If you've been introduced or re-introduced to Mega Man and Mega Man X through the Mega Man and Mega Man X Legacy Collections, you might've found yourself impressed at how well some of the games still stand up. Not all of them, Lord knows, but titles like Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3, and Mega Man X still deserve their spot at the pinnacle of the platforming pantheon.
The aughts gave us the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, and the GameCube, which spawned some excellent 3D adventures and in turn made console-based 2D platformers less popular. Luckily, genre veterans like Mega Man fell on the glorious cushions of the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS.The Game Boy Advance gave us the notoriously difficult Mega Man Zero series, while the Nintendo DS saw the rise of a new world and new protagonists in the Mega Man ZX series. Nintendo's attention to GBA and DS emulation has been a bit iffy over the years, so it's not easy to find the Zero and ZX games.
Capcom's Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is a very welcome round-up of some of portable gaming's most enjoyable platformers. The emulation of the games-Mega Man Zero through Zero 4, plus Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX Advent-is solid, and the tiny Game Boy Advance sprites look as good as they possibly can on an HDTV. Plus, the Collection has some pretty cool extras-though Capcom could've gone a little further in that department.
The Mega Man Zero series has tons of die-hard fans after all these years of near obscurity. The games' tight controls, oft-brutal challenge, and gloomy story cultivates a following that's been very excited about Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection since it was announced last August. This might be controversial, but I personally feel like the first Mega Man Zero title is a rough start for Zero's chain of solo adventures. Its penalties for failure are enormous, plus you're dinged for using power-ups that Zero collects for the explicit purpose of making your life easier. While the Mega Man ZX games aren't as beloved as Mega Man Zero, they've still earned accolades for their pretty graphics and character transformation gimmicks. The Mega Man ZX series also awards exploration more than any other Mega Man series outside of Legends, though said exploration is never as in-depth as what you'd find in a Metroidvania game.
Options to Make Your Maverick Hunts a Little Easier
Capcom clearly adjusted nuts and bolts with each new installment-Mega Man Zero 4 is the most polished Zero entry, and, in my opinion, the most fun-but diving into Mega Man Zero again made me glad for Zero/ZX Legacy Collection's difficulty options. First, there's a generalized checkpoint feature in each game called "Save Assist" that seeds checkpoints at regular intervals in each level. When you die, you're chucked back to the last checkpoint you triggered. Second, each game has a "casual" mode. The perks of this mode is tailored for each individual game, but you can basically expect to be fully powered-up with max sub-tanks, max power-ups, max Cyber Elves (each of which provides a temporary or permanent benefit), and so on.
Casual mode might prove to be overkill for many fans. It bleeds most of the challenge from even the most brutal moments in the Mega Man Zero games. It's not impossible to die in casual mode, but you have to work at it. That said, Casual mode is ideal for breezing through the games and absorbing the story. (Yes, there's a story to follow in the Mega Man Zero/ZX games, and it's quite enjoyable despite some rough translation in parts. The Zero games follow a narrative thread, and the ZX games tie directly into that thread.)
If you're looking for a decent challenge out of Zero/ZX Collection, but don't have time to get your ass kicked, the checkpoints lessen the games' bite to a reasonable degree. They're especially valuable in Mega Man Zero, where losing all your lives during some missions forces you to abort said missions and leave behind valuable power-ups. You can turn Save Assist on and off whenever you like, but if you start a new game on Casual mode, you're stuck with the setting for the entire game.
The options for adjusting difficulty in Zero/ZX Collection is good, but they could be a little better. A rewind option, like the one we have in Mega Man Legacy Collection, certainly wouldn't be amiss.
Extras to Enjoy When You Need a Break From the Hunt
Zero/ZX Collection also includes an art gallery with some nice clear scans of rare artwork in addition to a music player. Earlier this month, I noted Capcom really could've gone the extra mile by translating some lore-rich supplemental materials that never made it Westward. That's simply a distant dream. Zero/ZX Collection's extras are good overall-though being an extreme Mega Man nerd, I did notice the absence of some favorite pieces.
There's a new gameplay mode called "Z-Chaser" that lets you rip through select game stages as quickly as you can. You can compete with a pal, or with the world in general via leaderboards/ghost characters. Happily, the servers for Z-Chaser mode were turned on for the review period. Unhappily, I am not a speedrunning prodigy and I was destroyed even though my competition was slim pickings. I gave up on Z-Chaser quickly, but I've no doubt the more competitive Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX fans out there will have a ball.
As per usual with retro collections, Zero/ZX Collection has a selection of screen options, including filters and borders. For some reason the game defaults to the anti-aliased sprites option. The anti-aliased sprites aren't the most hideous-looking things in the world, but you might want to turn the filter off and let your characters show off every single naked pixel. Such shame. Such beautiful, beautiful shame.
Finally, when Mega Man Zero 3 first arrived in Japan, Capcom and Inti Creates released GBA e-Reader cards that add fun extras to the Resistance's base-cats, plants, and the like. Obviously the e-Reader is dead, but you can still "earn" the cards as you play through the Collection and activate them whenever you want. Behold! Cats!
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is well-built despite a missed opportunity for true greatness here and there. Its options are generally good, its extras are likewise good, and Z-Chaser is a fun addition-even if I suck exhaust pipe when it's time to rise to the challenge. Still, a rewind function would be super cool, and Capcom could've gone just a little bit further with the extras by translating some of those aforementioned lore materials.
There's just one lingering question: Does the Collection bind together six games that are still worth playing? Let's quickly review each entry.
Mega Man Zero (GBA, 2002)
Mega Man Zero carries on the story of the Mega Man X games, albeit with a dark twist: Zero wakes up many years after the Maverick Wars and learns X, his former partner, is slaughtering Reploids indiscriminately in a twisted attempt to keep humans safe.
Mega Man Zero is easy enough to get a grasp on, especially if your muscle memory is still programmed for X games. Zero can shoot foes from a distance with his gun (not an arm cannon), but as you might expect, he really shines with a beam sabre in his hands.
Mega Man Zero is a difficult game. It's not cheap, but it punishes failure pretty severely and drops your Hunter rank if you use the Cyber Elf pixies that offer Zero power ups. I consider it the roughest of the games on the collection, though the new Save Assist makes the adventure much more palatable.
Mega Man Zero 2 (GBA, 2003)
Mega Man Zero is nearly as difficult as its predecessor, but there are definite signs that Capcom/Inti Creates had started to sand down the series' rougher bits. One of the biggest changes between Zero and Zero 2 is Zero 2 does away with the first game's connected map and offers Zero a chance to choose between Maverick bosses-it's more like a traditional Mega Man/X game, in other words.
I had a good time playing through Zero 2 again (Save Assist helps, of course), but I'd forgotten how the story is basically a metaphor for the Iraq War and President Bush's "Shock and Awe" campaign. 2003, I do not miss you.
Mega Man Zero 3 (2004, GBA)
Capcom/Inti Creates clearly "gets it" with Mega Man Zero 3. It's still challenging as heck, but there are options that make the fight more bearable. Cyber Elves still affect your ranking, but the ability to equip permanent upgrades via "Satellite Elves" is a big help. You can also make jumps into cyberspace (don't think too hard about it), which can activate several Cyber Elves at once and make your journey through the level a little easier. Cyber space puts a gross green filter over your screen, though, so it's not really worth it.
Mega Man Zero 4 (2005, GBA)
Mega Man Zero 4 is my favorite of the Zero games. It's the least aggravating to play, plus it has one of the most interesting stories in the Mega Man series. Neo Arcadia, the city that was created as a haven for humans, has fallen into the totalitarian rule of the evil Dr. Weil thanks to Zero constantly disrupting the city's political hierarchy. Zero and the rest of the Resistance fall into the company of human refugees, and they vow to do what they can to protect the humans' new home outside of Neo Arcadia's walls. Unfortunately for them, Dr. Weil doesn't like runaways.
Zero 4's interesting story and determination to offer a balanced challenge versus a soul-wrecking struggle make it my favorite game to go back to in the Collection. It also has one of my favorite selection of Mavericks, as most of them are based on mythological creatures. There's a Pegasus, a Minotaur, and even a Cockatrice. I eat this stuff up.
Mega Man ZX (2006, Nintendo DS)
The Mega Man Zero series feeds directly into Mega Man ZX, which jumps even further into the future. In this strange new world, Mega Man X and Zero are spirits encased in "Biometals" that transform the metal's wielders into "Mega Men." ZX's Mega Men, Vent and Aile, are capable of jumping, shooting, slashing, and absorbing abilities like X and Zero, but the blue 'bot and his crimson pal seem a little distant and ethereal as chunks of metal instead of actual characters.
Still, Mega Man ZX feels good to play, and it looks great. You can even perform some backtracking once you gain more abilities, but don't expect anything nearly as deep as Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In fact, exploring in Mega Man ZX is a bit of a chore because its map system is bad. It's a vague grid of numbers and letters that tells you where you need to go but has no interest in telling you how to get there. Some kind of fix for the Collection would've been nice, but it'd assumedly be a big job.
At least the Area A music slaps. It makes wandering around lost a little more bearable.
Mega Man ZX Advent (2007, Nintendo DS)
Like its predecessor, Mega Man ZX Advent is one solid platformer. There's an extra emphasis on transformation this time around, as the protagonists (a robot boy named Grey and a human girl named Ashe) can transform into the animal-like "Psudeoroids." Alas, the game's voice acting is mediocre at best and offensively stereotypical at worst, which is a shame because Capcom went the extra mile and cleaned up the previously muffled audio quality.
Also, Ashe, who starts the game as a pirate of sorts, says the word "booty" so often, it feels like Capcom and Inti Creates intended for us to use her cutscenes as a "You Laugh, You Lose" challenge. And when Ashe and her friends refer to a particularly bountiful score as "big booty"...well, let's just say if there is a secret "You Laugh, You Lose" challenge in Mega Man ZX Advent, I lost it wholesale.
Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection is a convenient round-up of some historic 2D platformers that, for the most part, hold up. The original Mega Man Zero is still brutal, but difficulty options like Save Assist ease the pain. The six games are bound together by some good extras, including a sizable art gallery, a music player, and a "Z-Chaser" speedrunning challenge. If Mega Man Legacy Collection and Mega Man X Legacy Collection are already on your shelf, Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection is a no-brainer addition.