By Monica McGivern
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Maybe it's because we're hung up on our past more than ever -- riding a wave of giddy, nonstop nostalgia and absorbing anything that will help recapture the bliss of the good ol' days -- but Capcom's Mega Man X Collection feels more fun than ever.
The follow-up to last year's wildly popular Mega Man Anniversary Collection, Mega Man X Collection includes six Super Nintendo and PlayStation titles on one disc. It's just the latest in a long line of products to repackage old-school hits, following "Atari Anniversary Collection" and the recent "plug-and-play" television games.
Sadly, youthful nostalgia usually gives way to realizations like "Wow . . . Pitfall and Space Invaders actually kind of blow." It may sound like heresy, but classic games just can't compete with the white-knuckle action and realistic graphics of games like Halo.
But Capcom's Mega Man is one of the few retro titles that still gleams, nearly 20 years after the li'l Blue Bomber's debut. This cute and colorful side-scrolling series was like Super Mario Bros. with a laser cannon. Mega Man's most innovative element was the ability to steal enemies' powers to use as your own. The fiery Heatman, for instance, will spank you repeatedly until you acquire the water-based "Bubble Lead" gun -- then it's all "How do you like me now, flamer?"
The five sequels (not to mention multiple Game Boy carts) were solid, but the shiny hero's popularity waned with the Nintendo Entertainment System's life span. Many gamers didn't stick around to see how the beloved robot fared on the next-generation Super Nintendo. Now those gamers can see what they missed.
Mega Man X Collection brings together Mega Man X 1-6 -- spanning eight years and two consoles -- and the unlockable Mega Man: Battle and Chase racing game, which has never before been released in America. X is a darker, less cartoonish take on the bomber, set 100 years after the original series. The "run sideways and blast anything that moves" formula remains intact, but X pushes the action with faster-paced, more difficult levels.
Capcom has carbon-copied these games to the new consoles, retaining the look and feel almost exactly. Hardcore fans will even notice subtle improvements, such as remixed music and new animations. The always hilarious robot names (Wire Sponge? Flame Stag? Duff McWhalen?) are, endearingly, still lost in translation.
Which isn't to say that the Mega Man X Collection is without fault. By MMX5, the series reaches throw-your-controller difficulty and also finds itself bogged down in an overly ambitious storyline. Unlockables, such as sketch art and the Mario Kart knock-off Battle and Chase, don't add much -- especially since you have to beat the exasperating stages of MMX1-3 just to unlock the subpar racing game. And where Mega Man Anniversary Collection included cool behind-the-scenes tidbits and video interviews with Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, those goodies are sadly absent from this sequel.
Despite some tough-as-nails levels, though, this collection offers six excellent games and untold hours of playtime for around $30. Mega Man X Collection gives the nostalgia craze a good name: There's never been a better time for Capcom's past than the present.