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.