The Mega Man X series hasn't changed much in the past several years. The PlayStation version of its latest incarnation - Mega Man X5 - doesn't buck the trend, either. Fans of the series and fans of tried-and-true 2D-action/platform gameplay should be quite pleased.
The story behind the Mega Man X5 is most apocalyptic. In short, a space colony has been knocked off orbit during a climactic battle and is now hurtling toward Earth. It's up to Hunters X and Zero to find a weapon either capable of knocking the colony back into orbit, or destroying it altogether. The enigma beam is the weapon our heroes seek, and its component parts are scattered throughout the domains of a gang of surly, evil androids who aren't into the idea of giving them up. Mega Man and Zero will have 16 hours to accomplish their task, before all hell rains down upon the Earth. The imposed time limit has a tangible effect on the game; the faster you complete the missions, the better of an ending you'll garner.
The Mega Man formula is fully intact in X5. The game will have you traversing the various holdings of each evil android, respectively besting them, and inheriting their powers. All the androids' stages are reachable through the traditional hub, and you can visit them in whatever order you choose. To mix things up, short events often take place between missions. Early in the game, a mysterious android named Dynamo will attack the Hunters' base, triggering an impromptu boss battle. The actual gameplay has also stayed faithful to the Mega Man roots. Each of the stages features ledges, ridges, and many other platform conventions, not to mention throngs of enemies that attack in maddening patterns. At the end of each stage, you must do battle with the boss of the domain. Each boss features a special attack, a version of which you inherit after defeating him. The trick to the bosses - and, basically, every enemy in the game - is to become accustomed to the their attack pattern and then attack them when they are most vulnerable.
The series' host of amusingly designed characters returns in X5. You'll be able to play as either Mega Man X or Hunter Zero. Each character is unique in both design and gameplay style. Longtime fans will no doubt be familiar with Mega Man and Zero's controls, as X5 presents no new spins on the standard Mega Man layout. Mega Man is armed with his token mega buster - an energy gun attached to his arm, which he can power up by holding down the fire button. Zero is armed with a plasma sword with which he can execute powerful three-hit combos. Both characters can make use of the power-ups gained from fallen bosses, though their properties will differ for each. Both Mega Man and Zero can execute a dash from which they can launch long jumps. As far as unique abilities go, Mega Man is blessed with the ability to float in midair for a few seconds at a time, while Zero has access to a less powerful ranged attack.
Graphically, the game carries the stylistic torch handed to it by its predecessors well. The character designs are classic Mega Man, and the evil androids - called Mavericks - are quite amusingly drawn. The sprites are fairly well sized, which gives the game a tangible, cartoony feel. Fans of 2D game art will be reminded just how much of a solid grasp that Capcom has on the medium.
From everything we've seen, Mega Man could very well be a faithful return to the classic Mega Man formula that has made Capcom's blue-suited mascot popular enough to spawn legions of games. Mega Man X5 is set to be released in January of next year.