Mega Man ZX (DS) Review
I feel sorry for Mega Man fans. If I were to mention the series vast legacy as part of this intro paragraph, Id likely have enough text to constitute a review in its entirety. One must wonder just how much money youd have to spend if you really were a dedicated Mega Man fan for the past 20 years. I suppose that for children who werent gamers during the NES generation, they might not know that this is the latest installment in such a long running franchise. But in another 20 years time when they purchase yet another sequel, maybe theyll look back and wonder if it was really worth it.
Actually, its not quite the latest installment anyway, thanks to a 1(!) year gap between its Japanese and Australian release. But Im pretty sure theres already articles discussing that kind of thing on Vooks website, so the question for today is whether or not Mega Man ZX is a solid release with enough to make it fun for newcomers and old fans alike.
At the start of Mega Man ZX, you have the option of choosing between two characters, Vent and Aile. Vent is the male hero while Aile is female, and. thats basically the extent of their differences. There may very well be strength/agility differences, but youd be hard pressed to notice them much in the heat of the game. An intro sequence thats a bit too long for my liking then plays out before you get to use your character in a short sequence before the story takes over once again.
The story is nice in that there are some cartoon quality cut-scenes that play out from time to time. The animation is top notch, but the compression required to fit the movies onto a DS card takes its toll, as some artifacts are visible if you look too close. Oddly, the cut-scenes are voiced in their native Japanese and subtitled in English (theres your delay right there!). Whilst fans may appreciate this, Id wager most young children are going to be wondering what on earths being spoken!
Having the nice cut-scenes however makes the rest of the storytelling, done via in-game graphics seem somewhat plain. The on screen text is a bit long to read or skip, and the story nothing special. The story is mostly a means to an end; to set up the action stages.
The human characters start off as somewhat useless because they cannot fire or slash. They do however have the ability to duck and float in water. They are also used in town regions for furthering the story, but theres not much of worth to be said by the non-player characters. Its like a very light RPG mode but doesnt serve a greater purpose other than serving up the story.
The humans become Mega Men by merging with Biometals (basically Mega Man brains in a jar type things) that you collect from defeated enemies. Once they gain the abilities granted by the Biometals, the game feels a lot more like previous Mega Man titles.
Being largely similar to previous Mega Man titles in feel, most would assume the controls and feel of the title would be spot on, and theyd be correct. Either character whips around the environment really quickly and responds perfectly; its quite a joy to run through the levels charging, dashing, shooting or slashing at enemies in quick succession. Longtime fans will feel right at home while new players will easily be running around in no time. The game features a couple of difficulty levels, a welcome change from the notoriously difficult GBA Mega Man Zero series.
While the controls and feel are largely reminiscent of previous titles, the game world itself is structured quite differently. The typical Mega Man game has you choosing a stage/boss and completing it, then the next. Mega Man ZX is structured a lot like a classic Metroid, or a recent Castlevania game. Whilst theres some degree of non-linearity to the old design, the new design is much more open ended. Certain levels and areas are off limits or difficult to pass without first having a particular upgrade.
The way the upgrades are handled is a bit different to those fan favourites however. Rather than getting a single expansion, a new Biometal grants the player with a new suit capable of a variety of new moves. For instance, upon finding the Model HX Biometal, your character is capable of an upwards dash, in-air dash and has a different charge beam. The play experience can feel quite different between upgrades, but still distinctively Mega Man. This results in a larger variety in the game than past releases.
As fans of Metroid and Castlevania will tell you, one of the key components of having an open-ended game design like this is an effective map design. This is where Mega Man XZ falls short. The game is confusing enough to navigate – a single door seemingly transports you across the planet to an icy region! But the map design is virtually useless and makes the process of exploring very tedious. Rather than a grid map showing every room, XZ has more of a region map, showing only the main areas such as A1, B2 etc. From the map screen, its only possible to see which regions are connected to each other, not how to actually get to the other region, because you cant see the locations of the doors between regions! Especially considering the minimal use of the bottom screen, its a real shame they didnt have a proper map and possibly include some touch elements to move around faster.
Getting where you want to go though, is half the fun. The game has some great looking locales with vivid colors bringing the fantastic illustrations to life its about as good as you could hope for in a 2D game these days. The animation of both boss and player characters is well done. Semi-3D (like Mode 7) is used from time to time and gives a nice impression of depth to the characters. The weapons effects are also really nice. That said, while it looks great, its probably not pushing the DS hardware very much at all; you could easily mistake it for one of the earlier GBA titles.
The same could be said of the sound, which is nothing spectacular, but definitely not repulsive. The sound effects for the weapons are varied between the different characters, and serve their purpose well.
ZX has a minor double slot feature if you insert GBA Mega Man Zero 3 or 4 into the DS while playing ZX, bosses from those games will appear throughout ZX. Its a nice addition but doesnt add a whole heap to the game.
When I think back to previous Mega Man games that Ive enjoyed, they dished up a lot more straight action than ZX does. The story progession elements are somewhat RPG like (such as talking to characters in a town), but only slow things down and are boring when compared to the action elements. In that regard, fans of the series might wish this game had less of a focus on the story elements, and more on the action. But, if it did that – would there really be anything separating it from the previous games? It would probably end up just being a level pack with some new graphics and sound. So whilst somewhat flawed in its execution, I have to commend Mega Man XZ for trying to expand the scope of Mega Man games. I do hope that the sequel expands the story/RPG elements to something a bit more substantial than it is here.
Its a shame this game has been delayed for so long. It is difficult to recommend it when one could easily import the sequel in a few weeks. It would be cheaper as well – this games RRP is $79, unacceptable for even the best handheld titles. The main flaw (the poor map) seems to have been fixed for the sequel, so it looks set to be a winner, and much better value. But, we should review the sequel when it comes out in Australia I guess (see you mid 08)!
Mega Man ZX is still worthy game. For fans that must have all the Mega Man titles (well, youve probably already imported XZ a long time ago), its a fun but flawed entry to the series worth a play through or two. For newcomers to the series, its a better starting point than the difficult Mega Man Zero games, with a bit more emphasis on story; so if that is your kind of thing, the XZ series looks to be for you. You might want to keep an eye out for the sequel though, which may be a better game with much better value.