Capcom's Mega Man has been spun through a number of versions in his long and illustrious career. Most recently, he's been making the rounds as X, a sentient robot (or reploid, in the series' parlance) who fights ceaselessly against the threat posed by rogue reploids, called mavericks. This time around, X eschews the usual action-based run-and-shoot gameplay of the Mega Man X series for a turn-based role-playing game in Mega Man X: Command Mission. We were recently able to put in some quality time with both US versions of the game (on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube) to get a sense of how X's latest adventure has been coming along. The brave hero and his stalwart companions manage the genre transition well thanks to an interesting, intuitive, and distinctive battle system that serves to incorporate the feel of the Mega Man action that so many know and love.
While familiar faces will be present during X's mission in the form of old friends Zero and Axl, some new reploid companions have also been rolled into the fray to join up with the blue bomber on his travels. There's Spider, the seemingly callous bounty hunter who initially stalks X, until the two unite around a common goal. A snappy dresser in a wide-brimmed hat, Spider brings to battle a self-assured air as well as a deadly assortment of cards with which to battle his foes. The hulking Steel Massimo, by contrast, is not nearly so confident, despite his imposing frame and thick battle armor. However, while on his journeys with X, he soon finds his mettle and becomes quite a formidable companion. The wily Marino is ninja-quick and indispensable when you need damage dealt quickly; she may be a thief, but she's a skilled one, so her abilities are a real asset. The angelic Cinnamon rounds out the group with her own special skills, which include not only healing capabilities, but also a unique power to improve special items, called "force metals," which can augment the characters' health, attack types, immunities against status disorders, and much more.
Battle in Mega Man X: Command Mission is randomly triggered while you're traversing the various towers, ruins, laboratories, and other environments you'll come across along the way. The fights are turn-based according to individual character speed, with your fastest foes and allies having their turns soonest. A long graph along the bottom of the screen shows what order the characters will move in, as well as their relative HP. When it's your turn to act, you have a wide selection of options available to you. You can attack outright with your main weapon, or you can soften your enemies up first by blasting them with what are called subweapons. Each character can equip up to two subweapons at a time, and the types of available subweapons range from simple missiles to special attacks that allow you to strike an enemy's shields, steal some extra currency, or boost your own attack power. Depending on the amount of energy you've got stored in your weapon energy meter, you can many times use each of your two subweapons and then follow them immediately with your main attack--in the same turn--to pack a big punch.
Each character also has his or her own selection of what are called action triggers, which are special attacks designed to use all of a character's weapon energy in a sudden burst. For example, X has an action trigger called charge shot that will damage all enemies onscreen; Spider will deal a hand of poker and then deal damage based on how the cards fall; Marino has a slot machine-type of trigger that can inflict various types of damage on enemies; and so on and so forth. Many action triggers require a bit of coordination and are often risky to attempt, but the payoff can be large. In addition, each of the reploids has an ability called hyper mode that he or she can call on for a limited number of turns. Hyper mode increases all of a character's attributes, it often gives him or her a sizable HP bonus, and it changes his or her outward appearance. Robots in hyper mode are generally power machines that come in very handy for the boss battles you'll encounter, though once the set number of turns has elapsed, that character will not be able to enter hyper mode again until he or she has rested or has used a special item.
You can also polish enemies off decisively using something called a final strike, which is enabled if you've gotten a particular foe down to a certain fraction of his or her health in a single turn. At that time, a final strike meter will appear at the top of the screen. Hitting the action button will give you a set amount of time to attack, and then it's a matter of mashing buttons and causing all of your allies onscreen to let loose with a ridiculous assault of firepower. An enemy subject to a final strike is an enemy killed to satisfying excess. At the end of battle, all your allies will receive experience points, regardless of whether or not they've participated in the fighting. And during battle, you also have the option to quick-switch your fighting party members with any that you may have in reserve--without losing a turn--à la Final Fantasy X.
X and his friends, as well as the other characters in the game, all sport a clean, cartoon look with bold lines and bright colors to them, bringing the robot congregation to life. Suitably impressive and stylized are the bosses of each scenario in the game, who follow the fine Mega Man tradition of being unique both in appearance and in their battle abilities. The various environments and characters both show a good amount of detail, from the stylish body armor on many of the robots, to the various forested, crumbling, and industrial areas you'll visit. The visuals in the GameCube version of this game do tend to be sharper than in the PlayStation 2 version, with little to no other differences to speak of in other areas. The game's sound is of good quality, accurately delivering all the blaster fire, missile explosions, plasma sword sweeps, and metal-crunching sounds of defeated foes. The English voice work that's delivered is perfectly serviceable, and the music is energetic without being grating.
With its adaptable battle system and capable stable of characters, it seems like fans of X, Zero, and general robot mayhem would do well to watch this title. Mega Man X: Command Mission looks to be shaping up nicely for its release on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 consoles later this fall, so be sure to check out GameSpot, because we'll have more coverage of this game as its release date approaches.