Franchise Festival #60: Mega Man X

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be mega-blasting and z-sabering the cobwebs off the gone-but-not-forgotten Mega Man X. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.

Where two years are indicated, the first is Japan and the second is North America; where only one year is indicated, it will refer to Japan unless otherwise noted. Sources are cited in the article, but I would encourage interested readers to watch Gaming Retrospectives’ impressively comprehensive video series on Mega Man X.

Table of Contents

Mega Man X
Mega Man X2
Mega Man X3
Mega Man X4
Mega Man X5
Mega Man X6
Mega Man X7
Mega Man X8
Spinoffs and Cancelled Games


By the early 1990s, Capcom had established Mega Man as one of the premiere names in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s software library. Fans had come to associate Akira Kitamura’s squat blue protagonist with tough-as-nails platforming and boss battles that opened access to new weapons upon completion. Each Mega Man game produced from 1987 to 1993 had allowed players to select stages in any order they chose, effectively increasing or decreasing the difficulty based on whether boss weapons were acquired and used in an intended but opaque order. 

The franchise’s art design, spearheaded from Mega Man 2 (1988/1989) to Mega Man 6 (1993/1994) by Keiji Inafune, depicted a distinctly cartoonish near-future world populated by friendly and antagonistic robots. Masterful soundtracks composed by Manami Matsumae, Takashi Tateishi, Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita, and others set a consistently exhilarating tone even when the sometimes sluggish performance of Nintendo’s aging hardware threatened to undermine the games’ speed. Consistently engaging presentation alone couldn’t help the series from beginning to feel stale after six core entries, however. Capcom would soon recognize the need to evolve the franchise lest Mega Man grow irrelevant in the face of a new crop of 16-bit platformers dominating the early 1990s. 


Mega Man X (1993/1994)

Mavericks: Armored Armadillo, Boomer Kuwanger, Chill Penguin, Flame Mammoth, Launch Octopus, Spark Mandrill, Sting Chameleon, Storm Eagle

Capcom’s first title in its Mega Man successor series was assigned to designers Yoshinori Takenaka, Keiji Inafune, Sho Tsuge, and Masayoshi Kurokawa. With the exception of Tsuge, this team had last worked together on the NES’ Mega Man 3 (1990). An interview originally published in the liner notes for the Mega Man X soundtrack (1994) and translated into English by website shmuplations confirms that, like Mega Man 3 before it, Mega Man X underwent a painful development process. 


Stage select screen. Source: NintendoComplete


One of the greatest challenges seems to have been establishing how much the franchise should break with its parent series. Inafune initially developed a new protagonist with red armor and flowing hair, though Capcom soon settled on a playable character drawn by Hayato Kaji and inspired by Akira Kitamura’s original Mega Man design; this protagonist was named X and is, in fact, fully distinct from the Blue Bomber of yesteryear. Inafune’s character would go on to appear in the final game as a friendly non-player character (NPC) named Zero. 

An early design document from which lays out character relationships. The plot was clearly intended to be more ambitious than the NES series even during the planning phases. Source: Rockman Corner

Mega Man X was released under the name Rockman X on the Super Famicom in Japan on December 17, 1993 and in North America on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) one month later with an updated name. The cosmetic differences between Mega Man and Mega Man X were instantly recognizable, as a wider color palette and more availability of on-screen pixels allowed for highly expressive, anime-influenced sprites. Bosses now varied widely in size and intense on-screen action no longer slowed the game’s speed to a crawl as it had in Mega Man‘s NES entries. 

Bosses could be fought in cool arenas with animated backgrounds, unlike in Mega Man. Source: NintendoComplete

The new series’ mechanical updates are still more impressive. The SNES controller’s eight buttons, along with the ingenuity of creators allowed to experiment for the first time in five years, permit a wider variety of actions than had been possible in earlier 2D games. In addition to jumps, blaster pellets, and a charge shot inherited from the parent series, X can dash and scale walls. Enhancements to X’s abilities and appearance, inspired by the recent commercial success of the role-playing game (RPG) genre, can also be discovered by finding capsules hidden away in the periphery of some levels. 

Hey, I know that scientist! It’s Dr. Light. He’s a little bluer than I remember, though. Source: NintendoComplete

Capcom’s Mega Man designers also had the opportunity to stretch their storytelling legs for the first time with Mega Man X. Though the story remains subservient to action sequences, players are offered a deeper backstory than had been established over the course of six NES Mega Man releases. Protagonist X was created by Mega Man’s Dr. Light and buried in the distant past before being unearthed by Dr. Cain, a scientist who uses X’s technology in the present to create a new generation of fully sentient robots called Reploids. A peace between humans and Reploids in the game’s futuristic setting is shattered shortly before the player takes control of X. 

The city has seen better days. Source: NintendoComplete

Before gaining access to the stage selection screen, Mega Man X‘s opening level establishes a comparatively grim tone by forcing the player to move through bombed out highways and avoid fleeing city residents. Dialogue boxes convey the context for the siege as former hero Sigma is blamed for the devastation. By the stage’s conclusion, the player even encounters a scripted action sequence in which X is saved from a mysterious foe named Vile by his ally, Zero. 

X throws a hadouken at Vile (who I assume is a Boba Fett cosplayer). Source: NintendoComplete

Aside from a noteworthy introductory stage, little structural change occurred between the Mega Man and Mega Man X franchises. Eight stages can be selected in any order from a menu screen. At the end of each, players take on bosses known as Mavericks – themed after animals and lacking the “Man” moniker which had characterized the bosses of the NES series – and then acquire the boss’ weapon. Each Maverick is weak to another, so astute players can deduce an efficient route to moving through stages or raise the game’s difficulty by consciously avoiding the exploitation of boss weaknesses. Completing levels in a particular order may also alter the appearance and obstacles of a subsequent level. After all eight Mavericks are defeated, X faces a gauntlet of four final challenging stages and battles Sigma in a tense duel. 

Sigma is just some sinister dude with a sword in Mega Man X, but he’ll get a lot stranger as the series goes on. Source: NintendoComplete

Four power-up capsules hidden throughout the eight Maverick stages further enhance a player’s control over the game’s difficulty level. These offer X the ability to dash, headbutt breakable ceilings, sustain more damage, and charge up his blaster to an additional level of power. A final, particularly well-hidden easter egg capsule, confers on X the ability to execute a hadouken energy blast drawn directly from Capcom’s Street Fighter. All capsules also offer a brief monologue from X’s creator Dr. Light.

X’s much cooler buddy Zero exposits at length in the game’s opening stage. Dialogue sequences set in stages are a major new feature of the Mega Man X series and open up storytelling potential while bearing the potential to slow pacing. Source: NintendoComplete

The game was instantly hailed as a modern classic and successfully launched Capcom’s flagship platformer IP feet-first into the 16-bit generation. As with its parent franchise, Mega Man X also received a handful of re-releases and a remake over the following 25 years. The former category includes compilations like the Mega Man X Collection (2006) and the Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume One (2018), as well as one-off downloadable releases on Nintendo’s Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Console services. A PC version was released in Japan in 1995, while ports of questionable quality have been published for PCs and various mobile devices since 2007. iam8bit even collaborated with Capcom to publish a reproduction of the original cartridge in 2018.

Playing as Vile in Mega Man Maverick Hunter X. Source: GameFAQs

A remake, Mega Man Maverick Hunter X, was developed by Capcom and released on the PlayStation Portable in 2005/2006. This fully recreated version of Mega Man X features 2.5D polygonal levels and characters, anime cutscenes that flesh out the story, and a bonus mode in which the player works through the game from the villainous Vile’s perspective. Though this remake was intended as a look back at what made the Mega Man X series popular in preparation for a proposed sequel and a series of remakes, poor sales made it the last new Mega Man X release as of writing in 2019.


Mega Man X2 (1994/1995)

Mavericks: Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail, Flame Stag, Magna Centipede, Morph Moth, Overdrive Ostrich, Wheel Gator, Wire Sponge

Mega Man X2‘s development team was comprised largely of alumni from series’ debut. Keiji Inafune, however, moved from art design to planning and writing during the transition between the two games. This strengthened Inafune’s authorial control over the narrative and let the creator bring Zero back to life following his demise during the climax of Mega Man X

Stage select screen. Source: NintendoComplete

Zero’s resurrection informs Mega Man X2‘s framing device, a race to recover Zero’s scattered body parts from a new team of antagonists known as the X-Hunters. These sinister foes use Zero’s pieces to lure X into combat with the aim of assassinating him. The X-Hunters move around between Maverick stages, introducing a new element of choice as the player can opt to avoid or confront these foes based on his or her stage selection order. While defeating the X-Hunters is not necessary, it does alter how the story develops during its final act. 

You can tell that the X-Hunters are sinister because they are depicted in shadowy silhouette. Source: NintendoComplete

Mega Man X2 features few other meaningful evolutions on its direct predecessor. Players still guide X through an introductory stage, eight Maverick stages tackled in any order, and then a final linear set of challenges. Power-up capsules return, though the availability of X’s dash move at the game’s outset sees this upgrade replaced by the ability to dash in mid-air. Opportunities to jump into and pilot mechs, explored briefly in the preceding title, are expanded through the introduction of a speedy hovercycle in one stage. 

Weather effects and vehicular combat are on full display in the sprawling Overdrive Ostrich stage. Source: NintendoComplete

Despite being released for a 16-bit console, Mega Man X2 features a smattering of 3D visual effects. Rudimentary scaleable wireframes are made possible by the inclusion of an innovative digital signal processer (DSP) chip within the cartridge itself. While they serve primarily as a novelty here, these effects would go on to grow more prominent in later series entries. 

X using a Street Fighter shoryuken to fight a wireframe Sigma head against an intermittently pixelated backdrop just screams early 1990s. Source: NintendoComplete

Mega Man X2 was another commercial and critical success for Capcom, definitively establishing this sub-series as the successor to the NES’ Mega Man. While no remakes would be produced for Mega Man X2, it would be re-released in the same collections and on the same platforms as Mega Man X. A sequel was soon on the horizon, following in the footsteps of its parent franchise’s annual release schedule. 


Mega Man X3 (1995/1996)

Mavericks: Blast Hornet, Blizzard Buffalo, Crush Crawfish, Gravity Beetle, Neon Tier, Toxic Seahorse, Tunnel Rhino, Volt Catfish

The release of the SEGA Saturn and Sony PlayStation in Japan during late 1994 (and in North America the following year) heralded 2D platformers’ slow descent from their decade-long dominance of the home console market. It would take two more years and the rise of major 3D platformers like Crash Bandicoot (1996) and Super Mario 64 (1996) to definitively turn the page on the 2D era, though, and the transition period would see more than a few studios taking last stabs at iterating upon earlier 2D hits on 16-bit hardware. Such was the case with the SNES’ Mega Man X3

Stage select screen. Source: NintendoComplete

Capcom contracted much of the game’s development out to Minakuchi Engineering, the company that had developed all but one of Mega Man‘s Game Boy outings. Their success at adapting colorful home console titles to a portable device with four shades of green-gray, along with one new title developed from the ground up for the system, assured Capcom that they understood the fundamentals of its popular blue mascot. Unfortunately, this faith would prove to be somewhat misplaced. 

The ‘D’ is for Doppler. Source: NintendoComplete

Mega Man X3 is similar in presentation to its direct predecessor, featuring complex sprites and scattered instances of 3D wireframe animation enabled by a proprietary processing chip included within its cartridge. Eight new Mavericks can be challenged in any order from a screen depicting their bases’ locations on an overhead map. Armor acquired from secret capsules transforms X, once more, into a hulking anime-esque figure. 

Zero is playable in Mega Man X3 but is more similar to X than he would be in later series entries. Source: NintendoComplete

The most significant new feature is the debut of Zero as a playable character. Players have the option of stepping into the boots of the sword-wielding Maverick Hunter as he slices and shoots his way through every stage, though control shifts back to X for boss encounters. Zero is likewise unable to acquire new weapons from bosses and must make do with his default loadout for the entirety of the game. 

Volt Catfish is tough but by golly his animations are hilarious. Source: NintendoComplete

Level design is perhaps the most notorious misstep introduced by Minakuchi Engineering, though it is likely the result of an attempt to offer returning fans a greater challenge. Enemies hit much harder than they had in earlier Mega Man X titles and are also more numerous overall. Frequent vertical sequences can quickly inspire frustration as X scales a wall and defeats enemy robots, only for the player to see these enemies respawn as X inadvertently slides back down from the enemies’ position. Leaps of faith, platforming challenges in which the player must jump his or her avatar downward or sideways into a region which cannot be seen from the initiation of the action, are troublingly common. 

If the player attempts to enter a boss arena as Zero, X steps in and takes over. Source: NintendoComplete

The narrative represents the first application of an idea which had been gestating in Keiji Inafune’s mind for a few years: a sentient virus which infects and spreads between otherwise-peaceful Reploids. Mega Man X3 also iterates upon the rudimentary world-building of earlier series entries by filling in a backstory that occurred following Mega Man X2: Reploids have been protected from any latent aggressive tendencies by Dr. Doppler, a scientist for whom the grateful robots found an independent city called Doppler Town. These Reploids then grow berserk and Dr. Doppler is blamed for the ensuing chaos. The truth, of course, is more complex and only fully revealed during the game’s final stages. The player’s choices even impact which of two endings he or she receives. 

Vile’s back – in anime form! These surprisingly slick cutscenes were only available to players of the 32-bit version of the game. Source: NintendoComplete

In an apparent nod to the primacy of a new generation of console hardware, along with limited commercial success during the twilight days of the SNES, an expanded edition of Mega Man X3 featuring full-motion video (FMV) cutscenes and a remixed soundtrack was published in Japan and Europe on the Saturn and PlayStation a year after its initial SNES release. Though this 1996/1997 version was not published in North America, worldwide fans would gain access to a Windows PC port of the expanded edition in 1998. This version would only be re-released one subsequent time – on the Mega Man X Collection (2006) – before being replaced by the SNES version in all subsequent compilations and Virtual Console ports. 

Note: All images of Mega Man X3 are from the Sony PlayStation version, though it looks roughly identical to the SNES version.


Mega Man X4 (1997)

Mavericks: Cyber Peacock, Frost Walrus, Jet Stingray, Magma Dragoon, Slash Beast, Split Mushroom, Storm Owl, Web Spider

According to a 1997 interview originally published in the Japanese SEGA Saturn Magazine and later translated by website shmuplations, Capcom initially had no plans to extend the Mega Man X series after its third release. A deluge of fan requests for a new entry built for 32-bit hardware eventually changed the studio’s mind. Still, the development of Mega Man X4 would be fraught with challenges. 

Stage select screen. Source: NintendoComplete

Keiji Inafune took on the full-time role of producer and writer as planning duties were taken over by Koji Okohara, Mitsuru Endo, and Hiroyuki Yamato. New artists Masako Honma and Haruki Suetsugu had a more challenging role than their predecessors, as they had to fully redesign Mega Man X character sprites and environmental design from the ground up for the first time since the series debut. Twice as many sprite animations are present for X as had been featured in Mega Man X3 while Zero’s increased prominence in the game required four times as many sprites as had been created for his Mega Man X3 incarnation. Though a contemporary rumor published by Electronics Gaming Monthly claimed that the team’s steadfast adherence to sprite-based graphics delayed the game’s release, Capcom executives confirmed that this was not the case

The introductory stage of Mega Man X4 sets a tone with a spectacularly animated massive boss enemy. Source: NintendoComplete

Whatever the cause for its comparatively slow movement from development to release, Mega Man X4 was published to widespread acclaim on the Saturn and PlayStation in 1997. It represented less of a leap than had occurred between the parent series’ NES entries and the first Mega Man X game but was still an impressive expansion of what 2D games could look like when powered by the fifth generation of home consoles. Oversized bosses, in particular, positively pop off the screen from the introductory stage onward.

Players choose between X and Zero from the starting screen and are locked into a campaign as that character. Source: NintendoComplete

 Mechanical and narrative improvements are similarly ambitious. Rather than serving as a swappable character, Zero now has a campaign distinct from X. Stages are more or less identical, though Zero has no projectiles and instead acquires unique close-range boss weapons inspired by Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise. He is otherwise reliant exclusively on his z-saber. 

The two campaigns also offer distinct plots, as X and Zero both have unique FMVs depicting their relationships with partner characters and internal conflicts. X is supported by a goofball reploid named Double while Zero receives aid and encouragement from a reploid named Iris. An overarching narrative attempts to tell a politically ambitious tale concerning the rise of a rebellion inspired by Reploid fears about being relegated to second-class citizen status. This so-called Repliforce is led by an oversized reploid named The General and his subordinate, Iris’ uncle The Colonel. At the same time, Zero’s mysterious connection to the mythology of the original Mega Man series becomes an explicit part of the story for the first time. Over-the-top anime cutscenes featuring the studio’s notoriously poor 1990s voice acting, though, fail to convey their intended dramatic weight. 

Sigma is growing larger and weirder with each installment. Source: NintendoComplete

Mega Man X4 would later be re-released alongside earlier and later series entries in the Mega Man X Collection (2006) as well as the Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume One (2018). An individual downloadable version on the PlayStation Store, available for PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita, has also been available since 2014. Critical reception to the game would remain positive in the two decades since its release, though the team’s emphasis on conservative refinement over innovation was an omen of harder times to come. 


Mega Man X5 (2000/2001)

Mavericks: Burn Dinorex (Mattrex), Crescent Grizzly (Grizzly Slash), Dark Necrobat (Dark Dizzy), Shining Firefly (Izzy Glow), Spike Rosered (Axle the Red), Spiral Pegasus (The Skiver), Tidal Whale (Duff McWhalen), Volt Kraken (Squid Adler)

Keiji Inafune took an uncharacteristically hands-off approach to Mega Man X5. The series’ second 32-bit entry, released for the PlayStation in Japan during 2000 before being published on the PlayStation in North America a year later and on Windows PCs worldwide in 2002, was originally intended to wrap up the Mega Man X franchise. Though this plan would be discarded by Capcom, the resulting game certainly suggests a concluding chapter. 

Stage select screen. Source: xRavenXP

Mega Man X5‘s story instantly conveys a greater set of stakes than those present in earlier series titles. The opening stage and a cutscene – comprised of still images with text overlays rather than the controversial fully-voiced anime FMVs of Mega Man X4 – introduce two time-sensitive conflicts as Sigma initiates the spread of a highly destructive reploid virus across the Earth while simultaneously having a hired mercenary named Dynamo commandeer and direct a space colony towards the planet. X and Zero are plugged into a race against time as they attempt to halt the virus’ spread and destroy the approaching space colony. 

FMVs are out, replaced by still images with dialogue overlays. Source: xRavenXP

The former articulates as a standard selection of eight Maverick stages, but the latter introduces a new wrinkle to the Mega Man X formula. X or Zero, depending on the player’s choice of avatar, is forced to complete stages within a specified time frame and has a limited number of attempts at all stages before the colony collides with Earth. At the same time, acquiring collectible items in each stage contributes to the success rate of the player character’s eventual assault on the colony. Both of these gameplay mechanics serve to make individual attempts at stages more stressful, enhancing the tension between risk and reward while also giving the player more ownership of the success or failure of the heroes’ overarching objective. 

Frequent dialogue interruptions offer context within stages but slow the pace of combat. Source: xRavenXP

Complicating the implementation of this ambitious new structure is an overall heightened level of difficulty. As had occurred two entries earlier in Mega Man X3, enemies hit harder and are more numerous than they had been in Mega Man X4. When coupled with a ticking clock, this moment-to-moment challenge can easily provoke frustration. Frequent unskippable text interruptions by X and Zero’s home base partner Alia also undermines the game’s otherwise intense forward momentum. 

Wounded reploids can be saved by X or Zero to gain upgrade items between stages. Source: xRavenXP

Story and gameplay aside, one of Mega Man X3‘s most enduringly fascinating aspects is its distinctive localization. When Capcom contracted a small company called GenAzea to translate the game out of its native Japanese, the project informally fell to the project lead’s spouse: celebrated Resident Evil 2 voice actor Alyson Court. Court opted to incorporate references to the American rock outfit Guns and Roses within Maverick names as a nod to her husband’s passion for the band. Though this was a long-time source of amusement and derision among members of the Mega Man X fan community, 2018’s Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume Two would replace the idiosyncratic names as part of its re-localization process


Mega Man X6 (2001) 

Mavericks: Blaze Heatnix, Blizzard Wolfang, Commander Yammark, Ground Scaravich, Infinity Mijinion, Metal Shark Player, Rainy Turtloid, Shield Sheldon

Though Keiji Inafune had been largely hands-off for Mega Man X5, its sequel would be the first produced without any involvement from Inafune. The longtime creative voice of the franchise and its parent series had moved on to spearhead a new project called Mega Man Zero (2002-2005). In spite of plans to conclude the Mega Man X series with its fifth entry, and indeed in direct contradiction to Inafune’s wishes, Capcom opted to produce a hastily-developed sequel before the PlayStation’s user base moved on to the PlayStation 2 (2000). 

Stage select screen. Source: xRavenXP

Mega Man X6 is among the franchise’s weaker entries due to its narrative contrivance and uncharacteristically poor level design. The former sees Zero resurrected following a heroic demise at the conclusion of Mega Man X5, causing no small amount of retroactive discontinuity in the series’ overarching plot. At the game’s outset, X is dispatched by partner Alia to investigate a mysterious antagonist called Zero Nightmare and save the world from mad scientist Gate’s Maverick dystopia. Sigma is eventually revealed to be the true villain, as he had been in all earlier releases, reflecting the Mega Man X‘s increasingly contrived central conflict and lack of new ideas. 

X now wields the z-saber and begins the game in his fully-upgraded armor from Mega Man X5. Source: xRavenXP

Gameplay is similarly problematic. In contrast to the preceding three series entries, players are forced to control X at the start of the game (though X has inherited Zero’s z-Saber). Zero eventually becomes playable – retaining a virtually identical moveset to his Mega Man X4 and Mega Man X5 incarnation – once the player is able to find and defeat Zero Nightmare. Zero Nightmare, a discolored reproduction of Zero, and a powerful reploid bodyguard named High Max can be encountered at random if the player finds secret areas hidden within Maverick stages. In contrast with earlier entries’ stage progression structure, locating these secret areas and defeating the two hidden boss characters before battling all eight Mavericks instantly unlocks the final set of stages. Consequently, Mega Man X6 can be completed much faster than its predecessors. 

Nightmare effects can make navigation more challenging. Source: xRavenXP

Nightmare effects brought about by Zero Nightmare also inspire a handful of new mechanics. Mega Man X5 had introduced the presence of rescuable allies scattered throughout stages, but Mega Man X6 increases their number and relevance to character progression; if the player is not fast enough in saving them from approaching Nightmare virus enemies, allies are transformed into enemies and become challenging threats. If the allies are rescued in time, they provide useful additions to X’s armor. Though stages are comparatively unimaginative, often emphasizing sparse corridors packed with difficult enemies rather than the inventive, open level designs of earlier Mega Man X titles, they are also transformed intermittently by the presence of Nightmare phenomena. These take the form of interface alterations (like a darkened screen lit only by a spotlight on the player character) or platforming challenges (like blowing wind). 

Zero Nightmare (left) is like Zero, but meaner and less coherent. Source: Wakkoiscrazy

In spite of its attempts to update the franchise, Mega Man X6 fell flat with critics. It received praise from a handful of outlets for being another entry in a reliable if unexciting side-scrolling franchise but was otherwise pilloried for its poor level design and repetition of earlier games’ successes; Keiji Inafune even felt the unprecedented need to issue a public apology for the game in the pages of Mega Man X Complete Works (2008/2009). Faced with a critical narrative that the series had grown stale, though, Capcom would radically modernize Mega Man X as it made the leap from the PlayStation to the PlayStation 2. 


Mega Man X7 (2003)

Mavericks: Flame Hyenard, Ride Boarski, Snipe Anteater, Soldier Stonekong, Splash Warfly, Tornado Tonion, Vanishing Gungaroo, Wind Crowrang

After five entries which had done little to update the format established by Mega Man X, the franchise finally embraced change with the PlayStation 2’s Mega Man X7. This ambitious step was overseen by producer Tatsuya Minami. Keiji Inafune, still busy with the Mega Man Zero series, was only involved in the design of new protagonist Axl.

Stage select screen. Source: Ramza411sb

An introductory cutscene in the anime style of Mega Man X4 immediately suggests that the level of presentation is a return to the higher production values of that titles rather than the comparatively rudimentary still-image cutscenes of Mega Man X5 and X6. The fully voiced FMV establishes a plot focused on rising crime and the forces trying to stop it. Some time after the devastation of Mega Man X5 and X6, the Earth of Mega Man X7 is policed by an increasingly unstable vigilante group known as Red Alert. Axl abandons the group and joins Zero’s Maverick Hunters as they try to halt an ultimately Sigma-directed plot to conquer the planet using the corrupted vigilantes.  

FMVs, now rendered in a quasi-3D cel-shaded style, are surprisingly pretty. Source: Ramza411sb

In a bold creative decision, the eponymous hero is absent for much of the game. The series had at times depicted an internal conflict within X between his pacifist inclinations and the need to defend Earth’s population through the use of violence. Between the events of Mega Man X6 and X7, though, this conflict was finally decided in favor of pacifism. X is consequently unavailable as a playable character at the start of Mega Man X7

The introductory stage’s 2.5D opening gauntlet quickly gives way to 3D gameplay. Source: Ramza411sb

Players are instead given the option of controlling either Zero or Axl and can switch between the two as they progress through the game. The former uses his sword, now equipped with the capacity for projectile deflection, to engage in melee combat. Newcomer Axl relies instead on a gun and his ability to transform into defeated enemies for a short time. Both Zero and Axl gain new abilities by beating bosses in the series’ most enduring tradition, though Axl also intermittently acquires new guns with unique methods of fire. X becomes playable either by completing the game once or rescuing 64 wounded reploids scattered throughout the game’s stages. 

If this looks confusing, just imagine playing it. Source: Ramza411sb

Though X’s initial absence is startling, Mega Man X7‘s most controversial element is its pivot to 3D after a decade of side-scrolling adventures. The game opens with a 2.5 sequence but shifts to a 3D perspective featuring a behind-the-back camera before the introductory stage’s end. The remaining stages are likewise comprised of a combination of 2.5D and fully 3D areas in approximately equal proportion. This could have been the fresh infusion of creativity needed by the slowly atrophying franchise had it been implemented with confidence, but the mechanics are instead overly simplistic and offer little room for adaptation or improvisation. Enemies are automatically targeted by the player character, so much of the challenge comes from poorly considered perspective choices and careless obstacle placement. Clumsy mechanics and level design may be the reason that a planned cooperative mode was dropped shortly before release. 

Battle with an oversized Sigma – in space! – reminds this author of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, a vastly more charming game. Source: Ramza411sb

In spite of its ambition and potential, Mega Man X7 was savaged by critics. 2D sections were bland while 3D sections failed to implement the precision for which the franchise was known. A re-release in 2018 on the Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume Two with high-resolution graphics enhancement did little to rehabilitate its reputation, as its flaws had only become magnified by time. It seemed in the early 2000s that Capcom had fully lost its grasp on what made the Mega Man X series so appealing when it debuted a decade earlier on the SNES. 


Mega Man X8 (2005/2004)

Mavericks: Avalanche Yeti, Bamboo Pandamonium, Burn Rooster, Dark Mantis, Earthrock Trilobyte, Gigabolt Man-O-War, Gravity Antonion, Optic Sunflower

For better or worse, Mega Man X8 abandoned the 3D approach which characterized its direct predecessor. Development responsibilities shifted from Capcom Production Studio 3, which had created Mega Man X5, X6, and X7, to Capcom Production Studio 1. A number of high-level staff members remained involved, however, including designer Hiroyuki Yamato, artist Tatsuya Yoshi Kawa, and composers Yuko Komiyama, Naoto Tanaka, and Shinya Okada. The North American version of the game released first, reflecting Capcom Production Studio 1’s target market.

Stage select screen. Source: Ramza411sb

Mega Man X8‘s story picks up in the midst of a planet-wide conflict known as the Maverick Wars. An opening cutscene introduces a massive space elevator designed to move humans to Earth’s moon in an effort to reduce the bloodshed as part of an initiative called the Jakob Project. Shortly thereafter, Jakob Project director Lumine is kidnapped by the villainous Vile and the Maverick Hunters spring into action. 

That’s a lot of Sigmas. Don’t worry, though, they’re (allegedly) harmless. Source: Ramza411sb

Unlike Mega Man X7, all three of the series’ protagonists are available from the start. An opening stage establishes each character’s distinctive abilities before the player gets his or her choice of eight Maverick stages to complete in any order. Side-scrolling stages, which comprise the vast majority of the game, feature a polygonal art style that allows the 2.5D perspective to shift dynamically as the player character explores an area. Two unique stages also feature 3D navigation, though this is more tastefully implemented than in Mega Man X7

Double attacks are accompanied by a flashy animation. Also, dig that delightful panda-bot. Source: Mega Man XZ: The Maverick Hunters

A host of new gameplay features make Mega Man X8 quite different from its predecessors despite its overall return to two dimensions. In a nod to post-NES Mega Man entries, player characters collect metal from defeated enemies to exchange for upgrades and items in a shop accessible between stages. All characters behave similarly to their Mega Man X7 incarnations, though Zero can acquire additional melee weapons and Axl now receives a new gun from each defeated Maverick. These weapons feature infinite ammunition but are weaker than X’s associated consumable boss weapon. Finally, players can initiate powerful combo attacks with a partner character or use a guard break technique to retaliate against defending foes after their avatar has gathered enough energy. 

Zero finally gets equipped with new weapons! Here he swings a naginata at a mid-boss. Source: Ramza411sb

Mega Man X8 was well received, though outlets like GameSpot noted that the side-scrolling gameplay remained uninspired. New mechanical wrinkles and light integration of 3D elements suggested a way forward for the franchise but Capcom failed to capitalize on the opportunity. If nothing else, improvements made to the appearance and framerate in the Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume Two (2018) ensure that it remains the most memorable part of that otherwise middling compilation. At the time of writing, Mega Man X8 represents the final entry in a once-celebrated series.


Spinoffs and Cancelled Games

The Game Boy Color received two Mega Man X spinoffs. Mega Man Xtreme was released in Japan on October 20, 2000 and in North America the following January. Its Maverick bosses and stage designs are derived from home console releases (Mega Man X and Mega Man X2), like the portable incarnations of its parent series, but its plot centered on computer genius Middy and an antagonistic group called the Shadow Hunters is entirely unique. Three difficulty settings impact which story the player gets to see, with each of the first two featuring four distinctive Maverick stages and the hardest difficulty featuring all eight alongside an extended ending sequence. 

Chill Penguin is back and more ‘Xtreme’ than ever. Source: World of Longplays

Mega Man Xtreme 2 was then released on the Game Boy Color worldwide in 2001. Set between the events of Mega Man X3 and Mega Man X4, the story takes place on an isolated island where a so-called “Soul Eraser” named Berkana is resurrecting former Mavericks to serve as an undead army. The game is playable as either X or Zero, though the presence of Mega Man X4‘s Iris shades in some of her character’s backstory and motivations. 

Mega Man Xtreme 2 translates complex 16-bit environments to the Game Boy Color surprisingly well. Source: World of Longplays

Interestingly, at least one idea which would later appear in home console entries is introduced here for the first time. The player can switch between Zero and X at will on the game’s highest difficulty setting, though only one can collect any given Maverick’s weapon. Players must choose which of the two characters strikes the final blow and acquires a new ability. Other elements, including stage designs and Mavericks, are drawn directly from the series’ first three titles. 

Mega Man X: Command Mission is just like the core series, but without any  thrilling action obscuring its rich tactical combat. Source: XBM Gaming

A third spinoff would be published in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube between the release of Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8. Mega Man X: Command Mission is a fascinating diversion from the series’ core gameplay, as it replaces action-adventure with turn-based role-playing game mechanics. Its producer, Tatsuya Minami, also produced the much-maligned Mega Man X7 but experienced a greater degree of success on his second project in the franchise. This may have been due to the support of Capcom’s Breath of Fire team, which had years of experience developing RPGs. Critical reception, while generally positive, reflected concerns over the game’s low level of challenge and bland world design. An engaging plot deepening the franchise’s already-extensive mythology and surprisingly inventive battle mechanics failed to inspire support for a sequel. 

Concept art produced for Maverick Hunter in 2010 by CG artist Jaehoon Kim. Source: Rockman Corner

As surprising as Mega Man X: Command Mission was, however, a project cancelled in late 2010 would have been stranger still. Maverick Hunter was a first-person shooter being produced by Austin-based Armature Studios under the oversight of Keiji Inafune himself as part of a controversial Capcom initiative to blend Eastern and Western development trends in the late 2000s. It would have seen players taking on the role of X, blasting enemies from a first-person perspective and exploring sprawling stages in the style of Metroid Prime (2003/2002), while an already-planned sequel would introduce a playable Zero. These ambitious schemes would be abandoned when Maverick Hunter was cancelled – alongside other Mega Man titles Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3 – due to Inafune’s unexpected departure from Capcom at the end of 2010.


Mega Man X was among the most promising video games of the 16-bit era. It built on the successful foundation of its NES predecessors while also staking out a more mature aesthetic and identity. Sequels expanded the universe and mechanical palette but rarely offered meaningful innovation, prompting a radical reassessment of the series’ identity in the early 2000s. Misguided experiments in evolution provoked critical disdain, however, and the franchise was shut down by Capcom following the release and commercial disappointment of Mega Man X: Maverick Hunter for the PSP in 2006.

Still, the future may yet bring good news to Mega Man X‘s long-suffering fan community. Capcom finally revisited the series with two compilations in 2018 and a new entry in the Mega Man series later that year. No plans have been announced concerning Mega Man X9, but the original Blue Bomber has proven that hibernation isn’t necessarily the end. Fans may yet see X, Zero, and Axl fight Sigma once again.

What do you think about Mega Man X? What are your favorite and least favorite entries? How about the most interesting or silly Mavericks? Would you like to see the series return and, if so, how would you like to see it adapt in the 2020s? Let’s discuss.

Here is an upcoming schedule, subject to change, of the next five planned Franchise Festival entries:

  • July 12 – Mega Man Legends
  • July 19 – Call of Duty
  • July 26 – Wario
  • August 2 – Legacy of Kain / Soul Reaver
  • August 9 – Civilization