This trend of telling more mature stories coupled with evolutionary steps in the gameplay helped the series transition to the PlayStation. In an era where many major series made the jump to three dimensions (some more successfully than others), Mega Man X stuck firmly to its side-scrolling roots, producing beautiful 2D graphics with Mega Man X4, X5, and X6. X4 provided full, separately playable stories for X and Zero, complete with different animated cutscenes and boss encounters. X5 radically changed the trajectory of the story with an asteroid wiping out most human life on Earth. X6, for the first time ever, featured a main villain other than the iconic Sigma.
At no time did the series stray from its "run, jump, shoot" 16-bit roots, but the developments of a persistent supporting cast, a stronger focus on story, and the introduction and resolution of multi-game story arcs kept gamers coming back for more in numbers respectable enough to justify future installments. During this time, two GameBoy Color installments came out as well - Mega Man Xtreme and Mega Man Xtreme 2. Despite their Xtreme-ly silly names and recycled content, they told entirely new stories and were perfect for a Mega Man X fix on the go.
Arguably the biggest misstep for the series occurred in 2003 with the release of Mega Man X7 for the PlayStation 2. After having resisted 3D technology for almost a decade, Capcom decided to bring X and company into the third dimension. The results were not encouraging: impossible camera angles coupled with sloppy level design and an annoying new playable hero named Axl irked longtime fans and did little to entice newcomers. Although the Blade Runner-inspired storyline and Axl's enemy-copying mechanics were novel, neither could save the game from irritated fans and critics. Luckily, Capcom apologized the following year with Command Mission, a full-length turn-based RPG starring X, Zero, and Axl, and Mega Man X8, a 2D side-scroller with strong gameplay, a great story, and attractive 3D characters and backgrounds.
Since 2004, the series has been silent except for remakes and re-releases. This is too bad, as Mega Man X provides a wonderful example of a game series that successfully grew with its audience and took its fans to heart. When Zero gained popularity, he became a playable character. When Sigma's plots became tired and overused, Capcom introduced new villains (and, more occasionally, new final bosses). Most importantly, as its audience grew up, the storyline evolved - but never changed drastically - from a story of robot rebellion to an eleven-game-long saga involving the end of the world and the fate of humanity. In a nutshell, the reason why Mega Man X has remained so popular, despite its better-reviewed Zero and ZX counterparts and occasional rough patches, is because it has adapted to the changing sensibilities of the players.
With the releases of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, Capcom has shown an interest in keeping its venerable properties alive and relevant. Could there be hope for Mega Man X? Both Maverick Hunter X and the Mega Man X Collection received good reviews and showed that the gaming community is still invested in the X series. On April 18, 2011, Mega Man X graced the Wii's Virtual Console in North America. After a cliffhanger ending in X8, could Capcom finally be prepping the Reploid for a return?
A new life for the Mega Man X series possesses great risks as well as great possibilities. We can only hope for the best.
Like Mega Man X, Marshall Honorof traded his arm for a blaster cannon long ago. He continues the fight against evil robots at http://chronologynut.tumblr.com.