First Impressions Series – Mega Man X

*This game’s opening has been covered in a similar manner by Egoraptor, focusing more on how the game seamlessly introduces its playability mechanics. (He also has problems with tutorials.) Language warning if you choose to watch. He’s funny, insightful…but also pretty vulgar.


[Currently listening to: Jake Kaufman, Jake Kaufman, and more Jake Kaufman.]

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This month marks nearly 30 years of Mega Man greatness, and the Blue Bomber has certainly made an indelible mark on the gaming industry. Even if his company of origin has practically disowned him, his spirit continues on in games that emulate the innovations MM brought to the table: the rock-paper-scissors boss fights, gaining the abilities of your opponents, maneuvering through clever platform designs that keep you on your toes.

Of course, Mega Man isn’t absolutely dead as a franchise. Thankfully others are paying him his due respects. Who can forget his kick-butt introduction in Smash Bros.?

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Now, in terms of story, Mega Man is cut and dry: Dr. Wily uses robot masters to attempt world takeover, Mega Man busts them all and takes their powers, Wily flees to his castle, Mega Man busts up castle minions and corners Wily, Wily escapes and pretends to be someone else in the next game, which is definitely not obviously him from the very start.

The openings don’t break much of a mold either – particularly in the NES era. The games are all business, taking you straight to a boss select screen. But as soon as Mega Man hit the Super Nintendo, he took a little more interest in plot mechanics.

See, instead of dropping you straight into a select screen, Mega Man X gave you an intro stage, which already set it apart from its predecessors on the older console. More than that, though, it took a storyteller’s approach to the franchise. Not that Mega Man X deviates far from its tried-and-true methods, but when a company’s gotta reboot its franchise, it needs to show up with fresh ideas.

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Enter X, struttin’ the city streets and shootin’ at animate spiky wheels and giant bee mechs. He’s ready to show us what makes a gripping “first impression”, so let’s take a look right now:

Setting

You load up the menu, select game start, and without preamble you’re dropped right into a level. Immediately you have to take in your surroundings and assess the situation, which essentially emulates what your character (X) would have to do. From the broken roads and general carnage, you assume that this is some sort of “keep the peace” mission, and X has arrived to subdue the rampaging robots.

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The set-up is quick and to the point. No need for five overhead shots of the area, long dialogue from X specifying exactly what’s going on, or any sort of narration that takes away nuance a savvy human being should be able to detect. Instead, the setting relies on its own urgency and suddenness to set the right tone and connect you to X as a character. You don’t know what to expect, but you and the Blue Bomber are in this together.

Immediate Action

Just like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X veers away from starting you out with “How to Play” gimmicks. You learn as you go with intuitive stage design, which not only gives a less banal experience but also allows you to enjoy the new setting and the elements of the setting at your own pace.

Please take this lesson to heart, modern gaming. I realize that games are created with more complexity these days, but not everything needs to be spelled out to the player, and surely there’s a way to seamlessly incorporate learning moments into the natural flow of the game.

 Character Establishment

To a degree, a story needs to capture its characters’ basic essence at the get-go. There’s room for development throughout the tale, of course, but the opening is where you can catch the audience’s attention. Establishing the motives, abilities, and limitations of your characters is one way to do that.

Granted, we don’t learn much about X from jogging through the opening stage, except that he looks like a more stoic version of NES-style Mega Man, with the added ability to ascend walls. That’s a pretty cool upgrade in itself – but the REAL establishing moment comes when Zero enters the picture.

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This was a whole new character to fans of the Mega Man franchise, and boy did he know how to make an entrance. He’s powerful, he’s cool under pressure, and he seems to be some sort of mentor figure to X. That’s all we know at the end of the intro stage, and that’s all we need to know for the purpose of the game and story up to that point. He’s dynamic enough to hook us, but mysterious enough to keep us playing to learn more. Truly, Zero is a master of first impressions all on his own.


Mega Man, as a platformer, doesn’t need complexity to sell its story; yet it’s my opinion that the original Mega Man X sold its plot better than many in-depth RPGs are able to do in hours of playtime. It’s all in the delivery: do you drag your audience through your opening? Or do you give ’em a sucker punch with accessible setting, characters, and intrigue?

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The choice is up to you.

 

Mega Man X is the property of Capcom. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U virtual console.

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