Only the finest Minecraftmanship for Mega Man
I’m back with the May edition of Mega Man Monthly, and this time I’m tackling something that was released in the past decade for once! Genuinely new Mega Man stuff releases pretty infrequently these days, so I think it’s important to highlight what little we get. With that in mind, I’m going out of my comfort zone and digging into the unknown depths of Minecraft. Last month I promised some flowers, but unfortunately I dug them all up in the process of Minecrafting. Sorry.
I know nothing about Minecraft. That may seem like a strange way to open a review, but I need to clarify my intentions here. I am not reviewing Minecraft today. I am Mega Man X reviewing Minecraft. Big difference.
Basically, Minecraft forced my hand here. It waved Mega Man in front of my face and in a fight-or-flight-esque reaction, I threw money at it. This means that I’m not approaching Minecraft’s Mega Man X DLC as a Minecraft fan or someone even remotely familiar with the game. That may not be particularly fair to Minecraft. Instead, I view this DLC primarily as a Mega Man Xperience, and will be judging it based on my Mega Man Xpectations.
Since the Mega Man X review format provides a new and innovative way to critique video games, I suppose I should lay out my criteria. It primarily boils down to “how well does this thing capture what makes Mega Man X cool”?
On the surface, Mega Man X followed closely in the original Mega Man’s footsteps with precise controls, carefully crafted platforming challenges, and themed boss design that incentivizes the use of unlockable weapons. All of these core elements factor into the review process. The ways that Mega Man X built on its predecessor are just as important as the core tenants of the franchise as a whole. Escalation defines Mega Man X. The pace speeds up due to the addition of specific upgrades. Upgrades in general expand into an integral part of the game, bringing a sense of exploration to the forefront. Enemies evolve into more detailed and involved battles as a result. X’s world wraps itself in a more tense, mature tone to match its threats.
With the criteria revealed, you may be wondering: what even is this DLC? As someone who lacks a Minecrafting license, when I heard the phrase ”Minecraft Mega Man DLC,” I assumed it must just be some character skins to wear. It may not be accurate to say that Mega Man characters have skin to donate, but I’m sure they could figure out an arrangement with Minecraft that pays the bills. While that Battle Network collection sold pretty well, I’m sure Capcom requires much more money before they’ll make an actual new game.
This Minecraft DLC does in fact include skins. They look, well, like Minecraft people. All of the key players from the original Mega Man X game make an appearance in pixelated block form, from Block Zero to Block Vile. Everyone looks cute enough, yet this almost comes across like a miscast. Mega Man X is the gritty, dramatic soap opera of the Mega Man series. It wouldn’t be my first choice for Minecraftization, especially over any incarnations of the franchise that include more genuinely cute and playful designs.
If any corner of the Mega Man franchise should be shot with the Mine Crafter (the boss weapon that transforms its victims into Minecraft characters), it should be the original series. The developers may have thought the same thing, because in addition to the X characters, tons of characters from the original series also sneak into the mix. In fact, nearly every important character shows up sans Mega Man himself, which strikes me as odd due to how perfect he would be for this style. There must be something more going on behind the scenes, perhaps a vendetta?
There’s something more going on with this Minecraft DLC beyond the skins, too. More notable than any skins, it actually includes an entire Mega Man X game playable within the framework of Minecraft.
This concept excited me quite a bit. Although I am aware that you can change your camera perspectives in Minecraft (more on that later), I tend to think of it as a first person perspective game. A Mega Man game playable in the first person treads legitimately new territory for the series. Previously, the series only broached the subject in ways that I’d argue don’t really count, like Super Adventure Rockman or canceled projects like Maverick Hunter. Could Minecraft be the unlikely hero that ushers in a brand new style of Mega Man?
My excitement wavered shortly after touching the controls. Something seemed off. Everything in Minecraft Man X felt slow and imprecise. A thought suddenly crossed my mind, one that I found impossible to dismiss. “Somehow…” I began to think, “somehow…Minecraft doesn’t seem like it was built to accommodate fast-paced platformer action…” The room went silent. All of the lights in the room shut off. A bizarre, hyperrealistic yet blocky Mega Man X began to walk towards the screen. He reached his stubby block arms towards the television. His arms stretched outside of the screen and towards me. The block hands got so close that I could barely breathe. And then I woke up.
After waking up, I found that I was still playing the Mega Man X Minecraft DLC and still didn’t think it was very good. I guess I can’t escape the real nightmare!
I see two key issues here.
First and foremost, the game lacks any degree of snappiness or speed. This Block incarnation of X moves lethargically, even when you activate his ability to sprint and especially when you activate his ability to dash. For some reason, Block X crouches after activating a dash, which kills any momentum you got from it in the first place. The only real way you can get anything out of it at all is by combining it with jumps. This technique haphazardly propels you forward in a way that is more concerning than exhilarating.
Dashing may be the single most vital powerup in giving the Mega Man X series its distinctive feel. It’s so vital that the first X game all but hands it to you as soon as possible, and you start with it in all of the subsequent games. When I think of Mega Man X, the image I conjure is one of X smoothly chaining dashes together to fly across the stage. Block X could only dream to match him with his unwieldy bunny hops.
All of Block X’s other actions feel much the same. When you pull a trigger to shoot, the actual blast seemingly lags behind, like it was in the middle of something and you caught it by surprise. You can kick up walls, but it doesn’t read well visually. It’s more like scaling a wall by mashing a button than kicking off of it. Nothing feels right here.
A poorly functioning Mega Man in a Mega Man game works against a lot of what makes this series good, yet not all hope is lost. We still have that other key issue to talk about. Maybe that one’s not so bad. Well, I guess I already spoiled that it’s a key issue, so maybe not.
Level design matches the controls when it comes to the importance of a good Mega Man game. When it comes to the level design in this Minecraft reinterpretation, I’d say it’s less “not so bad” and more “not all bad.”
When I look at these Minecraft stages, I notice that they are both extremely blocky and extremely flat. Blocky is to be expected given the source material, and that part of it I actually enjoy. Seeing some classic Mega Man X stages brought to life in a new art style, and in three dimensions at that, ended up being a genuinely cool experience. All of the stages look visually faithful enough to convince you that you are in fact exploring the original game through a Minecraft filter.
For the most part, anyway. It’s been a while – I don’t remember Chill Penguin’s stage having a dedicated lava chamber. I recall it having more of the opposite of lava, whatever that is. Ice? Water? Snow? Anti-Lava? Oh well, I can’t be too picky. When it comes to visual design, the levels walk away relatively unscathed.
When it comes to game design, the levels have some pressing issues. As in it feels like they were pressed flat. These levels made to pay tribute to a classic platformer contain very little actual platforming. There aren’t even compelling upgrades to find that make use of all the 3D space.
Instead, these levels prefer to string you along uneventful surfaces while throwing enemies at you. These enemies appear to have been strengthened by the Minecraftization process, as they take roughly ten million shots to defeat. Their presence slows down an already slow game to a crawl. Thankfully, because the terrain requires so little nuance to navigate and takes place in a wide 3D space, you can just run past these legions of foes with virtually no penalty.
Storm Eagle’s level presents the best argument as to why bland level design may be for the best.
Like the original stage, you hop across a lot of moving platforms in order to scale the skies and reach Storm Eagle’s battleship. Whereas X would need to swiftly yet precisely jump across those platforms in a relatively freeform manner, the Minecraft developers clearly didn’t place the same faith in Block X to get the job done. When you jump onto a platform in the Minecraft rendition, the game draws you onto it like a magnet and locks you into place. It’s a very stiff process that only gets worse when you realize you have to keep locking on and off these magnet platforms to get anything done.
I assume it works this way because the first person perspective messes with your ability to perceive distance. The ability to judge spacing plays an important role in making any kind of platforming fun and challenging. First person views in video games don’t cleanly match how our depth perception works in real life. As a result, first person platforming in games inherently poses a challenge that needs to be tackled creatively. Unfortunately, magnet platforms don’t solve the problem gracefully and aren’t fun to jump on.
However, this is still Minecraft at the end of the day. Minecraft allows you to switch your camera perspective from first person to varying degrees of third person. This theoretically helps the problem, although it does not fully defeat it. The awkward framing of the third person angles are still not ideal for platforming and hinder your ability to read the environment. This process gets especially bad when you hop into a Ride Armor; combined with their even clunkier movement and large amount of space they take up on the screen, they’re basically death traps. All in all, any section with more involved platforming just makes me wish that the terrain would go back to being flat and boring.
Unfortunately, I would describe the bosses at the end of these stages as flat and boring as well. Just like the normal enemies, they move slowly and take a million shots. Admittedly, they add an element of dynamism to the fights by hopping around all over their respective arenas. You need to twirl the camera around constantly. Since everyone in the game moves like they need a nap, however, these battles never raise your heart rate. Unless you look real closely at the blocky Mavericks – they sure are cute!
This DLC recreates only about half of the original Mega Man X game, including the intro stage, four of the main Maverick stages, and a very truncated version of Sigma’s fortress. Considering the quality of what’s included, I’m not exactly upset about that. Still, this DLC costs a surprising amount of money – for just a few more dollars you can buy a substantial amount of real Mega Man games when they’re on sale. From that perspective, I find it hard to justify the investment.
If you are desperate to extend your time in the world of Minecraft Man X, it does offer a few extras. Block X can buy tons of upgrades from Dr. Light directly (I guess he survived in the Minecraft timeline) for new weapons to use during replays. In fact, replay options make up the brunt of the extra content, including a speedrun mode and a boss rush. Ultimately, you’re still playing the same game, so I can’t recommend any of these diversions.
Mega Man’s foray into the world of Minecraft offers some interesting insights even if it doesn’t offer a particularly compelling game. It provides the first real glimpse as to what a first person Mega Man game could be like and expertly demonstrates all of the pitfalls it should avoid. Looking back on my Mega Man X Review criteria, I can’t give the experience very many points. If you just want the skins, I can understand that because they are adorable. If you love Minecraft and don’t mind the wonk factor, it’s worth a laugh. For everyone else, you might want to pray a little harder for that Mega Man X9 release.