The core gameplay of both series is the same.  It’s five star run-and-gun goodness!  You get to choose the order in which you play the stages and each time you defeat a boss, you get a fun new weapon to add to your arsenal.  This creates a massive game of rock, paper, scissors.  With ten entries in the Mega Man series and eight in the Mega Man X series, some people claim that the series is stale, but I’d gladly fire up my Mega/X Buster right now…  If only Capcom would give me another chance.  I’ll let you go on a fun little note.  There’s a humorous bridge between the two games in Mega Man X.  If you ignore the transportation in Armored Armadillo’s stage and walk the first leg of it, you’ll find one of the original Mega Man enemies:  Batton.  This little guy originates in Wood Man’s stage in Mega Man 2 and can be found all over the original series.  There’s only one of them in X and he only drops extra lives.  You’ll also see Mets (aka Hard Hats) all over the place in both series.  It’s fun to see that, despite the time differences, some familiar enemies are still around!

Mavericks take many different forms throughout the series.  Really, they can be divided into two major groups:  Those affected by viruses and those who chose to go Maverick.  Those games with virus oriented stories are OK, but the ones where Reploids choose to go Maverick offer much more enriching experiences.  In Mega Man X4, if you really stop to think about the story, the Mavericks in the game are only Mavericks because the game tells you so.  They’re a group called Repliforce and they’re framed during the game.  You end up completely destroying them and the ending of the game sees X calling his own motives (and sanity) into question.  It ends on the incredibly somber note of X discussing that Zero may have to kill him some day.  It’s easy to blow through the game and have fun killing everything that moves, but when you actually analyze it, you really do feel bad.  Both the player and the character are manipulated and when you stop to think about it, it hurts.  Frankly, I’d argue that X, a lifelong pacifist, never fully recovers from the events of this game.

Yep.  This guy is definitely a Maverick!  Go get him, X!

This type of ponderous storytelling is much more common in the darker world of Mega Man X.  In this series, Reploids are a special type of robot with capacities for emotions and reasoning.  Frankly, Reploids exhibit such humanlike tendencies, it’s actually pretty easy to forget that they are robots.  In Mega Man, each robot – good or bad – is simply following whatever programming he was assigned.  In Mega Man X, each Reploid, with few exceptions, consciously makes each decision to do whatever it is he wants to do.  While there are some games in the series that introduce a virus to make some Reploids lose control, usually the villains in the X series consciously decided on their courses of action.  The term the series uses is Maverick.  

Even the villains in Mega Man almost always lack any real motivation for their misdeeds.  They’re certainly not evil, rather, they’re programmed by an evil person to perform a task.  Rarely in the entire original Mega Man series do we even see a hint of personality from the Robot Masters, and even then, it’s hard to call their motivations villainous.  In Mega Man 9, the Robot Masters are rebelling simply because they’ve reached an arbitrary expiration date and they’re supposed to be scrapped.  Rather than simply go along with their own inevitable demise, they fight back.  Honestly, as great a game as Mega Man 9 is, it’s hard to see the Robot Masters as bad guys, much less evil.  It’s almost a reverse Logan’s Run.  This small element of one of the ten original Mega Man games is easy to overlook, but it should give you pause to consider your actions.  There’s more to the story than this, but it’s surprisingly deep when you really get down to it.

1.  A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.  A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Honestly, everything so far has really been a warm up to the more adult nature of the story.  Mega Man is mostly lighthearted.  As a concept, a robot called Bomb Man may sound frightening, but when you remember that he was designed as a demolition robot, it’s really not so bad.  For that matter, all the early Mega Man Robot Masters were designed for human use and reprogrammed for nefarious purposes.  This is emblematic of the entire series and how it differs from Mega Man X.  In the original series, it’s very clear at every turn that these characters are robots.  Mega Man always follows the Three Laws of Robotics:

Magma Man

Flame Man

Heat Man

Fire Man

Even the design of the game has a similar feel, yet it is wildly different because of some of the unique abilities X possesses.  Chief among them is the wall jump.  When Mega Man misses a jump, the odds are good that he’s finished.  Whether he’s jumping into oblivion or a bed of spikes, he’s likely dead either way.  X has a fighting chance because of the wall jump.  While clinging to a wall, just press the jump button to bound off of it and fly upward.  This move often means the difference between life and death and you have it at your disposal as soon as you power the game on.  It really sets the X series apart from Mega Man!

Santa!  I want some Cocoa Pebbles for Christmas!  Oh?  Some new boots?  Those will do, I guess...

Why are these called Heart Tanks?

The look of the series is also more adult in tone.  Mega Man looks very cartoonish.  This is true whether you’re talking about the design of the character or the look and feel of the games themselves.  Things tend to have a more rounded, cute, and childlike appearance.  Take a look at the fairly major enemies from Mega Man 4:  Gachappon and Escaroo.  They’re not bosses, but they’re more than just regular ol’ enemies.  Notice their cutesy facades.  For that matter, consider the deliciously Japanese pun with Gachappon.  This enemy is a dispenser of sorts.  Remember those machines at grocery stores where you put in a quarter and receive a tiny toy or a gumball or something?  In Japan, those are called gacha gacha machines.  

In addition to the obvious quality, it’s important to note the level of detail.  Let me start by saying that this is NOT an attack on NES Mega Man games!  They’re awesome in their own right, but the jump in detail is noteworthy here.  Mega Man X has a much richer and more diverse color palette.  There’s also a much higher level of depth in only this screenshot and this very image fails to capture (as any image, by definition, does) the parallax scrolling.  Also noteworthy are the minutiae, such as the two different cars in the above shot.  They’re clearly on two different planes and are of remarkably different styles, but also important is that the red one in the foreground is damaged.  It clearly has a dented body panel and is belching smoke like a hippie Volkswagen Minibus.  The purple car in the background is unscathed.  These cars actually move, unlike many others that litter the side of the road in this stage.  These two cars don’t affect the game in any way, but these tiny details breathe life into the game.  And yes, I’m well aware that this is a game about robots.  That’s actually going to be important later…

Right off the bat, we can see that much more care was put into this box art than the equivalent Mega Man box.  In fact, while different people may have varied stylistic tastes, none of the Mega Man X boxes are outright bad.  They started strong with this game and that difference is the first of many.  It’s the perfect way to show that the jump from Mega Man to Mega Man X was almost like the series growing up, if you will.

Anyway, the box art to the first two Mega Man games really is that egregious.  Contrast that with Mega Man 9 and 10.  By now, everybody KNOWS how bad the art is and it’s on purpose.  This is the difference between The Room or Evil Dead and Twilight or District 9 (yep,  It’s overrated.  Yes, I “get it.”  No, I don’t like it.  Shoot me).  We can even further contrast these four images with that of Mega Man X.

It’s important to point out that Mega Man 9 and 10 were digital releases and the horrible art was only crafted as a humorous little nod to Mega Man and Mega Man 2.  To be fair, the box art did improve, and Mega Man 3-8 aren’t so bad.  It is abundantly clear that the artists for the first two games never actually played the games, though.  How can you not notice that Mega Man’s arm IS his gun, rather than a physical object he holds to shoot?  And worse, how many people along the way saw that depiction and said, “Yeah.  This is good.  Print it!”  It’s akin to a movie like Twilight.  I won’t go into the cringefest that is this series, but we all know how bad it is.  The problem is that it doesn’t KNOW it’s bad.  For all the hilariously bad moments throughout this series (to say nothing of how it managed to spawn Fifty Shades of Grey…), Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the books, said they’re ok.  Bill Condon (or whichever director) said they’re ok.  Melissa Rosenbery, the screenplay writer, said they’re ok.  Kristen Stewart and the rest of the cast said they’re ok.  The producers, editors, set designers, makeup department, camera crew, and even the caterers all said they’re ok.  Ugh.  I feel dirty that I now have Twilight stuff in my search history, so let’s move on…  

Hold...  It...  Together...  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

No discussion of Mega Man would be complete without mentioning the legendarily bad box art, so, with no further adieu, I present to you some of the worst offenders.

Personally, I prefer the classics:  Mega Man and Mega Man X, but all are lots of fun and make for some great gaming.  Mega Man established the character and helped to pioneer an entire genre, while Mega Man X helped to advance 2D platform, run-and-gun gameplay.  Still, there are some key differences between the two, so let’s dive into them now!

Mega Man Volnutt

Mega Man.exe

Mega Man

If you’re a fan of Zero Sum Gaming, the odds are virtually certain that you’ve at least heard of Mega Man.  This was a major series during the 80s and 90s and fans still clamor for more of the Blue Bomber today (are you listening, Capcom!?).  This is abundantly clear with the latest iteration of Super Smash Bros., in which Mega Man is a playable character.  At the very least, it’s true for Kris from Nashville, Tennessee, who donated Mega Man X to us so he could get our take on it.  Thanks, Kris!  This is actually one of my all-time favorite games!

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This is a collection of fire based bosses from Mega Man and Mega Man X.  You can instantly tell a Mega Man boss because they’re always called “something” Man (or Splash Woman, the lone female boss).  Mega Man X sets itself apart by using animals (and the occasional plant or fungus).  It’s hard to tell which is more original.  Because Mega Man always used “blah” Man as the name for every boss, they had to get very creative with the names.  Just look at how many fire themed bosses we have from Mega Man with zero repeats!  We have Fire Man, Heat Man, Flame Man, Magma Man, and Burner Man.  They managed to come up with five different ways to say “boss that attacks with fire” and make each unique.  I think a tiny element of that was lost with X since the three X bosses above are Flame Mammoth, Flame Stag, and Flame Hyenard.  Notice they just recycled the word Flame.  Worse still, Flame Mammoth and Flame Stag are from back to back games, so it’s not like they had already exhausted all the blaze words.  Couldn’t they have used Blaze Stag or Inferno Stag or something like that?  Oh well.  At least the use of different animals does help to offset this.

Burn!  Burn to the ground!  Burn!  Burn!  Burn to the ground!

Er, I mean Flame Hyenard

Flame Stag

Flame Mammoth

Burner Man

I wonder what E stands for

Incidentally, right behind the giant crusher robot in the above picture is a Sub Tank.  There are four of them in the game and they function like spare life meters, each holding 28 units of health.  The most observant readers will have noticed that X only has 16 units in his life meter in those shots.  That doesn’t add up even using Common Core math!  What gives?  Mega Man X also introduces Heart Tanks.  Each Heart Tank permanently increases your life meter by 2 bars and there are 8 of them in the game.  Interestingly, this means that X starts out much weaker than Mega Man, who always has 28 as his maximum health, but X ends up stronger with 32 once you find all the Heart Tanks.  Finally, Mega Man X also has 5 upgrades to X’s suit, each of which offers a unique and functional ability.  While the original Mega Man series did have a few extra abilities, such as the Wire Adapter, Magnet Beam, and Rush Marine, exploration was nowhere near as important as it is in the X series.  Not counting the weapons X obtains by defeating bosses, there are 17 permanent upgrades in this game, many of which are hidden or require some outside the box thinking to obtain.  This has the simultaneous effect of adding depth to the game, while the additional options the player has serve to make the player feel more powerful.

X gets crushed to death in 3...  2...  1...

And this is the introductory stage!

Now take a look at similar types of enemies in Mega Man X.  They’re much more menacing!

Don't you just want to cuddle this cute, robotic snail?

I have gacha gacha of Pikachu and Jake "The Snake" Roberts!

Ah!  Much better!

While we’re on the subject of appearances, there are some clear distinctions here and they’re immediately obvious.  Let’s get the first out of the way up front.  Mega Man is known primarily for its 8 bit outings.  Although a 16 bit and a 32 bit entry do exist, they are usually seen as departures from what most people picture.  Similarly, Mega Man X continued all the way to the Playstation 2, but the series is more commonly associated with the SNES.  Observe!

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Well, it's at least at little better

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little...

Star Force

Mega Man X

Over the years, there have been multiple different iterations of out titular protagonist, and while all of them are different, they often share certain thematic elements.