After releasing multiple quality collections of the classic Mega Man and Mega Man X games, Capcom has turned its focus to yet another Mega Man subseries with the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. Despite the somewhat awkward title, this is the best collection of Mega Man titles yet.
The Zero and ZX games are among the lesser-known in the Blue Bomber’s vast catalog. The four Zero games appeared exclusively on the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s. Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX Advent followed shortly after as Nintendo DS exclusives. If you’re never played these installments before, you’ll find their arrival on current-gen consoles to be quite the treat.
The basic gameplay of the Mega Man Zero games will be instantly familiar to anyone used to playing as Zero in the Mega Man X games, but there are also several twists. While only Zero is playable, returning roughly a century after the conclusion of the X series, he can still dash, shoot, and use his trusty Z-saber to slay reploids. Other new weapons, such as the whip-like Chain Rod, tonfa-like Recoil Rod, and weapon-stealing Zero Knuckle appear later in the series.
Where the Zero games differ (especially the first game) is their emphasis on chips and Cyber Elves over gaining the abilities from defeated bosses. Chips give Zero new elemental-infused attacks, such as thunder, fire, or ice, while Cyber Elves are single-use power-ups that grant status effects, automatically saving Zero from pits to reducing the life gauges of bosses.
While the Mega Man series is often rightfully criticized for how little each game changes, there’s actually a significant amount of variety in the Mega Man Zero games. Mega Man Zero 3 introduces a new customization system that allows you to use chips to upgrade different parts of Zero’s body, while the fourth title in the series overhauls the cyber elf system so that you continually upgrade one elf. Mega Man Zero 4 also introduces a unique weather system that adjusts the difficulty of levels and affects whether you can gain skills from each stage boss.
Playing through the collection, it’s clear that the Mega Man Zero games have held up remarkably well, even better than most of the Mega Man X games. Admittedly, the soundtrack isn’t the best in the Mega Man series, but the graphics still look great, especially with the default filter. And if you prefer the classic pixelated look, you can switch to a more retro presentation at any time.
I did have to adjust the default controls, but once that was done, I had no problem slicing and dicing reploids like a pro. These are perfectly paced platformers that will test your skills, but exactly how much you want to be challenged is up to you. The Zero games were known for being especially punishing when they were released. An optional new checkpoint system in an all six games makes the challenge much more manageable, and if that’s too much, you can even switch to a new casual mode that turns off most trophies and achievements.
My only real issue with the ports of the Mega Man Zero games is the screen size. The old GBA screen was much smaller than the TVs of today, so while character sprites are very large, you can’t always see much of each stage. I got used to it, but it’s probably going to be jarring for anyone who didn’t grow up on the old Nintendo handhelds.
While the Mega Man ZX games act as sequels to the Zero titles, they actually change the gameplay dramatically, taking much more inspiration from the Mega Man X titles. In Mega Man ZX, you eventually gain the ability to change into multiple different X models inspired by robots in previous titles, while in ZX Advent, your character actually changes into the bosses you defeat.
Both games let you choose one of two protagonists (though this makes much more of a difference in Advent). It’s debatable whether the ZX games are more difficult than the Zero games. I found them to be a little easier because of the similarities to the Mega Man X titles, but these are still extremely challenging games.
Unfortunately, part of ZX‘s difficulty comes from a terrible map system. The ZX titles tried to inject some Metroidvania concepts into Mega Man, but figuring out how to get where you need to go often comes down to trial and error. Advent has a slightly better map, but it’s still not great.
Still, both games are fine entries in the Mega Man series, although I definitely prefer the refinements and innovations in Advent. The sequel includes more cinematics than its predecessor, and it’s also the only game in the collection to have voice acting.
Capcom deserves a lot of credit for figuring out how to port DS games to consoles effectively. While neither ZX title made much use of the DS’s touch screen, Capcom included several options for where to place the second screen on your TV screen, and you can access it at any time with the right thumbstick. This probably wouldn’t work for games that used the touchscreen for a significant amount of gameplay, but it’s a template that other developers looking to port DS games should consider.
Finally, the collection includes the usual music player and artwork collection that’s always interesting to spend a few minutes with. Less engrossing is the new Z Chaser mode, which is basically just speedrunning levels against a ghost on a second screen. I’m sure it will appeal to a subset of Mega Man fans, but it didn’t hold my interest for long.
The titles in the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection retain some of the issues they’ve always had, but Capcom clearly put a lot of effort into making these games shine on consoles. Certainly, this is another must-have collection for Mega Man and retro fans.