Mega Man X for the iPhone is a victim of two different sets of circumstances. The first is that it has been released less than one week after SEGA’s Sonic CD, which took another classic gem from the era of 16-bit gaming and created a definitive version of the title. The other is that this product falls well short of the original game it’s based on.
That isn’t to say the game is necessarily bad; as platforming games on iPhone go, this is definitely one of the better ones we’ve played. And if it were a wholly original product, that might be enough, but the fact that it’s a port of another game tends to drag it down as it struggles to adhere to its source material. Once fans see that they got the year of the story wrong in the opening crawl, it’s pretty much downhill from there.
In terms of graphics, the developers decided to forgo the original pixel art in favor of a new, more animated-looking style. Whether you agree with this new direction or not, it evokes a similar feeling to the original– at least, while standing still. Unfortunately, it doesn’t move as smoothly as the Super NES original. Worse still, a lot of effects, poses, and movements are missing, in both the characters and the backgrounds.
Rounding that out is when you’re playing in full screen mode, and enemies venture off the screen, making it not only difficult to hit them (or even see their entrances properly), but also to avoid abrupt attacks. The controls sometimes block your view of the action, too, although such instances are usually brief. Fans will notice that the art doesn’t quite match up, as it was taken from Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X, the PSP remake of the original Mega Man X, which used different designs for some of the characters.
In the sound department, the music is lifted from the original Super NES game, though not all of it made the transition. Points where you wait for the proper music to kick in never arrive, such as when Zero delivers his speech to X at the end of the first stage. We love Zero’s theme and all, but to keep it playing there just isn’t really appropriate for the scene. There is also an option to visit an in-game store to purchase an arranged soundtrack to listen to instead of what the game comes with, if you’re willing to spend a few extra dollars. Sound effects are likewise derived from the original, though some are missing, while others tend to be misplaced.
As for gameplay, the original Mega Man X was a very precise, fast-paced action platforming experience. But to make it work on the iPhone, the developers softened things up a bit. Strangely enough, enemies tend to do less damage and take more, even on Normal difficulty (with the exception of some sub-bosses who actually take more hits to kill). Weirder still is that your refillable Sub-Tanks don’t replenish as much of your life energy as in the original, though they do refill more quickly.
The developer provides you with a fair number of options to help make playing the game on the iPhone easier, though hiding them in the options menu labeled as “cheats” is probably not the best way to get players to experiment. Some can be handy, such as rapid fire and auto-charging, though the way they are set up can sometimes clash with one-another.
One questionable move in the controls department is remapping the dash function to work by pressing down on the control pad. While this works well enough in some circumstances, and holding it down causes X to dash more rapidly, it does cause some problems where wall-jumping is concerned, particularly when getting certain items or fighting a particular boss. And for those wondering, the “secret move” is here, too. It’s easier to get, but not easier to use, given that part of its required gesture is mapped to the same button that makes you dash.
Stages are taken from the SNES game, and have been modified slightly here and there to accommodate the iPhone, making it a little easier to reach some areas, though others are left untouched. And for some reason, there are a lot of screen transitions which blink to black and load a new location. Even worse is that unlike the original game, you cannot backtrack through these areas. These transitions and untouched portions can make getting certain items quite frustrating, especially when old methods don’t work.
Undoubtedly, the worst thing of all about this version of the game is that it completely strips away one of Mega Man X’s most beloved and innovative features. In the original, completing a stage would often have an affect on another stage; defeating Chill Penguin would cause the molten metal in Flame Mammoth’s stage to freeze over, for example, or defeating Storm Eagle would cause his ship to crash down into the power plant of Spark Mandrill, affecting the flow of energy. None of that is here.
There are some concessions, such as moving an item stuck in the molten metal to higher ground, or filling an area with water so that another item can still be reached, but the overall feeling of your actions affecting other parts of the game’s world has been completely excised.
In the end, Mega Man X isn’t necessarily bad– it’s playable, and even beatable, but it falls short of the standard set by the original game nearly twenty years ago. Someone who has never played the game before may find more to enjoy from this version, but for those who know and love the SNES original (and even its PSP remake), this version falls well short of the mark. If the same engine were used on a game that had a little less going on– in graphics, gameplay, and dexterity– it might have fared better.