Is This What We’re Fighting For?
When Mega Man X was first released on the Super Nintendo, it was seen as a blast of fresh air for a franchise that had become tired and stale. The X series is now seen with the same amount of nostalgia as the original series. However, the track record is a bit spottier than the classic series. Many remember the first game but memories become less and less clear as the series goes on. Mega Man X4 is an entry in the series many seem to remember fondly but rarely know in detail. Why is that? Is Mega Man X4 as good as many remember or is it just nostalgia?
Right away, the biggest upgrade from the previous games in the series is the presentation. The character models and backgrounds are much more detailed than before and the game has a much more cinematic feel, thanks to the increased focus on the story. From the in-game cutscenes and voice acting to the anime cutscenes that play periodically throughout the game, the graphics were definitely the focus of this game. The new disc-based format that X4 had to work with back when it was first released in 1997 was being fully taken advantage of, unlike the PlayStation 1 and Saturn versions of Mega Man X3.
However, not all of this is taken advantage of well. The voice acting is unfortunately not very good. While there are definitely worse examples of English dubs, a lot of the performances are either overly dramatic or stiff. The actors are either trying way too hard (Zero) or are incapable of emoting whatsoever (General). Of course, this does make for some funny moments, such as Zero’s infamous “What am I fighting for” scream.
Another issue comes exclusively from playing the PlayStation Network re-release. The cutscenes look blurry and pixelated on a high def television. The original game was at a 240 resolution and, while the gameplay visuals has translated fine, the cutscenes have not and look noticeably low quality. Finally, the backgrounds are not as creatively inspired as previous games and a lot of the levels feel less memorable as a result.
Perhaps this was due to the detail put into everything, especially the sprites. X and Zero look great and it’s especially impressive whenever X gets an armor upgrade to see a new attachment to his body. Enemies have fluid animations and it’s cool to see some like the iconic Hard Hat enemies get an updated design and more frames of animation. While it can be argued that the art design in X4 isn’t particularly inspired, it does certainly look good.
The soundtrack is arguably the most memorable aspect of X4. The music is a highly electronic, synth pop style that always manages not only to pump you up for the action to come but also to have memorable hooks and melodies. The clarity of the music is also great, as you can hear every note on the keyboard, every hi-hat hit and every drum roll. Even the reverb is used to enhance the soundtrack rather than muffle it. The sound effects also get an upgrade from the previous game, and while they may not be as iconic as before, they sound good.
Of course a lot of this increase in presentation is for the story. The story involves a group of reploids called the Repliforce. Originally a group meant to protect humans alongside the Hunters (the group X and Zero are members of), the Repliforce is accused of becoming evil, or Maverick, after an incident that kills hundreds of human and reploid lives. In response, they have started a coup in order to claim independence from humans and create a new nation with only reploids.
Most of the story is harmless enough and doesn’t really affect the gameplay, as it works as an excuse to use the tried and true Mega Man formula. However, as a dramatic plot that you become invested in, it falls completely flat. Most of the relationships are underdeveloped and the characters are one note. I don’t expect a Mega Man game to have in-depth characters and a strong plot but seeing as they went through the trouble of focusing on characters and plot, even though they aren’t necessary, I have to judge them and the verdict is it just doesn’t work. Luckily, you can just skip all the cutscenes and talking and enjoy the gameplay without worry.
There’s a lot of different aspects in X4 compared to the previous games in the series but very few of these changes are in the gameplay. The jump and shoot gameplay is intact, as is the speed of the gameplay thanks to X’s dash and wall climbing abilities. X plays mostly like he does in the previous games and jumping on platforms, defeating enemies, and collecting all the sub tanks, heart containers and armor upgrades is still as rewarding as ever thanks to the solid action platforming mechanics and tight, responsive controls.
Unfortunately, the weapons he gains from the Mavericks are lackluster compared to previous games. Some like Soul Body and Lightning Web are useful in a variety of ways while others like Rising Fire and Frost Tower seem to only be there to defeat the Maverick weak to them. Part of the appeal of Mega Man is the cool weapons you get to use and that appeal just isn’t here. It seems like the developers were running out of ideas for new weapons at this point. Also, the leg upgrade in this game sucks. The hover ability is too slow, which puts it at odds with the pace of the game, and often is more of a hindrance than helpful. I often activated these accidentally and it often resulted in me taking a hit.
The major gameplay change here is the ability to play as Zero in his own campaign. X3 gave the ability to play as Zero but only in a limited capacity. His play style changes the gameplay significantly as you’ll need to be more careful since he doesn’t have projectile attacks and has close range sword attacks instead. However, he also favors speed runs as aiming is not really a factor anymore and you can just dash through levels, slashing through enemies with little waiting.
Since you do need to be more defensive, playing as Zero definitely is like a harder difficulty for the game. Many of the game’s bosses are harder since they don’t have the same level of weaknesses to Zero’s attacks as they do with X, especially the final boss fight. Also, Zero doesn’t gain new armor upgrades like X. So you’ll only have new sword attacks to gain as you play, though some of these are actually new maneuverability upgrades. This does make Zero’s playthrough feel less rewarding than X’s. However, especially with X’s lackluster weapons, playing as Zero still feels refreshing and it’s a welcome addition.
The levels X and Zero play through are the same with no difference, although a few of the bosses you fight differ. I would have appreciated alternate routes for the characters that take advantage of their different skill set so that their individual adventures felt more tailored for the character, even if it ended in the same place. Instead, we get one adventure that only differ in how you approach obstacles depending on who you choose as a character. Finally, the Mavericks themselves at the end of each level are hit and miss. Some are really memorable such as Magma Dragoon while others like Storm Owl just seem kind of lazy. Ideas, once again, seem to have become scarce.
The Verdict: 7.8 out of 10
Mega Man X4 is ultimately a good game whose flaws hold it back from greatness. It’s not like it’s a bad game, not even close in fact. The platforming is solid, as is the shooting / slashing, and being able to play as Zero adds some diversity to the game. However, the lackluster Mavericks, weapons, and story just make the game feel a little tired. Nostalgia definitely has made it a better game than it actually is.
I can recommend Mega Man X4 to those who have played and enjoyed other Mega Man X games but if you are looking to enter the series for the first time, check out the original Mega Man X first. There’s a distinct lack of excellence here that just can’t be ignored.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Esteban Cuevas is an associate writer for MONG and is a big fan of Mega Man X’s ultimate armor. It makes him look like a Gundam but more awesome! You can follow him on Twitter, YouTube, and WordPress.