Slave Zero X Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Many games can get away with slightly sketchy performance if the gameplay experience is a bit more laidback and relaxed (or ‘cinematic’, if you like). Others, however, like Slave Zero X, which focus on blistering combat and stylish visuals, can be almost impossible to recommend if their performance isn’t up to scratch. Sadly, this is exactly the case with publisher Ziggurat Interactive’s retro action game, which honestly has the potential to be one of the most respectable hack 'n' slash/beat ‘em ups in recent memory, but for now, squanders this on Switch with a dreadful frame rate.

This is genuinely frustrating because the core gameplay is exceptional - truly. And for a short period as we worked our way through the game’s opening level, we thought to ourselves, “Good lord, this is great!” Unfortunately, while the introductory level boasts reasonably stable performance to complement the non-stop action, the frame rate tanks after you beat the first boss and move onto the second stage. It got so bad that we had to swallow our pride and eventually call it quits before the end, defeated by the poor optimisation on Nintendo’s console. The publisher says there's a patch on the way which should alleviate this, but the game came out nearly two weeks ago at the time of writing, and the damage is done.

Slave Zero X Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

But let’s talk about the positives first, shall we? Slave Zero X is a prequel to the 1999 Dreamcast third-person shooter Slave Zero (which, incidentally, was published by the recently revived Infogrames label) and shifts the action onto a 2.5D plane while trading in guns for a samurai sword. The story sees you take control of Shou, who merges with a stolen Slave Unit Prototype and thus becomes a near-unstoppable killing machine intent on getting revenge on its creators. Both Shou and the Slave Unit are fully voiced, so there’s some nice back-and-forth dialogue during gameplay and cutscenes. Obviously, you’re not here for the plot, though, and the game does a great job at ensuring you’re not pulled away from the action for too long.

This is a traditional hack ‘n’ slash in where the aim of the game is to learn specific combos by combining light and heavy attacks to survive. Its gameplay is exceptionally methodical, so there’ll be no button mashing here, folks; it’ll get you nowhere. You can use both attacks in conjunction with directional presses to unleash different moves, and you can also sprint, jump, and duck to mix up your offensive strategy. We will say, however, that jumping doesn’t feel all that great; indeed, whenever the Slave Unit isn’t swinging its sword, it’s not the most agile character in the world, so jumping up ledges or over gaps feels a bit more cumbersome than it should.

Slave Zero X Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

When you’re in the midst of a fight, however (and the frame rate is behaving), Slave Zero X feels wonderful. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve at first with the combat mechanics, but once you get into a bit of a groove and accumulate longer combos, you start to really appreciate the work that’s gone into the gameplay. As you progress further, the enemies become more and more numerous to the point where you might be up against four basic soldiers, four heavy enemies, and three airborne drones all in one go. To be honest, this is probably one of the main reasons why the frame rate struggles to maintain consistency, and it also feels somewhat antithetical to the methodical gameplay mechanics.

Slave Zero X really feels at its best when you’re up against one or two (maybe three) enemies in one go. It allows you to slow down a bit and figure out the optimal way to dispatch foes while providing ample opportunity to parry incoming attacks or dodge out of the way. It’s when you get a dozen or so enemies in one go that it can start to feel overwhelming, but thankfully the game does provide a couple of additional tricks to help you manage the crowd.

By clicking the left analogue stick, you can send out a quick pulse which sends all surrounding enemies flying backwards, allowing you to regain your footing. Meanwhile, pressing 'R' enhances the Slave Unit’s attack power, which makes larger enemies feel a bit less ‘spongy’ than usual, resulting in quicker, more satisfyingly gory deaths.

Slave Zero X Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

We should also note that Slave Zero X looks gorgeous. Developer Poppy Works utilises incredibly detailed 2D sprites in conjunction with 3D rendered environments, and visually, it works well. There will be multiple points in each level where you’ll turn a corner, allowing the camera to pan around the environment to give a real good peek at the background. Again, however, this probably doesn’t help the frame rate on Switch, and the combination of multiple characters on screen with a rather busy, animated background is a match made in hell for performance.

We hate to bang on about this so much, but Slave Zero X follows in the footsteps of Konami’s Contra: Operation Galuga in that it’s a genuinely great game… just not on Switch. Both titles rely heavily on split-second reactions, and when the performance isn’t up to snuff, it makes the experience way more difficult and frustrating than the designers intended. Slave Zero X was already delayed on the Switch, but honestly, we would have been happy to wait longer.


Slave Zero X is an incredibly frustrating release, because it could have so easily been a slam dunk. It's a great game — it really is — with stylish combat mechanics, beautiful 2D sprites combined with 3D environments, and an awesome, cyberpunk-esque storyline. Unfortunately, though patches may eventually turn this lump of coal into a diamond, the game as it stands is a hot mess on Switch, with a wildly inconsistent frame rate that makes the complex, methodical gameplay feel like a chore to play.