Saturday, September 24, 2011

Megaman Zero Collection


The past few years have certainly not been easy on hand-held Mega Man games, especially with the transition from the Game Boy Advance to the Nintendo DS. Following Mega Man Zero's supposed last hurrah in 2005 with the release of Mega Man Zero 4, Nintendo's hand-held Mega Man games saw dark times. About a year after Zero 4's release, Mega Man ZX came out. While Mega Man ZX was a great game in its own right and maintained the game play from Mega Man X and Zero, many felt that it was incapable and unworthy of following up as Mega Man Zero's successor. Capcom needed to find a way to counter the profuse wave of unpopularity in hand-held Mega Man games caused in the past few years. So what better way than to port four of the finest Mega Man (and Game Boy Advance) games of all time? Mega Man Zero, a fan favorite, is one of the series that rarely receives negative feedback, disregarding resentment from players who experienced its infamously gruesome difficulty. While it is true that no one really asked Capcom and Inti Creates to port the Zero series to the Nintendo DS (especially since it has only been a few years since the games' separate releases), they made a good call, taking into consideration the lack of a Game Boy Advance slot on newer models of the Nintendo DS. There are even some small extras thrown in so people don't get tired of this game after playing the four individual games to death.

THE GAMEGLAY: While some are a little easier than others, all four of the Mega Man Zero games bring that infamous vein-popping difficultly found in almost all Mega Man side-scrollers. But the vein-popping difficultly is what makes this game glorious. When you think you're safe, dashing nonchalantly while cutting up small-fry enemies, you could end up running into a wall laced with lethal spikes. Or when you just survived a close call and think the hard part is over, you could find yourself crushed in tight places, falling to your death or in a pit of lava. The bosses can be heinously difficult, too, especially if you're fighting them for the first time. At one point, I found myself getting the beating of my life from the first boss of Zero 3 because I was so unaccustomed to the attack patterns of the boss. It can take several tries before you finally get the hang of a level or a boss. Once you do, you'll find that you can finally make it through a level with your head still on your shoulders. With enough experience, you can eventually glide through levels with ease.

The games themselves don't actually go through any radical changes, aside from small additions such as parts, weapons, skills and the sort. You play as Zero, the legendary Maverick hunter from one-hundred years before. At the start, you're armed with Zero's signature Z-Saber and a buster gun, but as you progress through each individual game, you can get new weapons. The main points of the game are to indiscriminately kill everything in your path (or be the one who gets killed), and to complete the missions assigned to you by the resistance you end up joining at the start of the first game.

It's not all just dashing, explosions and splitting robots in half, however. A good killer always prepares before jumping into a madhouse to let loose. All fours games have customizable systems that you can use to get the job done. To start, there's the Cyber Elf system. These creatures have several forms, such as little robots, human-like girls and animals and perform many tasks. Some can permanently increase your vitality, and others can assist you with weak enemies. When you have nowhere else to turn and desperately need a boost, these little guys come in handy.

You can also customize Zero with various skills, power-ups, forms and parts to your liking. In all four games, you can get elemental chips (ice, fire and electricity) by beating certain bosses. These chips add an element to your charged weapon attacks, and can make your life easier. In Zero 1, you can level up your weapons so they can perform at their finest. In Zero 2, you can unlock different forms of Zero that grant some buffs and nerfs (and even give him a color change). Zero 3 introduces head, body and foot chips that grant Zero several powers such as faster running speed and automatic charging for weapons. Zero 4 has the Zero Knuckle, a weapon that lets Zero steal weapons from enemies for dirty fun. And in Zero 2, 3 and 4, you can unlock EX Skills by beating bosses when you have an A or S ranking from a previous mission. The EX Skills let you perform neat tricks with your weapons, such as an exploding charged Buster Shot, a Shield Boomerang that runs down stages or sending a sonic-boom with the Z-Saber.

Mega Man Zero Collection also comes with some new toys. Aside from the Easy Scenario made to quell the fears of the weak of heart, you can unlock art of the characters made for the game by the master artist Toru Nakayama. While the Mega Man Zero Official Complete Works (a book containing all of the Zero series art by Nakayama) gives you a better view of the images, the inclusion was nice and the images still look fantastic, even on a small screen like the ones on a DS. But the toy of real significance Capcom included was the availability of Mod Cards for Mega Man Zero 3, originally only accessible in Japan by buying e-Reader cards and scanning them and in the United States by hacking the game. By beating each of the games individually, you gradually unlock the cards, which have many purposes for Zero 3. You can power up your weapons, give the Resistance Base some aesthetic changes, change the image in the title screen and more. The only thing keeping the new toy box from being perfect is a sound test option, but nobody is going to die without it.

THE SOUND: Another department Mega Man Zero performs flawlessly in. Mega Man games have a record of excellent sound-tracks and effects, and Zero is no exception. Although some themes in each of the games are less than stellar, the really good tracks manage to make up for that and more. And thanks to the porting to the DS, the sound is now a lot clearer, giving music and effects a stronger soul than before. Hearing the music, the signature WARNING alarm before a boss fight and taunts from bosses during fights on the DS are all things every Mega Man Zero fan should experience.

STORYLINE: Mega Man games have an infamously bad rap for hilariously painful stories (Mega Man Star Force 2 comes to mind...). The Zero series is not one of those series. During the one-hundred years after the events of Mega Man X, things have changed. Neo Arcadia, a government originally established by X to protect humans, has adopted extremist views and deploys a radical method of ensuring the safety of humans - "retiring" any Reploids labeled Mavericks (threats to humankind). This eventually leads to many Reploids being marked for death, so a young human girl named Ciel escapes Neo Arcadia with a band of condemned Reploids and forms a resistance. After finding Zero and convincing him to help her cause, the story goes from there for the rest of the series. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends, and plot twists potent enough to make heads burst take place until the heart-breaking end of Zero 4.

OVERALL: When the games were released on the Game Boy Advance, it was pretty clear that the weak of heart would be wise to avoid the Zero series. But with the inclusion of the Easy Scenario, even beginners can enjoy Mega Man at its finest. DSi and XL owners and others without access to the Game Boy Advance versions can also satisfy their hunger for pain and explosions with this action-packed bundle of rage.

SYSTEM: Nintendo DS



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