A collection of this sort will probably elicit one of two reactions, a gentle nod to confirm that this is another fine retro addition for modern consoles or a dream-like feeling that comes from finding out there’s this thing out there containing every Mega Man X game ever released alongside cool special features. Fans of the series will no doubt fall into the latter category, and for those that have never played a Mega Man before then the original Mega Man X is a great jumping off point.
Originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1994 (the Japan ‘Rockman X’ version debuted in 1993), Mega Man X represented a shift in tone for the series. Where up to this point Mega Man had received so many 8-bit sequels that it would have been okay to assume that the X in the title referred to the number 10. Of course, that wasn’t the case, with Mega Man X taking place a century after the events of the original Mega Man titles in the dark and mysterious 20XX. A time when advanced thinking robots lived alongside humans, and a rogue force of ‘Maverick Reploids’ were hell bent on causing destruction and wiping out humanity.
Taking on the role of X alongside a group of new heroes and characters, it’s up to you to stop the threat in a setup that although is more mature and darker followed or expanded on the classic Mega Man formula. Where after a cinematic and action-packed intro stage, players are given a host of thematic stages to complete, bosses in the mould of animals or sea creatures to defeat, and special new attacks to earn. The biggest additions, that now feel essential to the franchise, that X brought to the table was the ability to wall-climb and dash. Two moves that in addition to the increased colour-space of the Super Nintendo and enhanced sprites and animation, opened the level design to offer challenging action where traversal played a key role in success.
Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 includes the first four games in the series, all three SNES outings and the fourth PlayStation 1 era release that improved background detail and animation while also letting players playthrough the entire game as X’s friend and cohort Zero. Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 is more of a mixed bag, as it features all 32-bit sequels (some of which aren’t very good and feel mostly like more of the same) and a weird pseudo 3D-meets-2D entry that is more of a look at how not to create a Mega Man X title than an essential part of the story. Really though it’s the 16-bit trilogy for the Super Nintendo that remains the most readily accessible and impressive, where the action and level design still works – for the most part.
And by that we mean that the series’ trademark difficulty can at times feel a little too harsh or overly reliant on replaying stages multiple times to nail-down the flow. This in and of itself is not a criticism and makes the Rookie Hunter mode a cool addition for those looking to play a chunk of each of the eight games across both collections. Let’s say, a reviewer looking to get a good feel for how each game looks and feels in 2018.
Strangely, and unfortunately (for a second or two at least), by default the presentation of each entry is of the zoomed-in and heavily filtered-to-look-smooth approach seen across numerous retro collections like this. Except not good and bordering on terrible filters. But after a few buttons presses you can switch to the original 4:3 aspect ratio and 16-bit or 32-bit look of the series. A third CRT-like scanline filter is also available, but not quite as impressive as the one featured in Capcom’s recent Street Fighter collection. In terms of performance the emulation is spot-on but also includes those weird moments of stutter and slow-down found in the original releases.
After the somewhat suspect smoothing of the visuals one wonder if this is a barebones release, but thankfully a lot of care and thought has been put into restoring and creating a complete Mega Man X collection. The in-game museum is a veritable treasure trove of cool stuff, including rare never before seen concept art and designs, music collections, photos of merchandising and marketing materials, and even Mega Man X trailers and commercials from the ‘90s. A bonus boss-rush mode called X Challenge is also surprisingly robust while working as both a homage and modern-day remix of classic Mega Man X action.
Unlike the similarly titled Legacy Collection of the base Mega Man games, the Mega Man X Legacy Collection (more 1 than 2) feels more essential than something for the fans. The X off-shoot of the Mega Man franchise improved on the formula laid out in the 8-bit era to create some of the best 2D action games of the ‘90s, where art and animation grew in leaps and bounds alongside mechanics and wonderful level design. In many ways this is Mega Man at its finest, and outside of the fact that most of the eight games play the same, this Legacy Collection is a fine reminder of why the X series is held in such high regard.