It's weird when a piece of entertainment is so important to you that it gets completely ingrained into your memory. For instance, I can easily recall all of Die Hard, Predator, Aliens or The Empire Strikes Back on a whim.
I'm sorry to say that this week's Natestalgia will not be dedicated to a one-man reenactment of The 13th Warrior, but is instead focused on a title from my childhood: the SNES debut of the Blue Bomber, 1993's Mega Man X.
Shortly after we moved to Okinawa (mid-1993), I got a video game magazine at the store titled Game Players. It had this as the cover:
This picture absolutely blew my mind (as a child--as an adult, it kind of scares me). Y'see, back in my day, video game mascots didn't get all buddy-buddy with each other and participate in the Olympic Games together. The promo art was actually for the Genesis-exclusive Mega Man: The Wily Wars, which was absolutely terrible and never made it Stateside, but along with the early look at The Wily Wars, we got a few screenshots of a mysterious Super NES Mega Man title called Mega Man X. There was no mention of any familiar characters like Protoman, Dr. Wily, or Roll--instead, we were introduced to a new hero--X--and a ponytailed robot in red named Zero.
X was a surprising change from the Mega Man we knew and loved. Instead of being a plucky, pint-sized boy robot with rounded features and cartoonish stylings, X was harder, more angular. He wore armor, he looked more militaristic, and his world was darker. Back then, details on games were hard to find--with no internet or steady stream of game news, and the limits of printed media, all that any of us really knew about Mega Man X was that it was a new Mega Man game on the SNES with familiar-yet-different characters.
Eventually, the game came out--I remember first seeing it at American Video, a mom-and-pop video store that catered to US military personnel living in Okinawa, and I immediately brought the game to my parents so they could rent it.
Starting the game up, something was immediately different: we had the new Capcom startup music we all knew from Street Fighter II, but it was immediately made clear that things were vastly different, and it could all be told through its soundtrack.
This hard-edged synth-rock tune started the game's intro level, where X is running into a city that's become a warzone. People are fleeing, sections of the highway are collapsing, and you quickly learn that X is much more agile than the original Mega Man, navigating several climbing and platforming sections while fighting off enemies. Eventually, you make your way to the end of the level, where you take on a huge air carrier and the troops it spits out.
It stops. A hulking figure is slowly lowered out of the carrier. This ominous music heralds the arrival of Vile, towering over you in a jet-black Ride Armor.
Without a word, the battle is on, and you lay into him with everything you have. You can't hurt him, but he's pounding on you. Eventually, you can't take any more--you drop to your knees and the appropriately-named Vile prepares to finish you off.
Suddenly, you hear a sound. If you're a Mega Man fan, you know it as the sound of the series' iconic Mega Buster weapon being charged. A bolt of energy flies on-screen, blowing an arm off of Vile's Ride Armor and freeing you.
Just listen to that music! Who the hell is this guy? Vile makes a hasty retreat, not wanting to get the other arm shot off.
So right away, I'm not only given an enemy I want to defeat--something I'm never at want for in video games--but someone to look up to, a mentor. Which is what makes this late-game scene all the more difficult:
Mega Man X was a real rarity in that it was an action game whose story I genuinely cared about. More than that, a lot of major story segments were played out by me, instead of viewed in cutscenes. It didn't get as crazy as later installments in the series, keeping the story simple and straightforward without drowning X in his supporting cast. So when this happens:
I mean, that killed me right there! Zero, who had served as something of a safety net for you, sacrifices himself to give you a shot at fighting Vile face-to-face. It was, for me, the first time a major video game character important to the story (who wasn't a villain) had permanently died, making the last few levels of the game... kinda lonely, honestly.
I notice I'm most motivated in video games by revenge. Mega Man X follows the classic arc of a kung-fu movie, introducing you to your master, learning from him, and then avenging him. Of course, the rest of the games went totally insane and brought Zero back, let you play as him for portions of the game, let you play as him for the whole game, killed him again, brought him back again, and we introduce some other &*%$&*(q346 named Axel and finally
EFF THIS CRAP FORGET IT
I mean, it's sad, because I love Mega Man X, but as I played more of the games, I started to hate the series more. I missed original Mega Man, which was honest about what it was: lighthearted robot warfare in a bright future world. The X games got so damn serious and overwrought and ridiculous that I just threw my hands in the air and dropped the series.
I need to stop thinking about those freakin' sequels. Y'know what was good? Mega Man 9.
No kidding--it was really, really good, and don't let any buttmunch without enough imagination to process 8-bit graphics tell you otherwise. Mega Man games are about two things: great music and precise, smartly-designed gameplay. That's what made Mega Man X so special. That's what made it so good. Most importantly, that's what still makes it so good.
Y'know what? Crazy nerdery-related eidetic memory only goes so far. I've gotta dig that cart out of storage and get to playing. I have a Boba Fett lookalike's ass to kick.