How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Mega Man ZX has an interconnected world with ability gating, but it's restricted by mission acceptance rather than being open to exploration.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~9 hours
Review Info: Mega Man ZX was played using the Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection on Windows PC via Steam.
Buy Mega Man ZX if you like…
- Mega Man X Style boss fights
- Switching Costumes
- Z-Saber Fighting
- Talking to NPCs
- Mega Man Lore
▼ Review continues below ▼
You’re a courier tasked with transporting a mysterious package to a local resistance group when you’re suddenly attacked by a horde of maverick robots. It turns out that the package contained a powerful piece of machinery known as “biometal” which allows you to henshin it up and transform into Mega Man X to save the day. As the story progresses you obtain other biometals, including biometal Z which combines with X so you can become the titular character. Typical anime tropes aside, the premise behind Mega Man ZX has a lot of potential. Being an unlikely hero thrust into violent adventure is a great way to facilitate world building, at least as an alternative to just making the protagonist an amnesiac like in the Mega Man Zero series. The premise combined with a new emphasis on interconnected level design could have made Mega Man ZX a classic narrative evolution of what Inti Creates had been building over the course of four games. However while Mega Man ZX still offers a dozen quality bosses for you to fight, its other changes aren’t executed well enough to do anything but bring down the experience as whole.
What Mega Man ZX adds to the Mega Man universe is actually somewhat intriguing. From a sci-fi perspective, the fact that Dr. Light’s well-intentioned developments end up being the root of all evil raises up a lot of fun philosophical questions, even if they were never intended to be answered. What started as a campy cartoon series about a blue boy taking on a smelly old scientist has evolved into an existential crisis, much like a normal person entering adolescence. At the very least the world has moved on from dreary the post-apocalyptic landscape that Mega Man Zero established, and in Mega Man ZX we get intimately see what all the humans are doing for a change. In that sense Mega Man ZX gives off vibes more similar to the Mega Man Battlenet series or Mega Man Legends, where you can learn about the mundane plights of the denizens you’re meant to save and perhaps even develop some sympathy for them. There’s also an expansion of previous game ideas – such as what exactly are “cyber-elves” – that creates a cool framework that I’m sure Mega Man fans would be happy to eat right up. All this lore is of course accompanied by contrived nonsense put in there to keep the plot moving, but we do have to have our reasons to swing our laser sword at anthropomorphic robot faces after all.
The sword swinging is as good as it has ever been. The dash and slash, charge your lasers and fire style that Mega Man X veterans are familiar with is here and is done well. Once you get the “ZX” armor you can seamlessly switch between swinging your sword and firing your chargable laser cannon. It’s similar to how it worked in Mega Man Zero, except without the tedious level grinding, as the ZX armor comes fully powered up when you obtain it. A cool new feature is that swinging your sword automatically charges your laser, so instead of moving around with your finger glued to the attack button you can focus on quick melee attacks and be rewarded with the occasional powerful blast. The post-X Mega Man games have always been about movement and positioning. You can jump up walls and kick off of them with the dash button held down to fly across any given arena, allowing you to weave between enemy shots like an insect trying to stay dry in the pouring rain. Maintaining the speed of the flow while also trying to avoid running into enemies is a brilliantly fun balance of trial and error memorization and cat-like reflexes. When the X/Zero games were basically linear these mechanics were enough to carry the game even before special weapons and upgrades were considered.
The Mega Man X games have always had some element of exploration to get new armor pieces or health upgrades. So it seems like an obvious idea to just take Mega Man X and inject it into the Metroidvania framework since it’s already partway there. Especially with the greater story focus that Mega Man ZX attempts to provide, having you travel to each location without a level select screen could enhance the narrative immersion. In a theoretical Metroidvania Mega Man game, you could combine dealing with NPCs and hunting mavericks organically, adding layers to the adventure provided. Unfortunately it turns out simply cramming Mega Man X/Zero into a Metroidvania level structure without making enough complimentary changes ends up being somewhat disastrous.
I think the first thing I noticed while trying to explore in Mega Man ZX is that enemies still respawn the moment their initial location leaves your screen space. This is normally not an issue in normal Mega Man X since you’re never intended to go back the way you came. In ZX though, there were times I grabbed a collectable database entry and dashed to the left only to immediately crash into a maverick I had just barely killed. You get used to this rule pretty quickly, but it serves to make general exploration kind of tedious, especially since death is so heavily punished.
The lives system from almost every Mega Man game in existence (except notably Legends and Battlenet) is still part of Mega Man ZX. This means that if you die too many times while exploring into its world, you have to effectively start over again from whenever you last saved. This rule isn’t any different from Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night, except this is still functionally a Mega Man game. Spikes will kill you instantaneously and you really can’t take a ton of damage before you get destroyed, especially before you get any of the plethora of life extending exploration rewards. Without previous knowledge of exactly what you might be running into, you sort of have to tip-toe around everywhere to avoid getting hit wherever you can – at least when you’re playing the game with the default settings. It gets especially frustrating when you die too many times to a boss. Not only do you have to replay the boss’ level again but you also have to make the trek from the nearest fast travel spot since there’s no level select screen.
The Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection version of the game does have a great band-aid fix for the limited lives problem with its “Save Assist” system. Basically it works like emulator save states, except they function automatically. Every boss has a checkpoint added just before them, and instead of losing lives the game just auto-loads the assist save. However, these save assists might be just a little too generous, giving you a choice between tediously unfair punishment or easy breezy instant retries. Given that the main draw of this game for me is the boss fights however, the choice in my case was obvious.
I think the most egregious Metroidvania design folly with Mega Man ZX is how every aspect of the game is event gated for basically no reason. You obtain missions from transportation points which activates any level you might go to. Even though you can go basically anywhere you have a keycard to access right from the start, if you go there without the mission being active you’re basically wasting your time. Worst of all, you can only have one mission active at a time, so you can’t just accept all the missions like a quest board and then set out into the world to just take it all in. The game also doesn’t tell you where anything is and the map system is terrible for giving you any hints. This means that you’ll probably wander into other levels without missions all the time, and there aren’t enough meaningful optional collectables to make it feel like anything but a waste.
While we’re on the subject of optional collectables, basically you have two types – health extensions and log entries. Log entries are fine and dandy, but unless you’re really into talking Mega Man lore or you absolutely have to be a completionist, I don’t think many players are going to care that much. Health extensions include maximum health upgrades and sub-tanks. Get enough of these and bosses become a cinch as long as you’re willing to grind out health pickups to fill them up. So essentially they invite more tedious activity into the game.
As weird as the limitations of the mission system are, not everything about Mega Man ZX’s presentation is bad. There is some charm to the game’s NPCs, and a good number of optional missions can be found by interacting with them. There was a lot of effort put into giving each character a face and personality, and helping them out only enhances that theming. There’s a part of the game where you have to save people from a burning building, and afterward you can talk to them in the city and hear about how grateful they are. You can learn about relationships between characters and watch their lives develop and improve from your actions. It’s a lovely feature for the game, if only you didn’t have to switch out of your ZX armor every time you wanted to talk to someone since they react with fear if you leave it on. Doing their quests still requires you to activate the mission via a save point, and you still have to deal with constantly respawning enemies as you set out accomplish their tasks. These NPCs and their quests are a nice thought, but just like the game’s great bosses it takes a lot more effort than necessary to actually enjoy them.
The issues with Mega Man ZX don’t stop with just the Metroidvania and world building aspects though. With save-assists on you could treat Mega Man ZX like a slightly less punishing Mega Man X game, but compared to the competitors in its own series, it still comes up a bit lacking. The ZX armor is great, but it’s also nothing new that you couldn’t experience just by playing one of the Mega Man Zero games. So the onus falls onto the other biometals that you find to pick up the slack and offer something unique to set ZX apart. While there’s nothing wrong with the other biometal armors, they each have flaws that make the ZX armor more preferable for almost all of the bosses. Traversing the game world, the armor that lets you double jump also has a chargeable tornado attack that wrecks everything, so basically it’s the armor you use all the time when you’re not fighting bosses. Another armor gives you the ability to shoot up, and so you switch to it when that’s necessary and leave it alone in every other circumstance. Besides that, for the most part the non-ZX armors are more frustrating than fun to use.
Each armor also has some dual-screen gimmick since this was originally a Nintendo DS game, but in most cases the gimmick is more restrictive when it’s actually desirable. For instance the the underwater advantaged armor has the ability to track items on the second screen, which is super useful for finding hidden sub-tanks or other collectables. However, that armor is possibly the worst one to use when you’re above water, and watching the second screen with the worst armor means you’ll probably run into respawned enemies a lot. The Ninja armor also has a map which shows secret passageways, but it doesn’t give you any info on items in the vicinity. While it’s nice to see hidden passageways nearby, you don’t know if it’s worth the effort to check them without switching armors again. The ZX armor doesn’t use the second screen for anything, which is a bit odd. It just seems like it would have been more efficient to make the second screen benefits be separate from the armors rather than make you switch all the time with the clunky interface. In fact they could have been optional collectables to spice up the game’s world exploration, and the biometal could have just been differentiated by the weapons they provide.
Mega Man ZX has a ton of “dream come true” ideas, but almost none of them are executed in a way that actually improves Mega Man Zero formula. Inti Creates really needed to strip out things like the lives system and the mission select and let the player take in the world on their own terms. Instead we’re left with something weirdly restrictive and confusing. Furthermore, if you’re not outright “cheating” with the save-assist system that the modern port offers, Mega Man ZX is also annoyingly punishing. Using the Zero/ZX Collection’s save-assist option however you can still enjoy Mega Man ZX’s fun bosses and familiar combat without so much nuisance. Considering the collection comes with five other full games – some of which are considered best-in-class by the fans – there’s really nothing to lose from giving ZX a whirl as long as you have it. Unless you’re a collector though, I probably wouldn’t recommend going out and obtaining the vanilla version.
Not as deep as other Mega Man games, but it still has that Mega Man quality to it
Surprisingly there are few platforming challenges to be had with this game, possibly because of the backtracking focus. It's still fun to dash around Mega Man X style however.
Wandering into areas you don't have a mission for is often a waste of time, punishing what could be a feature
No puzzles to speak of in Mega Man ZX
Mega Man ZX actually adds some interesting color to the world established by the Zero series, it the usual heavy dose of Capcom camp of course.
The 32 bit pixel art style of the Nintendo DS holds up quite nicely
The rockin' Mega Man tunes are just as good in this game as they are in the rest of the series
Technically you can do missions in any order you please, but the rewards aren't particularly game changing when the normal ZX suit tends to be your best tool
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