Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Axl, The Little Reploid that Could

Axl, to many, was probably a sign of the inevitable decline of the Mega Man X franchise. Like many TV shows - the introduction of a new younger character is a signal that the series has jumped the shark. Axl definitely fits that bill, as he was introduced into the MMX series as a new playable character. He sported all of the characteristics of a character created in a board meeting, with "rad" spiky hair, and "awesome" duel guns - with the lame hope that younger players might be able to identity with this new youthful Maverick Hunter.

Despite his obvious board room origins, I feel a soft spot for Axl. He at least offered us the first chance to play as another Maverick Hunter. He was over stuffed with new features, like 360 degree aim of fire, hovering, and a copy ability to assume the appearance and powers of enemies. Yet, despite this - he actually flowed into a few games and achieved, for me at least, a level of acceptance alongside X and Zero.

Mega Man X7

This was the MMX series' first transition from 2-D sprite game-play to the still little explored world of 3 Dimensional graphics and environments. The Mega Man Legends series had already braved the waters of a 3D plat-forming Mega Man game - so we knew it was definitely possible. While we can all agree Mega Man is best played in 2-D, this attempt at shoving the X series into 3D came off fairly well. Axl was annoying at first, being the lame rookie Maverick Hunter - and we where denied the ability to even play as X for half the game (he was brooding) - the actual gameplay was not half bad. It wasn't there to win any awards - but that was ok. Level design and fighting enemies might have been average fare for 3D Plat-forming by this time - but it was functional, held up well, and did not fail in giving you a good gaming experience.

As for Axl in the game, his origins where never fully explained. He was essentially breaking away from the Red Alert Syndicate - and joined X and Zero as a Maverick Hunter.

Mega Man X: Command Mission

This game is actually one of my favorites of the X series - as Mega Man took the long awaited plunge into an RPG. The results, for me at least, where spectacular. It not only held up with a fun and different approach to an RPG - but it featured an excellent art direction, with beautiful cell shaded graphics. It wasn't revolutionary by RPG standards - but it stood out as a great RPG - and the best success the first 3D Mega Man RPG could hope for. The game featured many new characters, all of whom added to the experience.

Axl really shined in this game for me, as his unique ability of taking on the enemy's form proved very useful and fun. Whenever you wanted to use this ability, a small mini game would come up - and you'd have to press a sequence of buttons on a button-map to reach the desired copied ability. If you where not quick with the button presses, you could fail to achieve an attack - so it became important to concentrate. I recall being quite good at it - and using all of the powerful attacks Axl could unleash.

Axl also had a small story arch in this game, as the area they where in possibly held information about his origins and his copy ability. It didn't go very far, and didn't answer many questions. One of your new allies, though, turned out to be using a copy ability in disguise - being revealed half way through the game as the big enemy. So in that regard Axl's story did help weave the game together in a more meaningful way.

Mega Man X8

Since X7 might not have sold as well, Capcom decided to scale back on the 3D gameplay and try and create a hybrid of 2D action using 3D graphics. The result was a complete and utter mess. Technicolor graphics seared the eyes - with levels trying to aspire to uniqueness, but failing miserably in execution. There's a reason this was the last of the Mega Man X games.

Capcom learned their lesson about Axl from MM7, and focused the story line away from Axl. The only big revelation about his origins was that he was a prototype for a new version of reploid - able to assume the form and powers of any other robot. For some reason, this made reploids immune to the Sigma Virus - supposedly making them free from going Maverick. Not surprisingly, this did not work out - as this new generation of reploids where taken over by Sigma - enabling him to create an army of himself. The game ends with Axl supposedly being fatally shot. He shows signs of life, but Capcom at least gave themselves a way out of having to use Axl again. Too bad the game sucked so much - a sequel simply wasn't going to happen.

Mega Man X Advent

I actually avoided this game for a good long while, and only recently decided to buy it. (I got it for $13 at Gamestop) This game took the ZX series in a wild new direction, seemingly throwing out the previous characters of Vent and Aile, in place of new characters Grey and Ashe. These new protagonists come into possession of the Model A Biometal, giving them the powers of Axl. I'm sure many gamers where left scratching their heads, wondering why Axl, of all characters, was being given such a high profile return. Luckily it didn't turn out that bad, and in fact was perfect for the ZX formula. In standard mode Model A allows you to fire a normal gun, but also gives you a great new weapon, a scanning gun - which allows you to scan the field of enemies, lock on to them, and fire on them all at once. I think it's quite inventive. But here's where Axl's powers really come into play - as his copy ability to used so you can take on the form of any boss you defeat. This not only opens up the gameplay to a larger set of abilities - but expands on the Model switching the ZX series has based it's self upon. Axl's powers of coping just seem too perfect for this exact type of game.

The story of ZX is confusing, and it's called into question who Model A really is - as it's apparently based after the sage Albert, even though it's clearly based on Axl. The Biometal might not have any connection to Axl, as a character, but I like that his template has at least proved somewhat useful to Capcom after all these years.

Axl might have been the young child introduced that made the MMX series jump the shark - and he might also be completely corporately invented. But he's sort of like the little engine that could - he keep on chugging along, despite the set backs.

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