With its release in September of 2002, Mega Man Zero brought about a new era of classic Capcom sidescrollers on Nintendo handhelds. At the time, fans knew the Mega Man franchise only as its evolved form, taking shape as an action role-playing game by the name of Mega Man Battle Network. While the series was an accepted design morph from the original style of the license, the Battle Network series couldn't (and didn't attempt to) offer the same "guns blazing" action that fans fell in love with on the NES, and later on the Super Nintendo. With Mega Man Zero hitting the system, however, the franchise was once again reborn, as the gameplay (centered around the legendary Zero hunter) was extremely reminiscent of the X series so many years before it. Now, much like Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Mega Man is again making a system leap to the innovative DS hardware, as Mega Man ZX is born.
Anyone already used to the classic Mega Man X or Mega Man Zero franchises from both Super NES and GBA will feel right at home when jumping into ZX. As the next step in sidescrolling evolution, ZX puts players in the role of a young Maverick hunter that is, for the first time ever, human. Using a newfound technology, the world has allowed humans to equip artificial intelligence based on legendary Maverick hunters simply by acquiring the essence of that model, known as a biometal. With the aid of biometals, any "accepted" human can work with the model in tandem, using it as a mechanical suit capable of doing battle with even the most powerful Maverick robots. The main story follows either a male or female lead who, quite unexpectedly, has been recruited to help fend off robots (or "reploids") from the once peaceful world of Neo Arcadia. With the help of the legendary X and Zero models, the protagonist must embark on a quest to regain (and combine) the powers of other legendary X models in hopes to once again restore peace to the land. Same old story, all new gameplay.
Since Mega Man ZX is the next evolution of the Mega Man Zero franchise, a necessary gameplay twist has been added. Rather than simply controlling a single Mega Man unit and acquiring powers, players will actually gain new biometals, allowing them to transform into more than five totally unique X units at any time. More information on these models can be found in our Model Profile. Each model is based around the classic X robot, with added functionality such as air dashing, water dashing, radar abilities, or steer-able bullets. Since this is the first opportunity to combine X with multiple other hunters, the gameplay twist will take some getting used to, as players will need to use each X model depending on the situation. Even still, we're very pleased with how diverse each of the characters are, and have found a ton of success when using each Mega Man unit as part of a team.
When it comes to the overall presentation of the game, however, Mega Man ZX is a bit lacking, and feels like it may have been a GBA game up-converted to DS (though the visual style has seen a significant boost, and there are a few basic touch-enabled functions). All of the action takes place on the top screen, with the bottom screen used for any model-specific attacks and abilities, some using touch, others using it as an additional screen only. With a few of the characters, such as model FX and HX, the bottom screen is used to tweak offensive capabilities or search areas for additional items via a mini-map. When in human form or model ZX (the evolved version of Zero), however, the bottom screen is actually left blank, showing only a blue screen with some text and logos on it. While we aren't suggesting that every model must include touch implementation or a secondary function that isn't integral to the game, something as simple as displaying the inventory or status screen on the bottom would have been nice to fill the void. The visuals and audio have received a relatively nice boost, but from strictly a presentation standpoint the game still feels like GBA 1.5 rather than a full jump to DS.
That being said, the gameplay in Mega Man ZX is as dead on as it has ever been, with the only possible setback being in the human-controlled town navigation. Since Mega Man ZX is worked around a human storyline with the X models as the means for battle, there are a few key moments when town navigation and human-to-human interaction is a necessity, and that may turn off a few less patient gamers out there. Even still, town sections are usually handled only a few minutes at a time, with the mission-based gameplay taking a definite front seat to the story, and when Mega Man ZX hits, it hits hard. Gameplay is fast, fluid, and full of fury, delivering the same larger than life boss battles and truly inspired level design as the previous games. In addition, the team included older enemies and areas from the previous Zero and X games, so players will not only be doing battle with familiar control, but also in familiar areas. For players that want to be as punished as they were with the original Mega Man Zero, a hard mode has been included. For all you newbies out there, however, the easy mode will be right up your ally, allowing virtually any level of player to get as much as possible out of the game without the need for a bubble-wrapped DS Lite. We've played version after version of Mega Man Zero, and ZX is truly the first game that we feel has a level for everyone, as the hard mode is amazingly difficult, while selecting "easy" is just that.
Oh, and did we mention the game is simply beautiful? Combining the same 2D style as previous games with a far stronger effects ensemble, Mega Man ZX has a great visual look, especially when played on the shockingly bright DS Lite screens. In addition to the expected graphical leaps of rain layers, shattering lighting, and multiple parallax backgrounds that shift with every movement, Mega Man ZX also helps increase the production value by including animated shorts to help tell the story. Unfortunately, the clips are still shown with Japanese audio and written English subtitles, but the average player won't pay it a moment's notice after the initial "huh?" factor. The animation both in-video and out is crisp and visually filling, and the environments are as inspired as the original Mega Man X levels. The audio delivery is just as crisp and reminiscent to its predecessors as the GBA versions, and still has the sound production necessary to take players back to that first level on Super NES. A few audio samples were included in the mix as well, though the bulk of the voice acting will be found in the animated shorts (which, as we added, are in Japanese).
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