Released on: April 26 2002 (GBA), February 25 2020 (Legacy Collection)
Available Platforms: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS (Zero Collection), Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC (Zero/ZX Legacy Collection)
Price: $39.99 CDN ($29.99 US)
From my previous reviews of Mega Man X and 20XX, it is safe to assume that I am a fan of action-platformer games. The adrenaline rush given by the first time playing the game, and the satisfaction of knowing a challenging game has been mastered upon repeated playthroughs always entices me. Since I was a fan of the Mega Man games, even in my youth, I eagerly anticipated trying out Mega Man Zero. After all, it was a game starring my favorite Mega Man character. I remember loving this game as a kid, and now, with the release of the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection, I thought it would be an opportune time to revisit Mega Man Zero. Is Mega Man Zero as excellent as I remember?
Mega Man Zero opens with a lady named Ciel and her guards running for dear life. Her companions drop like flies. They are no match for the onslaught of evil Reploids. Suddenly, they found him; sitting in the middle of a Reploid disposal room. He is alone, deactivated, and protected by a mysterious barrier. The evil Reploids close in on Ciel, who now has no means of defense. Her fairy-like friend Pansy (that the game describes as a Cyber-Elf), sacrifices herself to lend Ciel her powers and breaks open the barrier. The mysterious Reploid is freed and revived. It truly is the Reploid of legend… Zero (the player). When I first played Mega Man Zero way back in the day, I did not appreciate how fantastic this opening is. It makes the player feel like they are a living legend. What the typical soldier fears as an insurmountable threat, the player tackles like it’s their day-job.
The Mega Man series and heart-pounding music go together like peas in a pod. Mega Man Zero continues that impressive streak. When Zero wakes from his deep slumber, a remix of his theme from Mega Man X plays, perfectly emphasizing his return. The stages have catchy tunes, the pre-boss theme is haunting, letting the player know what kind of threat they are dealing with, and the boss battle theme is a wonderful mix of intimidating and high energy. Listening to these tracks on their own invokes a sense of purpose and determination.
The presentation of Mega Man Zero is endearing. The art style of the promotional art and the character portraits are unique and appealing. Despite having huge anime eyes, the characters all have a serious look to them, perfectly conveying the magnitude of their situation. The in-game graphics are vivid and vibrant. There can be a lot of enemies on screen, so being able to see oncoming threats is crucial. The bosses all have marvelous character designs. Zero got redesigned for Mega Man Zero, and he looks cool too. It isn’t easy to make a dystopian world colorful, but Mega Man Zero pulls it off beautifully.
What stayed predominantly in my mind was Mega Man Zero’s gameplay. At the beginning of the game, Zero has a blaster and his Z-Saber. These weapons are puny at the start, but as the player uses them, they level up. A more powerful blaster means Zero can fire more bullets at once, charge it longer, etc. The same goes for his Z-Saber. Later on, Zero gets the Triple Rod and the Shield Boomerang. The Triple Rod allows Zero to attack in eight directions. What I recently discovered with the Triple Rod is the ability to jump off of enemies’ heads when Zero uses it to attack straight down while in mid-air. The jumping off of enemies technique alone made a lot of encounters much more manageable. The Shield Boomerang protects Zero from ranged attacks. It even bounces bullets back at foes. After holding his shield out for a bit, Zero can throw his shield like a boomerang, hence the name. The player can select two weapons at once. What I found remarkable is how well the weapons synergize with one another. If the player wants to get up close to the enemy exclusively, they can use the Z-Saber with the Triple Rod. Need protection and mobility? Why not use the Shield Boomerang with either the blaster or the Z-Saber? There are so many creative ways to overcome an obstacle in Mega Man Zero, and finding the optimal solution to each is exhilarating.
Just like classic Mega Man games, bosses all have their weaknesses. In Mega Man Zero, the player can select what element their weapon’s charged attack will have. There are three elements: thunder, fire, and ice. Most bosses are immune to one element, receive neutral damage from a second, and are weak to a third. Figuring out boss weaknesses was always a vital part of Mega Man games, and Mega Man Zero is no exception.
A word of warning for first-time players: Mega Man Zero is brutal. Watching someone play does not do justice to how difficult the game is. Even when the player finds the boss’ weakness, they still have to outmaneuver them, which is easier said than done. Some bosses have no discernable weakness, meaning the player has to beat the boss the old fashioned way. Even the stages themselves can pose quite a challenge. One stage, in particular, has Reploids that carry pallets of wood that the player has to jump on. They can hop off and find hidden goodies, but the Reploids aren’t visible until the player lowers themselves far enough to see them, which is easy to fall into a bottomless pit if they go too far. It is worth noting that the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection has an option called Save-Assist that places checkpoints in much more favorable areas. Save-Assist also makes it so that players don’t lose lives, meaning they don’t have to worry about failing a mission and starting over from the beginning.)
One thing I did notice with Mega Man Zero is that they reuse some of the stages. The aforementioned wood carrying reploid stage pops up twice, and I distinctly remember going through the desert stage at least three times. I understand that the Game Boy Advance cartridges were limited, but the reuse of stages became apparent early in the game.
Mega Man Zero is an absolute blast for those up to the challenge. An incredible story, rewarding gameplay, and intense presentation make Mega Man Zero easy to recommend for those looking for a high-octane, action-packed experience.