It is often daunting to a critic when he or she is unknowingly given the
task to review a title from a solid and expansive franchise. My last
Mega Man game was when they still used numbers - low numbers at that.
It is for this reason I will confess from the very beginning that I know
very little of what is to be expected from this or any Mega Man game,
other than the traditional blaster, boss battles and platform level
Mega Man Zero surprised me, particularly in the beginning because it
begins with a dramatic story line where motley rebels flee from
mechanical horrors. All of them are aiming to free a 'reploid' called
Zero; who is a legendary hero but encased in stasis for the time being.
I was surprised to see there was actually a script in this game. Titles
on the Game Boy Advance either have no script at all (why?) or they have
lengthy conversations that defy the physical constraints of the screen.
Mega Man Zero's developers hit the right note and the ensuing drama
lends a sense of urgency to the action.
The cinematic moments are perhaps the most enjoyable parts of the game
and you'll find them in abundance during the first portions.
Afterwards, all the conversations seem to take place in between missions
when you return to the rebel base. Mega Man Zero has an open mission
selection structure, where you basically go out, do battles, then return
to save and go out again.
Platform games often have a problem with repetition but Mega Man Zero
paces things nicely. Your weapons, including the basic blaster, will
improve with time. And the action is augmented by the fact that you get
to collect Cyber Elves; sidekicks who offer special powers. These are
attainable after each mission and they add a little flavor to the game
because you can pre-load different cyber elves to cater to your or your
enemy's dispositions. Some are as prosaic as rejuvenating the
protagonist's health but others will directly aid Zero in combat.
The one thing that struck me most about Mega Man Zero was its visual
style. There's something seductively attractive about it that I can't
quite put a word on. The protagonist, for example, doesn't look like
any of the other Mega Man iconic figures I've come across before.
Moreover, there's a certain agility and quickness imbued in the
animation. Combined with the dashes Zero is able to pull of, this is a
title that turns what could be run of the mill platform action into
addictive eye candy. Indeed, very few titles, of any genre, approach
the detail that is seen in every backdrop of this game.
Mega Man Zero also comes with a great soundtrack and good sound effects.
However, it isn't flawless. The main crux is the difficulty level,
which fails to let up and in some cases, requires meticulous
choreography. It's not helped by the fact that Zero can't crouch and
often times, I found myself pressing the down button in a vain hope that
I could crouch.
Truly, the best part of the game is where the narrative cuts into the
action and again, I point to the beginning where Ciel is tagging around
with you. Why this, instead of the increasingly difficult bosses,
couldn't be the main point of the game is a little beyond me. However,
the gameplay that is here will be a challenge for even the highest
skilled players. Mega Man Zero will no doubt disarm a lot of potential
buyers, though, with its graphics erring on the cute side.
Before coming into the review, I was lamenting how repetitive Game Boy
Advance titles were becoming, particularly recycled platform franchises.
Many times, they play the same and look the same too. I thought there
was no hope for improvement until developers could branch out into other
genres. But Mega Man Zero proves that platform doesn't necessarily mean
boring, not even to critics who slog through platform titles on a weekly
basis on the Game Boy Advance. This is platform gaming done well, with
some fantastic production values but I look forward to its next
iteration where, hopefully, the story emphasis will play an even greater
role in justifying the action.