Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mega Man X: A Prime Example of Video Game Boss Design

I'd like to take a moment to appreciate how great the boss design in the Mega Man X series is.

The X series replaces the robot masters from the classic Mega Man series with animal themed variants, this time labeled "Mavericks," or "Irregulars" as they were called in the original Japanese release. Their role remains the same as the classic robot masters; robots created to do good, usually a civil service of some sort, such as city maintenance or environmental upkeep, that have since decided to use their special abilities to wage war on humans instead. This time around the bosses have been infected by "The Maverick Virus," which causes their perception to become twisted and effectively drives them insane.

The "Roboenza" virus infecting robots one hundred years earlier, during the plot of Mega Man 10. Whether it be literally or figuratively, the virus was a precursor to what was to come once Mega Man X and the robots based on his design came into the picture a century later.
I've always found this concept extremely appealing, as there is a universal appeal in the concept of personal skills being used for the wrong reasons - at the risk of applying too much grandiosity to Capcom's story, it's an age old narrative, going all the way back to literary classics such as Paradise Lost, where the devil uses his God given gifts for reasons that go against his creator's intentions and ultimately becomes evil and twisted, taking several of God's angels with him. The idea of twisted intent is often one of the narrative avenues used to explore the concept of evil and how and why it can possibly exist, and, despite being very simplified in the Mega Man series, is still very much present and takes the forefront in the series' narrative. Sigma, the former leader of the fight against the Mavericks, becomes infected with the virus himself, and not only joins the other side but becomes its leader, organizing the Mavericks in a way that makes them much more of a threat than they ever were before. It's the fall from grace aspect of this story that's appealing, and the X storyline even adds in an inverse example with Zero, the progenitor of the Maverick Virus, who himself ends up fighting for the good guys instead.

Sigma as the leader of the "Maverick Hunters," an organization formed to bring peace back to the world by eradicating those infected with the virus.

Sigma as the leader of the Maverick Rebellion, having switched sides and become public enemy number one.

The designs aren't only effective from a narrative standpoint. They function very well as a gameplay mechanic, and have an appealing futuristic visual aesthetic. Here are a number of reasons the Mavericks from Mega Man X are effective:

  1. They're simple enough to be memorable, but striking enough to be unique. Much like how old chiptunes used a limited set of sounds to create something iconic, they work with a very simple concept and make it brim with personality.
  2. They all have their own unique stages and stage music, adding to their personality.
  3. Each of them require a unique strategy to take down, whether you use their weaknesses or not.
  4. On the same note, they play directly off of one another with each Maverick being weak to another Maverick's weapon, giving them all a sense of connectivity.
  5. They're extremely formulaic and manage to remain unique despite, and I would say even because of, this reason. You always wonder what element/animal combination will be next, what kind of design they'll have, what their abilities will be, what their stage will be like, etc. It's a very basic formula with almost infinite potential (much like X himself).

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the bosses in any Mega Man game are the game's main appeal, as even the ordinary gameplay takes place in a stage designed specifically for that character. The Mavericks of Mega Man X, of course, are no exception.

Here are three of my favorite Maverick designs from the series, which I feel highlight the different facets of their appeal very well.

Infinity Mijinion

This is a flea. A flea. Yet they managed to make his design extremely visually striking, with the neon green fluid visible beneath his translucent exterior being the most notable aspect of his design. His personality is that of a mad scientist, one of my favorite tropes, and his music is a total ripoff of The Final Countdown, but that's ok, because it sounds amazing. This is one of the more complex concepts for a Maverick design in the series, and I feel it highlights the creativity that these robots can display very well. As an aside, the reason his name sounds so bizarre is that Capcom went with the Japanese naming convention for Mavericks in Mega Man X6, which often add a much more artistic flair to the names than their localized counterparts. If Mijinion's name had been translated the same way as the Mavericks from the previous games, he would have likely been called "Infinity Flea."

Chill Penguin

Simplicity at its finest. He's a robot penguin. That's all he needs to be. He's not "cool", unless you count the nature of his abilities, but his design is memorable nonetheless. The little touches like the pipe on his back, or the lights on his chest resembling buttons on a suit, are what complete this character design. To give a little more insight into the difference in naming conventions between the original Japanese and the localized Western games, Chill Penguin's Japanese name was "Icy Penguigo."

Spiral Pegasus/The Skiver

One of the X series' only attempts to delve into mythology instead of basing the design off of a real life animal, Spiral Pegasus not only has a really cool name, but a very noble and almost heroic design. His story has him as one of the few remnants of Repliforce from the aftermath of X4, and it's hinted he wants revenge for his unit rather than him being a typical infected Maverick, although I believe he does become infected if you fight him later in the game. He's a break from the more grounded designs in the series, following Magma Dragoon from X4, although I think his design is much more cohesive than Dragoon's. Again, it's relatively simple, but the colors stand out - the red highlights work well with the white and gold plating and blue gems to create a design that feels very military, calling to mind the image of the fancy epaulets and trim that you might see on a uniform, which works well for his position as a member of an air force unit. Pegasus once again represents a change in naming conventions for the series, as an employee of Capcom USA saw fit to translate the names of the Mavericks in Mega Man X5 as homages to members of the band Guns N' Roses for some bizarre reason. His Japanese name was "Spiral Pegacion," where his English name is "The Skiver"; had it been translated properly, it would have been "Spiral Pegasus."

These are only a few of the myriad amount of these designs that the X series features, and that's to say nothing of the other robots in the series that have more human looking designs, all of which are equally memorable to the Mavericks. For a series based around robots, Capcom sure nailed their aesthetics on every level.

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