Playing a Mega Man X game is like being friends with someone who's really cool and shares a lot of your interests, but is also prone to bouts of manic depression and extreme violence. On his X5, X8, and Xtreme 2 days, he's incredibly fun to be around, cracking all sorts of hilarious jokes and livening up every room he enters. On his X1, X4 days, anyone would swear that he's the coolest guy in all existence. But some days his depression kicks in, and he starts rolling his eyes at whatever you say and making snide comments under his breath, at his best on his still-pretty-fun X2 days, and his worse on his downright-obnoxious Xtreme days. On his X7 days, he gets randomly pissed, kicks you in the crotch and storms off. And on his X6 days he shoots out both your kneecaps, burns your house down and force-feeds you your own fingers.
Mega Man X3 comes in around the middle of his depressed days, where he's not being violent or particularly hateful but he's still being really passive aggressive and fairly annoying. It's hard to really hate him, but he's still kind of painful to be around, and by the end of the day his minor annoyances have piled up and everyone in his vicinity is ready to throttle him.
I played through the X series again recently, and a few of my preconceptions were shattered. X8 is waaaay better than I thought, and X2 is a good deal worse. But X3 was hit the hardest. What I once thought of as one of the best entries in a very
expansive franchise is instead crushingly mediocre, definitely not worth the absurd prices it fetches on eBay and barely worth the time it takes to play.
After playing through the game again, I read up on a little of its history. Mega Man X3 hit American shores in January 1996, four months after the original PlayStation hit shelves and changed the face of gaming. X3 was rushed out the door, attempting to land before the SNES died, and as such a lot of jaw-droppingly idiotic design choices and numerous cases of sheer laziness on the part of the developers served to severely drag down what could have been a great game. If this sounds familiar, it's because the same thing happened to Mega Man 6, only X3 doesn't have a (freaking AWESOME) flying Rush Suit to distract from its overall mediocrity.
Let's break it down to the bare elements. What are the things I love about Mega Man X1? Awesome bosses, insanely creative level design, cool upgrades, flawless control, and (of course) kickass music. X3 drops the ball on all five of these factors harder than Legato Bluesummers during his short career with the suicide hotline.
Mega Man X3's plot is decent, but you'll notice that "Plot" wasn't included in that list of things I loved about X1 (though it certainly set a new bar for the Mega Man franchise in that regard). It establishes that Sigma is really a virus rather than a robot, an interesting detail that would be developed further in the superior X5, and it provided further characterization for Zero, who would really come into his own in the (consistently!) spectacular Mega Man Zero series.
I'm not going to provide a plot summary for three reasons. One, plot summaries are really boring. Two, if you really need a summary, you can just go play Mega Man 4. And three, it's a Mega Man game, and the traditional Mega Man's narrative is not
found in the instruction manual in or the cutscenes. The gameplay IS the story. And that's where Mega Man X3 falls flat.
Let's start with the most obvious place to start talking about any Mega Man game.
What strikes me most about Mega Man X3's bosses is how lazy
they are. Like with most of X3, I just can't shake the feeling that the developers didn't care about what they were making, which is a horrible thing to think about any game.
For one thing, some of their attack patterns are actually copied wholesale from one another. Blizzard Buffalo and Tunnel Rhino are basically the same boss and Vile is identical to his X1 appearance. For another, there's very little variety of animation with a number of the bosses. Take a look:
Bit only has seventeen frames to speak of, Crush Crawfish's claws and feet are the only parts that animate, and Volt Catfish barely alters his stance in all of his attacks.
The thing is, the bosses are just poorly designed. They feel like they belong with the more simplistic NES bosses, not with X3's more complex sixteen-bit brethren. Kaiser Sigma is a snoozefest of a final boss, even if he's not exactly easy to beat (unless you use the cheapass Z-Saber, of course). If you've got the (also cheapass) Golden Armor, you don't even need to move during Sigma's final "Virus phase" and you'll win no matter what your health is. The bosses are all just dull, without a memorable fight in the bunch.
Although, to be honest, the bosses aren't all that relevant. For some reason, when people talk about or review a Mega Man game, they tend to spend the majority of their time talking about the Robot Masters or the Mavericks. This is silly because traditional Mega Man games, and that's because the levels are what really matter. So no matter how crappy X3's bosses are, it could be mostly made for if the level design is as spot on as other games in the franchise.
Spoiler: it isn't.
The fact is, Mega Man X3's levels are laaaaaaaame
. Half the levels are generic warehouse/sewer levels, and the other half are the same as the last two games -- only far, far worse. Its best level doesn't hold a candle to X1's worst. Its forest level is boring, its water level is a dull retelling of Launch Octopus and Bubble Crab but without the charm of either, and its cave level is devoid of any of the creativity that breathed so much life into Armored Armadillo's level. If you want an ice level, you'd be better off with Chill Penguin than Blizzard Buffalo, or if not that than at least Crystal Snail or Frost Man.
And do you know what the worst part is? X3 doesn't even control well
. It's a goddamned Mega Man game with sloppy controls
Controls and Upgrades
At first, the controls don't seem so bad. Mega Man X starts out playing exactly like he does in the previous X games (read: flawlessly.) The first problem is Zero. He's sluggish and his saber doesn't work well. However, this is hardly a problem because Capcom perplexingly designed the game around making the sure the player never uses Zero
by giving him one life (as in, if he dies you can't use him for the rest of the game), one use per stage, only making him available for a third of each level, not allowing him to fight bosses, and making you kill him to get the best upgrade. I've got no clue why Capcom decided to castrate one of the only cool features the game had to offer but OH WELL.
The main problem is the upgrades
. To be frank, the upgrades suck
. The upwards Air-Dash is hard to control and hardly works, and it's impossible to pull off that freaking dual-charge shot crap while climbing on a wall, something the X series' combat is built around. And, while this has nothing to do with control, the Golden Armor makes the potentially interesting customizable Super Chip system totally redundant. The upgrades are either useless, boring, or cheap, and most make controlling X a chore, something that should NEVER be the case in a Mega Man game.
But at least there's something pleasant to listen to while clawing your way through the crappy bosses, crappy stage design, and crappy controls, right? Mega Man games are renown for their fantastic soundtracks, and as such Mega Man X3 should be no exception. Right?
Look, Mega Man X3, I appreciate what you were going for. Something a bit heavier than the usual Mega Man fare. You wanted to pick up the ball X1 got rolling with its rocking synth guitar soundtrack and sprint it into the in-zone. But this ... this isn't good, X3. It isn't good at all.
Alright. Have a listen listen
You done? Now listen to
To be frank, Mega Man X3 sounds like ass
. The tunes are repetitive, the instruments are grating, and the tunes are repetitive. There are a few nice tracks, but for the most part it's pretty uniformly awful. Seriously, you'd be better off playing the game with no sound, and the remixes on the PlayStation version (and Mega Man Xtreme 2, for that matter) do little to help the earsplitting melodies and instruments. Advice? Mute the TV and pump some Mega Man 2 remixes. Actually, you should just go play Mega Man 2.
I'm being too negative. Mega Man X3 isn't really all that bad; it's still Mega Man, and even at his absolute worst the Blue Bomber still has at least some semblance of the stuff that makes the games so good, and X3 is nowhere close to the his worst outing (that'd be the DOS games). And aside from the aforementioned DOS games, there's not a game in the franchise that's worth less than a sock and a half.
Wait, did that pic from the ending say what I think it said? That makes absolutely no sense. Hell, X dies in Zero 2, and they're both still around in the ZX games anyway. And X4 even seems to hint that Zero will destroy X! Seriously, what the hell?
No, X3 isn't so much bad as it is a disappointment. I've gushed enough about X1, so you can imagine that X2 was already a disappointment by being merely "pretty good," and X3 only gets worse.
Many people prefer the original Mega Man to his more morose counterpart, myself included, despite X1 being my favorite game in the series. The difference is in their consistency. Mega Man X is schizophrenic in its quality, while the original Mega Man, even in his weakest entries (5 and 6 if you're wondering), never quite dipped into the "not worth the time it takes to play" category like a good third of the X games. They vary from "pretty good" to spectacular, rather than from spectacular to horrendous
Mega Man X3 is the Mega Man 6 of the X series, even if the former is significantly worse than the latter. It was rushed out the door to be released on a system that was all ready obsolete for the purposes of making a quick buck, it does little that hasn't already been done before and better, and what it does add is only improved upon by later installments. And the soundtrack sucks.
Skip it. There are too many amazing Mega Man games out there to waste your time on this one.