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).
- 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.