In defense of a black sheep

I was not shocked, but somewhat upset when I replayed Mega Man X5 only to learn that I actually kind of hate it. It was a game that lived in a troubled, but still beloved place in my memory. Mega Man X6, on the other had, was known to me only as a dumpster fire that I’d rather not even ever think about if I didn’t absolutely have to.

Imagine my surprise then, when I gave X6 its turn and somehow I actually mostly enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong! It’s still an uneven mess, but I think it might be better than X5. It’s certainly a lot more fun, and that’s really the main goal with these things, right?

Here are the major issues I’ve encountered:

  • Blaze Heatnix’s stage is an incredibly frustrating series of mini-boss encounters; all of them are the same boss with way too much health, but in different room layouts to force you to fight each one differently. This is stupid and by a wide margin the worst stage in the game. …Though they can be easily beaten if you’re clever (Hint: charged Metal Anchor).

This enemy is the six worst things about Mega Man X6

  • There’s a boss called High Max, who is completely invincible to your X-buster and Z-saber. To defeat him, you have to stun him with a buster shot and then hit him with a special weapon. He’s not terribly difficult once you know what to do, but he takes so little damage that the battle will last several minutes no matter how good you are. As opposed to most bosses, who a skilled player can easily down in under 30 seconds (the exception being Infinity Mijinion, who is hella annoying).
  • Also there are bits and pieces of stages all over that are either massively unfair or literally impossible for an unarmored X to get through. These are pretty bad, but they’re few and far between, at least.
  • Most of the “nightmare effects” that start happening when you beat each boss are mildly annoying at worst. “Nightmare Dark” severely hinders your vision in certain stages by blocking out a massive chunk of the screen and it truly does make life a nightmare.

The last thing, and the one that drove me completely bonkers in my youth, is that in every stage there are 16 friendly reploids for you to find and rescue. Sometimes they give you cool trinkets. But there are also these squiddy robots that, if they touch a friendly, will infect them with a zombie virus. Then your buddy is dead forever and if he had a powerup, it’s lost to the ether, and you have to reload your game if you want another shot at saving him. The thing is… except for Blaze Heatnix and Metal Shark Player, the stages are pretty easy to run through quickly, so reloading isn’t a big time sink. It’s generally easy to blast the squiddies before they zombify your pals, too. There’s like one that’s legit challenging to get to in time. Also there’s the fact that in my old age, I just can’t be bothered to have that obsessive completionism of my teen years, so if I lose a guy… meeeeeh. (But I did rescue them all because it wasn’t actually that hard.)

What makes X6 better than X5 to me is that it’s no longer completely bogged down in its own excess. Stage design is generally more cohesive and interesting. Alia is still there to give you hints, but now most of her hints are activated by a button, so you can choose to completely ignore her. Which is awesome! There’s no stupid time limit or randomly chosen story path that may or may not remove a playable character, and the cutscenes are all skippable! Your hunter rank is now based on how many “nightmare souls” you collect, and not your gameplay performance, which takes all the pressure off. Lastly, and coolest of all, is that if you do have the patience to find and defeat High Max, you can skip straight to the fortress levels! It’s totally impractical, because the fortress in this game is a beast even with all the power-ups, but such a cool little secret!

So yeah! Generally speaking, I have had much more fun with Mega Man X6 than I ever thought possible. A few minor headaches here and there because it’s still home to a few cheap traps and questionable design decisions, but they’re nowhere near as bad as the exercise in overwhelming tedium that was Mega Man X5. Needless to say, I’m happy that I gave this one another chance.

Another miniature NES, in a fashion

The Nintendo Switch Online service debuted a couple of nights ago. I, obviously enough, subscribed immediately. I’m not necessarily happy about having to pay for online play now, but it’s less than half the cost of an annual PS Plus subscription. And I had that nice year-and-a-half of free online play, so I won’t be too butthurt about it.

Let’s talk features: Playing online is cool. I have a Monster Hunter on Switch now, so it’s an absolute necessity. Also I like to entertain the thought that I will play Splatoon 2 again at some point. I think those are the only two online games I care about. There’s ARMS, I guess, but I’m even less likely to play that than Splatoon 2. Smash has historically bad online play, so we’ll see about that one.

Cloud saves… I honestly don’t care about. Yeah, it would suck to lose hours of progress through a thing. The truth of it is that I always have way more fun with the beginnings of games anyway. Dunno why, and I don’t have the time right now to do a deep psychological examination of myself.

Apparently Switch Online subscribers will get exclusive deals. I’m hoping that means bigger discounts on games in the future, but all you get right now is the opportunity to buy the special joycons shaped like NES controllers. Which is not something I’m interested in. They’re $80, which is less than a regular joycon pair, but they also don’t function with any games aside from…

NES Online is the real “value add” for the subscription service. It’s basically NES Netflix, NESflix, if you will, in which you are granted unlimited access to an ever-growing library of NES games. This is cool! I prefer owning things, but this is the way that media is offered now, so I’ll go with the flow. There are currently 20 games on offer, with a paltry three to be added each month. That’s not enough, but what can you do?

Me, I plan to just enjoy what I get. There’s no point in complaining, especially since Nintendo is going back and adding online play to any games that can support it. At first, this seems like a dynamite feature. But then you try to go and play some online Dr. Mario and realize that you’re only allowed to play with people on your friends list. That, I’m going to be salty about. I want to be able to just hop in and play online River City Ransom and Tecmo Bowl with randos. But instead I have to schedule playtime with someone on my friends list. Now I have to download the Discord app and figure out how to use Discord, and also how to actually interact with people in a way that will make them want to play Double Dragon with me. It’s an all-around bummer.

The one “saving grace” if you will, is that you can also download the Famicom Online from the Japanese eShop, if you want to play the Famicom versions of all these games. There aren’t really a lot of reasons why you’d want to do this (aside from being a dumb weeb), but The Legend of Zelda at least has enhanced music and sound effects in the Famicom version. It’s not much, and I’m reasonably certain that Nintendo will keep the library of games the same between regions, but it’s still a neat little feature.

So yeah, that’s about that. I kind of hope we see something like the PS Plus or Games With Gold deals where subscribers get free modern games, but the slate of NES games is enough to satisfy me. And there’s the suggestion that SNES games won’t be far behind. It’s pretty good!

Nintendo Direct – 9/13/2018

Another Nintendo Direct happened yesterday. That’s what, like four in just over a month now? Looks like they don’t intend to ever let the Switch hype train slow down. In any case, this one was slightly over half an hour long, and had like a bajillion games highlighted. I’m gonna have to be very concise if I’m going to keep this under 3000 words…

Luigi’s Mansion 3 – Right on! I’m definitely down for this! At least, depending on when it releases.Too many games, and all that. Also, I still need to play Dark Moon, which could very well never happen.

3DS Games – Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, Bowser’s Inside Story, and Luigi’s Mansion. All ports of games I very much liked, but not so much that I need to buy them again on a dying platform. Also there was a Yo-kai Watch thing and I just cannot be bothered to care.

Splatoon 2 v.4 – Another free update that ostensibly adds a bunch of new weapons and clothes. Maybe even a stage or two? This one also seems to come with new sub-weapons and supers, which is really cool and not something that usually happens with the free updates? They didn’t go into great detail on what’s going to be included.

Mega Man 11 – I have already played the demo far more than necessary, and I am so excited for this game to come out next month. It feels so good, like Mega Man game should. I’m a little disappointed at how bland the amiibo feature is (daily free items), but not at all surprised.

Mario Tennis Aces – There’s a free update with new characters. Also a new co-op challenge mode where you can win new skins and whatnot. I’d like to care, but I’ll never play this game.

Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle – This is cool! Seven classic beat ’em ups on one package, some of which were previously arcade exclusive. Not something I personally would buy, but I like that Capcom is reviving some of their B/C-tier stuff.

New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe – I still want to play Super Luigi U at some point, but I’d rather spend the $25 on Wii U than another $80 on this port bundle. Adding Nabbit and Toadette as playable characters is neat, but not nearly enough.

Katamari Damacy REROLL – I am tentatively excited about this. I need to know whether or not it’s just a port of the first game, and that’s not overly clear from this trailer. And if it is just a port/remaster, what kind of price are we looking at?

Nintendo Switch Online – Paid online service, $25 a month, free NES games and cloud saves. Nothing new here, but it was a cute video. A really cute video.

Pokémon Let’s Go – No new information here. Obviously I am super excited for this.

Diablo III – I’ve never played Diablo III, and likely won’t ever play Diablo III. Although it does look strikingly similar to the kind of game that I would really enjoy.

Super Mario Party – Ugh, it’s Mario Party, I have absolutely no inter… wait, single player modes!?

Town – A cute new RPG from Game Freak. Apparently the entire game takes place in one town. So that’s different. It looks really cool though, something I’ll keep an eye on. Also, spoilers: this is my most hype new announcement of the Direct.

Cities Skylines – I gave up on SimCity decades ago.

Daemon X Machina – I was already on board because it’s an action game about flying around in mech suits. Now they’re telling me I can swipe weapons and parts from downed mecha and use them for myself? Guys, thank you for building a game specifically for me!

Yoshi’s Crafted World – Totes adorbs, I like the world-altering gimmicks. Let’s be honest, it’s a Yoshi game, so I’ll be buying it regardless.

Board games on Switch – I don’t see myself buying any board games on Switch, but it’s really cool that there’s going to be a digital version of Pandemic out.

Civilization VI – Considering how addictive people say this game is, I think it’s best that I just keep myself out of this one’s way.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas – This looks like an actually good Star Fox game. Plus the Switch version allows you to play as all the Star Fox guys! I’m all-in on this one!

The World Ends With You: Final Mix – Sorry, don’t care.

Xenoblade 2 DLC – Aww, people who bought the season pass get it a week early? Well, I don’t have time for this right now, anyway. And I also want to buy the physical version.

Warframe – Meh.

Just Dance 2019 – Meh.

FIFA ’19 – Meh.

Team Sonic Racing – Meh.

NBA 2K19 – Meh.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 – I bought the first one, but I no longer have time for sports games.

LEGO DC Super Villains – Meh.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered – Now with online play? Oh yes, that is a thing that I want! But I don’t know if I’d actually buy it again…

Final Fantasy XV Potato Edition – Full disclosure: I bought this immediately after the Direct was over. I really liked FFXV, and I think I’ll like it even more without all the bloat.

Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy – The indie obsession has killed my appreciation for roguelikes. Sorry, Chocobo. It’s just not happening.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age – This is my reward for not buying it on PS4. Now I can play FFXII everywhere! *maniacal laughter*

Final Fantasy VII HD – WHAT

Final Fantasy IX HD – Wait, you missed one…

Final Fantasy X & X-2 HD Remaster – No, I’m serious. Where’s FFVIII? That’s the one I want. (Realtalk: all these Final Fantasies on Switch is awesome. I wish I had a reason to buy them, but I own most of them two or three times already. Except XII; I’m totes buying XII.)

Super Smash Bros Ultimate – There’s a Switc bundle with a fancy dock and joy-cons… Oh! And also Isabelle is now a fighter! I don’t do the whole “waifu” thing, but if I did, Isabelle would totally be my waifu. Yes, I know she’s a dog. We’ll make it work. But, I don’t think I can play Smash now, because I couldn’t bear to hurt Isabelle 🙁

Animal Crossing Switch – Oh, hey. This is a thing now. Coming next year. I… don’t care.

The Messenger

The Messenger opens with your unnamed ninja character being given a scroll by a mysterious hero of legend. Your goal from that point on is to trek across the world and deliver said scroll to a group of monks at the top of the highest mountain peak, thus fulfilling an age-old prophecy and ostensibly pushing back the invading forces of Hell.

The reveal of what is contained on the scroll is hilarious.

And that’s the kind of game The Messenger is. It’s a 2D action platformer that stars a ninja out to stop the destruction of his world by demons, but also it takes every opportunity to joke around and keep the adventure a little more light-hearted. This retro-styled throwback game takes plenty of inspiration from games like Ninja Gaiden and Super Metroid and even takes a few cues from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. While I’m sure it’s only coincidence, it also feels and plays remarkably similarly to Ninja Striker on 3DS. That’s a compliment, too, because I very much adore Ninja Striker.

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Wherein there was plenty of breathing

I watched Don’t Breathe recently, which is a movie that piqued my interest when it was first released, but I never actually saw it. A film about three no-goodniks who set out to rob a blind man, I recall hearing that it was pretty good and had an interesting series of twists. So thank you, Netflix, for finally acquiring this one. I’m always happy to cross something off my To-Do list.

I wish I could say that Don’t Breathe met my expectations, but to be honest, I wasn’t really feeling it. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad movie, I think it’s mostly that I can’t maintain focus for that long while at home. I really do need to go see something in the theater to get the most out of it. Anyway, yeah, I was a little taken aback by the big plot reveals. Nothing totally out of left field, but they certainly kept it interesting. I mean, without the twists, this would have just been like a gritty, backwards Home Alone. And that wouldn’t have been good at all.

I’m going to spoil the heck out of this movie now, so maybe stop reading here if you care.

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Quinpath Traveler

I -and most other video game enthusiasts- have been ears-deep in a deluge of quality games these days, and that can often make it easy for certain games to get lost in the shuffle. One particular case was the unfortunate timing of the releases of Octopath Traveler and the Mega Man X Legacy Collections. With release dates just slightly more than a week apart, poor Octopath Traveler was destined to be left behind once all those Mega Mans hit. (And now that Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is out, even said Mega Mans will be ignored.)

Even so! I have been picking it up here and there to get in an hour or two a week, and I’m still really liking it! Progression through the game has not been quite as smooth as with your garden-variety JRPG, and I think that’s something that I really appreciate about it. One of the things that stands out most is that the entire world is open to you from the moment you clear your starting character’s first chapter. There are no plot gates or lands only accessible by boat/airship. The only thing limiting your travels is whether or not you can handle any area’s local monsters. There are convenient flags on the map which tell you where to go to progress each character’s tale, but that’s really all the direction you’re given. If you feel like you just want to grind up to the point where you can visit the edge of the world, then have at it!

At the outset, I opted to take a very semi-focused route, heading straight toward H’annit’s second chapter, and stopping in the towns along the way to recruit other travelers. But then I doubled back and checked out another town in the opposite direction. After that, I learned that secondary jobs are earned by discovering their shrines hidden around the world, so that became a pretty lengthy distraction. And finally, after having expanded my party to five (one more than can be active), I made it to my original destination and… got absolutely trounced. And by the regular monsters in the area, not even the boss!

Which brings me to why I started writing this in the first place: Octopath Traveler is hard! All the Chapter 1s are fairly tame, but with bosses that scale based on the size of your party. But once you begin hitting Chapter 2s, the difficulty ratchets up to eleven. Unfortunately, this makes grinding a bit of a necessity. It doesn’t take long, because enemies in your level range give out generous amounts of experience points, which seem to be the most important part of survival. Equipment gives nice stat increases, but is generally prohibitively expensive, and monsters don’t drop quite as much money as they do EXP. It helps that I recruited Tressa the merchant, who has several skills that make earning cash easier, but it still seemed like for every new piece of equipment I worked to afford, I gained a couple levels while grinding for the cash.

On the upside of it all, the combat system is still really fun, being a sort of puzzle where you need to balance your BP (that give you extra turns or buff your skills) with breaking enemies’ guards. It was easy at first, but as the monsters started getting stronger and coming in bigger groups, it became trickier to decide which ones to target first or when to spend those oh-so-precious BPs. Do you break all the enemies at once to get a free turn, or do you just focus on taking one down at a time? There’s way more strategy in normal battles in Octopath Traveler than in most similar RPGs.

The boss battles continue to delight me as well. Each one is trickier than the last, and many seem to have a gimmick that really forces you to adapt to different strategies. The boss of Tressa’s Chapter 1 was a duo of pirates who started out pretty basic, but once one of them took a lot of damage, the other began taking any attacks that would have hit his comrade’s weaknesses. And you would think, “Okay, this guy is taking hits for his friend, I’ll just use his weakness instead” but then those end up landing on the first guy, and you’re all like “aaugh these knuckleheads are smarter than I thought!” So you’re forced to use multi-target attacks or alternate breaking them so that they can’t stop you from hitting them with the correct weapon/element. It’s tough! And I love it! H’aanit’s second boss did something completely different, which was to re-roll it’s weaknesses and gain an extra shield point every time it recovered from a break. That battle in particular took roughly 20 minutes and I ended it with my two casters completely drained of MP and the whole party on the brink of death. It was thrilling! Usually battles so close are reserved for final bosses, but every single boss is like that in Octopath Traveler.

After that rough chapter, I’ve decided that may next goal is to recruit the final three travelers before moving onto any more advanced chapters. Hopefully even those easier scenarios will give me the necessary experience buff to make progressing the stories a little more manageable. Even if they don’t, I guess that just means I get to spend more time playing this really fun game. It’s win-win!

Migraine Watch: Sept 5 2018

“It’s happening again… I can feel it happening. As I try to scribble out tome small thoughts, I can feel the transient aphasia onset. I’m trying to fight it, but it’s very, very difficult even to get through a sentence. I’m not looking forward to trying to figuring out what this paragraph once my brain is gain to working something or other.”

Don’t know where this came from, but I’m a little upset because the lasting migraine wasn’t that long ago. This latest one came literally out of nowhere, on a fairly quiet Thursday afternoon. Completely normal day at work, I come back from lunch break, and realize that I’ve been re-reading and trying to comprehend the same sentence for like two minutes. I grab my stash of ibuprofen, pop one, and let it happen.

It was a bad one, too, because the aura lasted pretty much the rest of the work day. That meant almost two solid hours of me being literally unable to accomplish anything due to the fact that I simply could not think. What a waste. And I needed to get as much done as possible, as I’ll be on vacation the next week. Yeesh.

But yeah, the usual “workday migraine” symptoms of forgetting how to read, write, and speak. Having issues seeing. A little bit of numbness in the face area. But I have no idea what could have triggered it. Things have been quite good lately, so maybe it is a dietary thing? I hadn’t really been eating enough the last couple days, so that may have been a factor, but it’s not something that’s been consistent with other migraines.

Anyway, basically just went home and straight to bed. By the time I woke up, any “actual migraine” had passed and I was on the home stretch of lingering headache. So really, aside from being useless at work for the afternoon, it was a pretty “good” migraine. Still not closer to uncovering the cause, though. Total bummer.

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: August 2018

You know, I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this “just stop playing games that you aren’t having fun with” thing. It’s an amazing time-saver! At least, unless the game in question is a Mega Man X game…

~ Game Over ~

Mega Man X4 (Switch) – While I do think it holds up fairly well on a high level, it really makes me long for the gorgeous pixel graphics of the SNES games. What can I say? I’m old.

Super Dungeon Bros (PS4) – At first I thought “This is kinda like Gauntlet! Sweet!” But it’s not the kind of game that’s properly balanced for single-player, so I gave up and deleted it.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection (Switch) – X Challenge is indeed a challenge, as I needed to keep the difficulty firmly on Easy to make my way to the end. (Spoiler: It’s crazy broken.)

Mega Man X4 (Switch) – The previous one was an X playthrough, this one was a Zero run.

Mega Man X3 (Switch) – Another run to gather up some stray “hunter medals” (achievements). Also this time I got the gold armor and Z-Saber, so Kaiser Sigma wasn’t impossibly hard.

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – Despite having pretty good memories of if, I kind of can’t stand Mega Man X5. Imagine that!

Batman: The Telltale Series (PS4) – While I really liked it, I couldn’t help but feel like I would have enjoyed it more as a straight-up animated mini-series instead of a “game.”

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – I played it again to go through Zero’s story. Why? Masochism.

Mega Man X6 (Switch) – This is generally considered to be an absolute trash fire of a game, but after this playthrough, I’ve come think it’s actually quite a bit better than tedious ol’ X5.

Legend of Kay Anniversary (PS4) – I got this in a bundle last year, and it seemed like it would be a nice, breezy adventure. It is those things! But it is also hella boring, so I deleted it.

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – I needed to see all three endings to earn a hunter medal…

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Bloodstained: Homage of the Year

I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese game developer IntiCreates for years. Since Mega Man Zero’s release in 2002, to be exact. And while I do have an appreciation for their more modern games (aside from the fairly gross Gal*Gun series), I feel like their true calling is in the retraux scene. Note my love for the recent(ish) Blaster Master Zero and Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst, in particular, was nice because it was an impeccable stand-in for a new Mega Man game in a time when it seemed like there wouldn’t be any more new Mega Man games. And then, seemingly out of nowhere (because I’m terrible at paying attention), they come out with this brand-spanking-new game that looks exactly like an NES Castlevania. There’s something I never knew that I wanted so badly.

I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so I should have been fully aware that the “teaser” retro throwback game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, was coming. But I mostly just shuffle any emails from Kickstarter into archive folders these days, unless they obviously contain a download code of some description. So Curse of the Moon came as a delectable little surprise to me, and I could not be any more pleased with it. It is exactly what I want from a 2D platformer that wears its inspiration on its sleeve.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon takes place in an alternate timeline from that of the “main” Bloodstained game. And by that, I mean a world where Castlevania stopped evolving from its NES roots and remained a tough-as-nails stage-based platformer. If you look at Curse’s graphics and compare them side-to-side with, say, Castlevania III, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that they’re different games. Oh, sure, the art style varies a little, but on the whole, there’s no mistaking where Inti Creates took inspiration from.

The gameplay is also very much in line with Castlevania III, sending you through a number of spooky stages to vanquish demons, all the while recruiting a team of friends, allowing you to swap between characters on the fly. Each party member in Curse has the requisite unique abilities and attacks, but all of them maintain the age-old Castlevania crutch of not being able to change direction mid-jump.

One of the things that makes Curse unique is the way it handles replays. First of all, you’re given access to an ability to go back to previous stages at any time. This allows you to search out any power-ups you missed, or maybe make different choices, as it also undoes any recruitments that you’d made. There are also a handful of different endings based on those choices, and two unlockable alternate game modes which serve as New Game +es to a couple of those endings. So there’s really quite a lot of reasons to play through multiple times. And there’s a Boss Rush mode as well, for those who have the stomach for such things.

Another thing that separates Curse from its inspiration is its level of difficulty. On the normal mode (Veteran), it’s exactly like a less sadistic version of Castlevania III. Tough, but fair. And never makes you want to chuck a controller across the room. I cleared the “hard path” on Veteran without any Game Overs, so hooray for me. The Casual mode takes it one step further by eliminating the knockback you take when you get hit, and also giving you infinite lives. Veteran mode refills your stock of lives on every stage, too, so it’s not like Game Overs are going to be much of a problem either way. Personally, I felt that the game was even a little too easy, but having recently played through Castlevania III for the first time (and nearly lost my mind doing it), I’m definitely not going to complain about it.

The last thing that really makes Curse stand out are the bosses. While it will otherwise hew very close to NES standards, the amount of colours and spectacular effects on display in the boss fights would likely make an actual NES explode. They are beautiful and fantastic, and generally very fun, with clever gimmicks. The only thing I don’t like is that every boss has a final desperation move that they execute just before death, and these are very difficult to anticipate and dodge. I mean, it’s an awesome touch, but kind of a cheap way to screw you over if you only won by the skin of your teeth. (Note: Upon further investigation, the bosses’ final attacks only seem to do one pip of damage; not especially dangerous.)

At the end of the day, I’m going to tell you “Hell yes play this game!” Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a fantastic throwback to the good ol’ days of Castlevania, but without that nigh-impossible level of difficulty. It’s made so that you can reminisce but not have to worry about getting frustrated to the point of a rage-quit. While it’s going to be a very different kind of game, I’m now more hyped than ever for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Mega Man X5: The Tragedy of Dynamo

I’ve recently made big, long, rambling posts about the first four games in the Mega Man X series, and continuing my vision quest through the series, I’m now done with Mega Man X5. Some might say that this was the last good one. Sadly, I can’t agree, as Mega Man X5 is actually the first outright bad one.

While the games in most Mega Man series get better for the first few sequels and then start dropping off, I’ve noted many times before that the Mega Man X games degrade with each subsequent title. The edges get a little rougher, new features that don’t work right get stapled on, and the purity of the action platformer vanishes into an over-ambitious mess. Mega Man X5 is where it all begins to come to a head, and it’s especially tragic, because this was supposed to be the series’ grand finale.

This is somewhat appropriate, as X5 in and of itself is a tragic story; a tale of two bestest-buddy robots desperately fighting against the odds to survive. Throughout the previous four games, the groundwork had been laid for the final climactic showdown between X and Zero, forced to fight each other because no matter how hard they try, they simply cannot escape their destinies. And then that big fight is massively underwhelming and you’re left thinking “that was it?” and you have to fight all the Mavericks again and a few forms of Sigma, like always. Oh well!

But besides the lack of payoff for the decade that built up to it, there are so many other problems with Mega Man X5. The first, and most egregious, is that the game has the absolute worst pacing. Remember how revolutionary Mega Man X felt when compared to the original series, simply because it was made faster and more action-focused? Yeah, that’s been lost to time. X5 is dreadfully slow on all fronts. Cutscenes are long and can’t be skipped. You’ve got Alia giving you “advice” several times each stage (and can’t be skipped). Tidal Whale’s stage is the slowest and most tedious autoscroller to ever exist, and you have to play it at least three times to collect all the power-ups. All the bosses in the fortress stages have a life bar nearly as tall as the screen. It’s madness, I tell you!

And even after all that, the game isn’t all that much fun. Good level design is lacking in most cases, with most obstacles meant to stop you in your tracks, which just hurts the pacing even more. Cheap kills are scattered about, from blind jumps onto spikes to surprise enemies that will absolutely knock you into a hole because there’s no way to know they were coming. The game is fairly generous with its checkpoints, but that’s no excuse for the number of “gotcha” deaths to be more than zero. The game can also be a bit buggy, with questionable hit detection, and one case where I just spontaneously exploded for no discernible reason.

There’s so much more to complain about, but I feel like these are the new issues for me; things that hadn’t impacted me quite as much when I played this game as a teenager. They’re the problems that I can’t deal with in my old age. There’s also the fact that X5 has a bunch of tacked-on systems that I’ve been trying to read up on but still don’t fully understand, which is never a good sign. Again, it’s a tragedy, as X5 was supposed to be a massive celebration of the whole series that wrapped it all up. There are so many loving references to all things Mega Man, but there’s just too much cruft there, which bogs it down and keeps it from being the epic finale that should have been.