(Game Boy Advance)

Mega Man Zero (Game Boy Advance)

Game Review

Mega Man Zero Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

A side character gets a great spotlight

The classic Mega Man series was popular enough to warrant its own spin-off series, Mega Man X. That, in turn, proved strong enough for a spin-off series of its own, and in 2002 it arrived in the form of Mega Man Zero.

The Zero series spans four titles — all released exclusively for the Game Boy Advance — and it was able to maintain a fairly high quality all the way through. Much of this is due to the fresh perspective brought by Inti Creates, which was contracted by Capcom to handle the series. In fact, it did such a stellar job that it was brought back for both the next spin-off series, Mega Man ZX, and classic series throwbacks Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10.

This first game does a great job of setting the groundwork for its three sequels, but it's also a bit rough around the edges. Before we get into that, however, it's worth discussing the plot, which is surprisingly dark for a Mega Man game.

Picking up after Mega Man X5 left off (it's a long story...), this new series begins with a human female awakening Zero from hibernation. She is a resistance fighter, doing her best to aid the troops in their struggle against the evil forces of Neo Arcadia. Neo Arcadia is a utopian civilisation — or at least it is for humans. That utopia comes at the expense of robots (or "Reploids") who are being exterminated en masse in order to free up resources for the humans.

The female — Ceil — who awakens Zero knows he is their only hope against the tyranny. After all, Zero knows Neo Arcadia's brutal dictator quite well: it's his old partner Mega Man X. Yes, it's your job to hunt down and destroy the protagonist of the previous series, and if that doesn't get your attention nothing will. All four titles in the Zero series are narrative-heavy, so to say much more would spoil a lot of the fun. Suffice it to say, Zero has a long and twisting road ahead of him.

The game plays a lot like the Mega Man X titles. The physics are similar, and Zero's dash and wall jump will be very familiar to anyone who played the X series. But that's about where the similarities end. In both the classic and X series, for instance, you'd choose a level and fight through it in search of its boss. Upon defeating that boss, you'd obtain a new weapon and / or ability that would help you in the rest of your journey.

Here, things are much different. Instead of selecting a level, you choose from a list of missions Ceil offers you. Each "level" is actually just a section of the game's huge main area, and you can explore them at will. For instance, Ceil may send you on a trip to defend a factory from attack, but when you're done you can stroll right back to that factory whenever you like. You might also go exploring in the middle of a mission and find yourself in the area that you liberated during the last one! It's an interesting approach, and it's nice to double back and see what's changed as a result of your efforts.

Weapons are not obtained in the traditional sense either. Zero begins the game with a wimpy Buster, but as he progresses through the story he can earn three more items to use: his famous Z-Sabre, the Triple Rod and the Shield Boomerang. None of these are obtained by defeating bosses, however, and are all story-driven.

This is a big shakeup for a Mega Man series, as the weakness chain doesn't quite exist. Instead, some bosses have elemental alignments (either Electricity, Fire or Ice, while others are neutral) and you can obtain their elemental chips by defeating them, which you can then plug into any weapons you do have in order to benefit from their effects. This doesn't alter the way you use the weapons, but it does change how much damage enemies and bosses take from them. It sounds confusing, but in practice it's actually quite simple and an interesting attempt to evolve a very old concept.

That's not the only difference in terms of weapons, though; the more you use them, the more they level up. This means that the weapons you use most will acquire additional abilities more quickly, and while that might sound like a nice touch in reality it leads to an unfortunate aspect of Mega Man Zero: grinding.

While past games encouraged grinding for health or ammunition, Mega Man Zero has you grinding to level your weapons up — which can take a very long time if you'd like to unlock each of their abilities — and to accumulate energy crystals, which are necessary to feed Cyber Elves.

Yes, Cyber Elves. In the classic series or Mega Man X you might find some utilities or subtanks lying around the stages. Here, however, you find Cyber Elves. These little creatures come with cutesy names, but you never know what you picked up at any given time. This is a problem because it makes it difficult to remember where you found the Cyber Elf that granted you a double health bar, or became a subtank, which would sure be nice information to have the next time you play.

You can equip a maximum of three Cyber Elves at a time, and these can do anything from heal you slightly to covering death spikes to ripping half the HP out of a level's boss. Once you use them, though, they're gone forever, so you'll want to manage them as best you can, as there are a finite number in the game. Use up all the health refill Elves, and that's it — you'll never find another.

The more helpful Cyber Elves sometimes need to be fed thousands upon thousands of collectable energy crystals before you can use them. Considering how rarely and in what small quantities the energy crystals drop, you can be sure you'll be grinding for a long time if you want help from the Cyber Elves.

And believe us, you'll want all the help you can get. Mega Man Zero is absolutely punishing. If you think you had trouble with any Mega Man game before, you haven't seen anything yet.

The levels are full of death spikes and bottomless pits, and enemies are positioned to always be as in the way as possible. Your tiny health bar doesn't help much — seriously, find those Cyber Elves — and the penalty for a mistake is very often a lost life, with 1-ups being extremely rare finds. What's more, you're graded at the end of each mission, and if you took any damage, used any Cyber Elves or took too long, your grade drops. While this absolutely gives perfectionists something to shoot for, casual players are not likely to ever see a respectable rank.

That's the main problem with Mega Man Zero: its difficulty is a bit too severe. Later games took varying steps to address this without softening the challenge, which is nice, because in this first outing it just feels like a punishment. Challenge is a great thing, but not at the expense of fairness, and Mega Man Zero doesn't master that balance.

Additionally, while we like the idea of shaking up the way you accumulate weapons, the entire game can be cleared with just the Buster and the Z-Sabre. These are both the most fun to use and the most useful overall, meaning the Triple Rod — which feels like a slower, less versatile Sabre — and the Shield Boomerang — which blocks projectiles but is difficult to use in combat situations — will barely get touched.

The fact that clearing missions leaves those areas changed can also be a problem, as it's easy to render Cyber Elves inaccessible without realising it. This means that you need to take your time combing every square inch of every area during a mission, because once you return they could be gone forever. Later games would be more forgiving and allow fuller exploration after the fact, so it's a shame pick ups get locked away so easily here.

These are issues, no doubt, but Mega Man Zero sets up a very interesting world and layers its narrative details nicely. For instance, your hub of operations is a decrepit and empty Resistance Base. As you rescue and assist the troops, however, you get to watch it grow and populate, which is a great thematic illustration of just how much you're assisting the cause.

Additionally, there's a lot of great character building. Ciel in particular is a conflicted idealist, plagued by guilt over something she's done in the past, and the feelings she develops for Zero over the course of the series begin here, in some nicely constructed dialogues that find her both relying on Zero to do the dirty work and fretting over his safe return. We also meet the four Guardians, who will be an important part of the next few games as well, and through them we learn that bosses in Mega Man games don't always have to be disposable. Splash Woman fans should also really enjoy spending time with her spiritual ancestor, Leviathan.

It's absolutely worth a play, as long as you're prepared to scream a few curse words and have all of your breakable possessions stored safely away. It's a fun experience overall, and extremely satisfying once you master it, with some very atmospheric visuals and a fantastic soundtrack. Zero's still getting the hang of things here, but even his faltering first steps are worth experiencing.

Conclusion

Mega Man Zero kicks off a short series that will challenge you endlessly, but is very rewarding to master. Its brutal difficulty is bound to turn off a lot of gamers, but those who stick with it will find the richest world in any Mega Man series, populated with interesting characters and pulsing with a predictably brilliant soundtrack. Its sword-heavy combat and Cyber Elf approach to upgrades aren't going to resonate with everybody — and the grinding is a genuine obstacle to enjoyment — but if you have even a passing interest in the game, it's worth seeking out. Just don't expect to be very good at it for a long time.

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User Comments (33)

EvisceratorX

#1

EvisceratorX said:

Dang it! For a second, I thought this was on the eShop. I got this on the DS collection a few years ago and boy was it hard! I did manage to beat it, but s ranking each stage is not humanly possible...

brianvgplayer

#2

brianvgplayer said:

Good review, just one little nitpick:

"all released exclusively for the Game Boy Advance"-
The Zero games came out for DS too with the Mega Man Zero Collection. Disappointed this wasn't mentioned since it has all four Zero games in one place.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#3

Philip_J_Reed said:

Disappointed this wasn't mentioned since it has all four Zero games in one place.

And a great collection it is too. I'm working my way through it again right now...I was tempted to review that, since we missed it the first time around, but thought it would be better to review the four games independently, so stay tuned! The collection adds an easy mode (I call it the "too easy mode") and some wallpapers and such, but apart from that it's a pretty standard port.

RupeeClock

#4

RupeeClock said:

There is nothing quite as satisfying as playing through Mega Man Zero Collection and doing it without sacrificing cyber-elves, aiming for a minimum of A/S ranks on each mission clear.

HandheldGuru97

#7

HandheldGuru97 said:

I have Megaman Zero Collection on the DS and it is a fantastic compilation. My favorite was probably 2 or 3.

JaredJ

#8

JaredJ said:

I hope the Zero series comes to Wii U Virtual Console once GBA games are added.

umegames

#9

umegames said:

I was just thinking about this game, I like the 1st one the least of the 4, but great series! Still have the originals on GBA.

FritzFrapp

#10

FritzFrapp said:

The Zero games are excellent. The first doesn't get as much love as the others but I really enjoyed it. My favourite Mega Man game is still Powered Up, though. I thought Capcom got everything right with that game, except sales.

Pichuka97

#11

Pichuka97 said:

My favorite in the series is 4. That game was the shiznit. Anybody who hasn't played these games should do so. The DS collection is a little hard to find but it's cheaper than buying the GBA cartridges.

thatoneguy4419

#12

thatoneguy4419 said:

The Megaman Zero series will always be my favorite series of platformers ever. They were difficult, but man were they fun! It's a shame they aren't bringing this game or the others to the eShop.

WaveWarlock

#13

WaveWarlock said:

MM Zero was awesome! The boss fights are ridiucously fast, energetic, kinetic and super fine tuned. I'd personally rank it with a 9. And no, i didn't bother using any of the Cyber elves. I sat back, and took it all like a champ. :p One thing that annoys me about the zero series however are the forgettable confusing Boss names that don't exactly roll of the tongue.lol

And "picking right up where MMX5 left off"
LOL. Inafune had no intentions of doing MMX6, but it was created without his notice regardless! I guess you can also write off the terrible X7 and marginally better X8 as well haha. X5 was so nowhere near as good as X4, but it is god compared to the ones that came after. Honestly, the X series is best off without thinking X6-X8 ever exsisted.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#14

Philip_J_Reed said:

X5 was so nowhere near as good as X4, but it is god compared to the ones that came after.

My friend, I couldn't have said it better myself.

WaveWarlock

#16

WaveWarlock said:

@Philip_J_Reed

You truly come to appreciate MMX5 much much more once you experience the X-trash that came after. :p And even though most of X5's soundtrack was pretty dissapointing it at least had this > X vs Zero :* Duff Mcwhalen's and Sigma's Boss music weren't half bad either!

brianvgplayer

#17

brianvgplayer said:

"One thing that annoys me about the zero series however are the forgettable confusing Boss names that don't exactly roll of the tongue."-

Have you seen some of the JP boss names for the X series? Stuff like Metamorph Mothmenos (Morph Moth), Flame Stagger (Flame Stag), Acid Seaforce (Toxic Seahorse), Wheel Alligates (Wheel Gator), and Explose Horneck (Blast Hornet).

ouroborous

#18

ouroborous said:

often hard as balls but mostly worth the effort, great games, if a bit the same across the board.

Lasermaster123

#19

Lasermaster123 said:

This series is awesome! Although the punishing difficulty can get annoying, the game is still great! Farming for cyber elves in the 1st game was really annoying and even more annoying when I found that using sub-tanks reduces rank, my rank became F forever :(

Played all games as well as ZX, ZX2 is the next game on my list :D Might play this collection again.

I also like Battle Network series so like SnackBox said: "I wish we had more talk on the Battle Network series!"

Jeremyx7

#20

Jeremyx7 said:

I actually bought the Megaman Zero Collection for the DS about a month ago and it's a great series! I felt they got better with each game although 3 starts off kinda bland it picks up great after about a quarter through the game. 4 is my personal favorite but sometimes ridiculously brutally challenging. Great series!

Magrane

#21

Magrane said:

Great article Philip! I don't know where my head was when Mega Man Zero 1-4 came out many moons ago, but I do remember a friend of mine constantly reminding me how good it was. Missed on on all the GBA titles but I woke up in time to purchase the DS collection last year. Still on MMZ1, but looking forward to enjoying this 'new' series.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#22

Philip_J_Reed said:

I also like Battle Network series so like SnackBox said: "I wish we had more talk on the Battle Network series!"

I have a pretty small amount of experience with that series, so I'm hoping for VC releases eventually. Not holding my breath, but it sure would be nice.

Still on MMZ1, but looking forward to enjoying this 'new' series.

I hope you enjoy! The Zero series doesn't quite hit the heights of some other Mega Man games (IMHO of course) but overall, if you take all titles into account, it's probably my favorite. Having only four games really helps it retain a nice focus, and it prevents the quality from dropping off.

Rapido

#23

Rapido said:

Just what my Megaman Hardcore blood needs. I like its brutal difficulty, so rewarding.

DarkKirby

#24

DarkKirby said:

Mega Man Zero is by far my favorite Mega Man series of all time. I did S Rank everything in every game on Normal. Hard though...

juanduran1

#25

juanduran1 said:

Not only is the Mega Man Zero series my favorite of the Mega Man franchise, but it was also the first side scrolling Mega Man game I ever played. I was never good enough to get the S Ranks but it felt rewarding when I beat the game. Great review! =)

Retro_on_theGo

#26

Retro_on_theGo said:

I love this series. The zero series is one of my favorite megaman series ever. It's fun, fast pace, and satisfying. I have a burning passion for these wonderful games.

@Philip_J_Reed Sexy new avatar bro! :*

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#27

Philip_J_Reed said:

Anyone who can S Rank these games reliably should be reported to the government immediately, as they're obviously part of a plot to breed superhumans. In the first and second games I can do A ranks as long as I don't pop open any cyber elves though. I need more practice with 3 and 4.

@Retro_on_theGo I know it baby. ;)

WindWakerLink

#29

WindWakerLink said:

I love Rock Man Zero! [I don't enjoy calling it Mega man Zero because I grew up hearing called Rock Man Zero & not Mega Man Zero.]

This game is SO GOOD!! My favorite songs for it are: All the favorite missions, Neo Acadia & most of all "THE BOSS MUSIC!!!!" Like OH MY GOSH!!!! I mean, the BOSS music is AWESOME that it's played again in Rock Man Zero 2!!

This was a great read Philip! You brought back some painful & great memories of this challenging game for me. I'll add to my 'summer games' to play again. :D

colortvgame

#33

colortvgame said:

After probably thousands of game over screens, I've S ranked every level except the very last one.

Neo Arcadia Tower was the bane of my existence... Man, was that hard to S rank! Once I finally did it, I accidentally started the final level without saving; I was absolutely furious! Thankfully, about an hour later, I got 98p-- not a bad score at all. I just hope I never have to see that wretched tower again! :P

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