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Capcom creates or reinvents a series every blue moon or so; it needs to, because even the non-Madden masses get tired of the same thing over and over again. We saw this on the GameCube with the excellent Viewtiful Joe and the resplendent Resident Evil 4. Mega Man hasnít been so lucky in recent years; each attempted console spinoff seemed to putter out before it could gather enough steam for a sequel. Two compilations further reminded us of the Blue Bomber's former respectability. The handheld Mega Men seemed to fare better, as both the Battle Network and the Zero series had a few sequels. The latter seems to be the first to really evolve onto a full-fledged DS title, and it takes form in Mega Man ZX. While it's not the sort of leap that one would hope an entirely new series would make, the potential for a decent series is certainly here.
The most notable non-leap from Mega Man Zero is the apparent lack of a substantial graphical upgrade. Sprites are a bit more detailed and a bit more colorful than a SNES game, with a few subtle, but shiny effects are put to good use. The designs for levels and characters are well above-average, and the game is pretty overall. Yet, games can still be easy on the eyes and look dated at the same time. Besides a few cool fully-animated anime-styled cut-scenes, that pretty much sums up ZX.
Sound is often an overlooked facet in gaming. Realistic sound effects and a compelling score can vastly improve player immersion. Yet, with a sidescrolling shooter set in a futuristic world on a handheld, it seems like audio takes a backseat to the rest of the presentation. Without any voice acting to speak of, all we're left with are the standard grunts of the main character, explosions and average music. It's arguable that the whole of the Mega Man series hasn't had memorable music for almost a decade, so players will most likely not miss the exclusion of a AAA aural experience.
Mega Man ZX takes place a hundred years after the X series, and X and Zero are long gone. The world has been at peace for some time, but it wouldnít be much of a game without some sort of malevolent force about to muck it up. This is where Vent and Aile come in, a boy and girl selectable at the start, who come upon the special machines called biometals, two of which seem to have the spirits of X and Zero within. They attach themselves to our hero or heroine and then the adventure to defeat evil once again begins.
While the general run/jump/shoot gameplay of Mega Man is present, the eight separate bosses and respective levels motif has been removed. In its place is an entirely continuous world in the vein of Metroid and Castlevania. This means that instead of simply picking a level to conquer, the player will have to hoof it there himself (or use one of the numerous transport stations). Yet gamers won't be looking to the bottom screen for a handy map; the only one available is in the menu. The web of nondescript blocks depicting different areas is terribly limiting compared to the detailed replicas in other games of this nature.
Several different forms are available to help the journey from place to place. They are attained by receiving one or more biometals from a defeated boss. Besides the ZX form received at the start, other forms increase mobility, agility, firepower or enhance swimming. Even more interesting is the ability to change into a regular old humans. While useless in battle, not only are humans the only ones who can actually duck and crawl-- which may be a first for the series-- they are also the sole form able to talk to humans without totally freaking them out. While itís probable that many readers would welcome a conversation with a cyborg, it's an interesting feature that unfortunately never really goes anywhere.
The gameplay remains rock-solid, with great level designs and fun boss battles, but unlike Castlevania and Metroid, there isn't any sort of tangible connection between the worlds. Part of this is due to the fact that new powers and biometals are hardly ever used to enter new areas; every few missions a new key is dispatched, which is used on a respective door. Missing is the sense of wonder and excitement as in Castlevania, where getting a new power-- like being able to transform into a bat-- sends the mind reeling through all the unreachable areas that were unaccessible before and are now attainable. Instead, players will find themselves simply trying to remember where that one door was. After a while, the search for these often-lone doors becomes more of an automated trek than an easter egg hunt.
Bosses offer some incentive for hardcore fans to get a better ranking, but more casual players probably won't be bothered by the seemingly meager reward. Another cool addition that probably only appeals to enthusiasts is the featured connectivity between ZX, Zero 3 and 4. By putting one of the GBA games into the corresponding port in the DS with ZX in it, bosses from those respective games are unlocked. Nothing spectacular, but it's good to see Capcom catering to the crowd that is really carrying these games.
Mega Man ZX should definitely be on the list of any fan of the series, though those who arenít keen on the Blue Bomber won't find anything here. Most of the new features don't seem to add a whole lot to the overall gameplay and end up seeming like wasted potential. Despite that, ZX is really just fun, and what else can we ask of Mega Man besides aiming for better things?
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