things are minor annoyances, like Alia's talking, but they do add up to make the game a little less fun than it could be. With a little more polish, I would say this could have been even better than X4. As It stands though, it’s just a small rung below.
Final Score: 8.7/10