SNES Master KI: Welcome to another installment of Turn Based! Today we will be tackling probably the most heated topic between myself and Professor Icepick that this series has covered so far. Ever since the original Mega Man X started the trend of new Mega Man series that coexisted with the original, people have argued over which was the best. The biggest battle in that area remained the original Mega Man series vs the X series, and Icepick and I are on opposing sides of this battle. Icepick will be representing the original Mega Man series, and I will be representing my beloved Mega Man X series. Since original came first I’ll let Icepick make the first actual argument, time for the battle where there can be no winners to commence! Who will win?
Professor Icepick: It’s easy to discount the Classic series as being “outdated” or “archaic”, but it’s obvious that it is the starting point for one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. If not for the humble release of the original Rockman on the Nintendo Famicom on December 17, 1987, the series wouldn’t exist whatsoever. Likewise, to this day, the best-selling MegaMan game of all time is MegaMan 2 on the NES, a feat which the franchise has yet to top. Classic is the most endearing branch of the MegaMan franchise, managing to claw itself back to relevance after over a decade of inactivity. Scoring not one, but two retro throwback games — before they were even cool! — as well as several spinoffs and appearances in various other forms of media, MegaMan Classic’s importance to Capcom, platformers and video games as a whole, cannot be understated.
KI: The thing is, none of that really addresses which series makes for better games. I don’t deny that the original Mega Man is the reason the series exists, but that’s true by definition of anything that has a spin-off series. Not to imply the quality gap is as large for the Mega Man games as it is for the example I’m about to give, but the Tracey Ullman show is why The Simpsons exists. The original Mega Man games are important and great games in their own right, but in my view, they were building up to something.
Mega Man X is, in my opinion, a colossal increase in quality on the level of Nintendo’s Super Nintendo sequels to NES games. Unlike the other Mega Man subseries, which are doing their own thing for the most part, MMX is an evolution of the original that shows what Mega Man can truly be. Everything the original series accomplished led up to it undergoing a super powered evolution into the SNES Mega Man X games.
Icepick: And that’s the problem, isn’t it? You’ve often told me that you consider the first game in the MMX sub-franchise to be the best by far, correct?
KI: I never said it was the best by far, it’s actually pretty close between the first four Mega Man X games. I believe that those four games, any one of them, are better than any game in the original Mega Man series. Mega Man X5 and X8 can also hold their own against many of them. Yes, there are two bad ones, but that doesn’t change the quality of the other games.
Icepick: That brings up another issue, MMX had spinoffs of its own: the Zero quadrilogy and the ZX duology. Personally, I prefer the gameplay in those two games over the X series in general. Which is where a major problem lies: through these six follow-ups, the X series lost any sense of cohesive identity. The Zero/ZX games are closer to the X series than any other branch of the MegaMan franchise in general. Therefore, while Classic can offer me something unique, I’m given the choice between the X, Zero and ZX series for that particular style of gameplay — and I’m always going to choose between the latter two series over the former.
KI: Zero and ZX have more differences from the X series than the X series does from the original. They may be more similar in setting, but the character customization, action-RPG and Metroid-like inspired gameplay completely changes the feel. And of course, you aren’t playing as a traditional Mega Man in those games, X played like Original with a couple new abilities, there was nothing from Original that you were missing. I’d almost argue that Mega Man series come in pairs, with Original/X, Zero/ZX, and Battle Network/Starforce all having the same basic gameplay philosophy, and Legends… well, it would probably need a third game before it got a sequel series.
Like I said, the X series plays like a (in my opinion) superior version of the original series, which is why the argument over them in the most prominent among the fanbase. I think for the purpose of this debate, we should limit our focus to the original and X series.
Icepick: Fair enough. However, when looking at both series in general, one must also account for overall quality. You casually mentioned this earlier, but X6 and X7 are generally considered to be among the worst games in the entire franchise, with dips in quality so severe, that no game in the franchise — not even the 1987 original — has as extreme of problems. Meanwhile, while you point out that MMX is generally considered the best game of the side-scrolling MegaMan series by many, the 11 mainline Classic games (yes, I’m counting MegaMan & Bass, if only because Capcom did in MM9) maintained a certain level of quality.
Many people hold the MegaMans 4 through 6 in low regard simply due to being “repetitive”, yet anyone who’s actually played them won’t hold that against the game’s inherent quality. MM7 is a weak entry in the series, but given the fact that it was developed in a mere 3 months, makes it amazing given the level of quality Capcom managed to achieve in a severely below-average development cycle. MegaMan 8 was experimental, finally taking into account the criticisms of the later NES era, only to have it explode in their face — delivering a game that managed to achieve mixed reactions. And that doesn’t even take the Game Boy games into consideration: which slowly evolved from portable cash-ins to some of the best games in the entire series.
KI: I don’t think you can give Mega Man 7 a pass for being made quickly. Who knows what the developers of X6 and X7 went through (X6 took less than a year and X7 was trying something completely new to the series). The original Mega Man games may not have lows as dramatic, but 1, 4, 6, 7, and M&B, I would say X5 and X8 (the mid-tier X games) easily beat those. I’m not holding repetitiveness against 4 and 6 for the record (and 5 is a great game), 4 had bland level design regardless of context and while 6 is my favorite of the ones I listed, it didn’t have great levels and was really easy. And you probably shouldn’t bring the GB games into this, remember the first two? They poke a big hole in the classic games never reaching truly bad quality.
So basically, I think the highs and mids of the X series are better than the original, and the lows being worse is pretty insignificant.
Icepick: The thing about the first two GB MegaMan games is that both were outsourced to outside developers. The fact that the team from Dr. Wily’s Revenge (the first Game Boy game) were able to come back from that and make IV and V, among the best in the entire series is telling. Meanwhile, X6 was built with the same team, using the engine from X5 — which itself was tweaked from X4 — and managed to create an abomination of a game, where the only redeeming factor would be its soundtrack. Yes, Capcom made Sonic ’06 before Sega — and worse yet, they didn’t even make it from scratch.
KI: But if you count GBIV and GBV, then you have to count other games from the same developer. X6 may have been from the same team, but they were clearly rushed and who knows what else went wrong. My only point with that is that we can’t give 7 a pass for being made quickly. But I think we’ve been avoiding the flame based elephant ancestor in the room for too long. I’m assuming you disagree with my assertion that the gameplay in the first four X games significantly surpasses the originals, correct? We should probably get into which series plays better when you compare the best games.
Icepick: It’s been argued that the Classic games are more difficult than the X series in general. Frankly, I consider that a plus. Maybe, it’s the “hardcore gamer” in me talking, but frankly, I love a good challenge: which is part of the reason I prefer the aforementioned Zero and ZX series over the X series. Indeed, among the side-scrolling MegaMan sub-franchises, X is generally considered the easiest of the bunch.
KI: I’ve really never heard anyone argue that. Both series vary in difficulty from game to game to a significant degree. If we’re going into hardcore signaling though, the X series has more complex gameplay mechanics than the original and much more incentive to fully explore levels. Indeed, if you really want to make the game as hard as possible, you can do minimalist runs in the X games and it will affect you a lot more than it would in the original games. I’d also argue that the only times the X series really feels easier is when it avoids situations where exact tip of a ledge jumps screw you up, since you can accelerate and essentially grab ledges in the X series.
Icepick: Didn’t you once say that the platforming in Classic felt “cheaper” (i.e. more difficult) compared to the X series, due to the Classic having less abilities than his futuristic counterpart? Likewise, you’d also have to consider that X’s difficult is split between doing “minimalist runs” and “100% runs”, which run counter to one another: much of the difficulty in the X games are paradoxical. Going out of one’s way to find the hard to reach power-ups irreversibly powers up X, thus making the rest of the game easier.
KI: The X series has levels designed around the greater powers, and most of the powerups just bring you up to original Mega Man’s strength level (maxing out health gives you what you start with in original games, sub-tanks are basically E-tanks). The X level design removes the parts I felt were cheap, but adds new challenges (vertical sections relying on the wall climb being the most prominent example). I only mentioned the minimalist runs as a choice people have if they really want excessive difficulty, the games are not balanced around them and games like X3 and X5 can be pretty challenging even when you get everything.
Moving on from difficulty for a second, I’d just like to point out the massive quality of life upgrade in the X games. Every X game has shoulder button weapon swapping, you can leave already completed levels whenever you want, picking up weapon energy automatically goes to the weapon that needs it the most if you don’t have a special weapon equipped. These all show up in most post-X1 original games, but the latter two have to be paid for or found. Doing that for QoL features that don’t make the game any easier, just more enjoyable to play, infuriates me.
Icepick: Honestly, I never really minded the lack of the ability to exit cleared levels in Classic games: in most cases, there weren’t collectables hidden in each stage, which made repeat visits kind of pointless in the first place. All the same, these feel like minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things.
Circling back to an earlier point you made, I disagree with simply claiming that X and Classic are strictly linked. In fact, I’d argue that the Zero games definitely had more of an impact on the later games in the franchise, due to their shift from a darker future than the setting of the Classic series to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The point is, Inafune wanted to end that series at X5 and it looks like Capcom didn’t have any ideas on how to progress afterwards, thus leading the franchise to lose its identity in an effort to stay relevant.
KI: Later original games gave you incentive to revisit levels, especially 7, 8, and Bass. I’m not sure what you mean by Zero having a greater impact on later games as a counter for original and X being linked, it seems to support my point. And regardless of what happened behind the scenes or the later context of the X games’ identity, it doesn’t change the games themselves.
Icepick: And yet, I’d argue it did. X6 and X7 had no idea what they wanted to be, attempting to continue from X5’s attempt at closure. X8 may have rebounded, but by that point, the damage had been done.
KI: But we’re comparing the games that exist. After Mega Man’s hibernation finally ends, there’s a good chance that we’ll just get a new series or reboot, so there isn’t much impact on the future. I don’t think X6 and X7’s problems came from the story, the story was a mess, but neither original or X depend on story. X6 was rushed and X7 tried to do something new in gameplay that was much more the fault of the sixth generation’s antipathy towards 2D console games than any story issues. And it definitely doesn’t change the first five X games in any way.
Icepick: Maybe, but the point is that we’re only comparing games that presently exist. And considering the fact that an entire quarter of the X series is substantially worse than even the weakest Classic entry must be taken into account.
KI: But we were comparing the best examples in quality at this point. My stance is that half the X series is better than anything in the classic series, and another quarter is better than a majority of the games in the classic series. You can use statistics and fractions to make any point you want when the numbers are this low (80% of people know that), I’d say that two below average X games are better than almost two thirds of the classic series.
Icepick: Personally, I always found X2 to be utterly forgettable. Falls right out of my head the second after I’m done playing it or watching a playthrough. X3 had promise, but ultimately its version of Zero was a let-down. X4 is my favorite game in the X series for obvious reasons. Having said all of that, I think that saying that two-thirds of the Classic franchise are inferior to the outright “mediocre” X games is an overstatement. But I think it’s time to wrap things up.
KI: Well, we’re probably not going to reach a conclusion, which is expected. No shouting or the text equivalent this time though, so that’s progress. I think we should each make one last statement on why we feel our preferred series is superior, without arguing against each other’s. Want to go first for chronological reasons?
Icepick: That seems fair.
The point is, Classic’s definitely the more important of the two franchises, no matter what’s been said. Likewise, just due to the interesting turns the series has taken when ditching the 8-bit aesthetic — MM7, MM8 and MM&B were all experiments in their own right — I feel like the Classic series also has more potential when it comes to adapting to modern gaming conventions. Most fans of the X series want a strict throwback to either the SNES or PS1-era games, which the unjustified backlash against MM10 likely means that any future installment in the Classic series will attempt something new. MegaMan Classic adapted in ways that the X series only wishes it could, as shown by the poor reception to X7.
KI: The X series is simply better designed than the Classic series. It has every gameplay strength the classic series has, added a couple huge new features (the dash and wall climb) that were implemented perfectly, and polished the game with quality of life enhancements and reasons to fully explore levels. The original style X games are considered the best because they essentially perfected the Mega Man formula, nothing since has matched them from any Mega Man series. I’m sure that in a perfect situation a team could pull a Super Mario Galaxy and make a new type of MMX game that surpassed the SNES ones, but as of right now I believe the X series has the four best Mega Man games, period, and two more that are high tier. It comes down to the games, and games come down to gameplay, and the X series has reached highs in that that no other Mega Man series, and very few video game series at all, have achieved.
As per usual, KI and I have come to yet another stalemate. I don’t honestly foresee any of these articles ending any other way, but that’s not a problem: Turn Based is more about discussion than changing opinions anyway. But what do you think? Did X improve on its predecessors or are the old ways the best? Feel free to sound off in the comments. — Professor Icepick