Are you ready for Mega-Merging and Pseudoroids?
The Mega Man series has been around for over twenty years, and not much has changed in that time. However, the ZX games for Nintendo DS infuse a lot of life into this venerable series by expanding the most iconic element of the entire franchise. We all know that Mega Man gains powers from his defeated foes, and he can then use those abilities against other enemies and to reach secret areas. In Mega Man ZX, you copy entire bosses, allowing you to transform into the defeated characters and use all of their moves, not just one special attack. This idea makes the game more interesting because each transformation has completely different abilities, movement, speed, and power. The feature isn't completely exploited in Advent, the second ZX game, but it does make the game more fun and more flexible than most of its predecessors.
The game's story involves your character waking up in a mysterious lab, having been suspended there for some unknown time. He has amnesia but apparently is viewed as a threat by some crazy super villainess named Pandora. Then the place explodes and he ends up in a camp with a bunch of other people (actually, they're all androids, but it's hard to tell) who collect comic books and dig tunnels. You can also choose to play as a female character who has a different background, although the two story arcs converge early on.
ZX Advent can be very difficult to get into at first, because the bosses seem overly powerful when you don't have any Sub-Tanks or special abilities. Even if you fight a boss early in the level and gain his powers, you can't save that progress until you play through to the end of an area. I had to keep replaying through some early areas so many times that I nearly gave up on the game – and keep in mind, I've completed about two dozen Mega Man games before this one. New players are going to be eaten alive by this game's barriers to entry. But, like most Mega Man games, this one gets significantly easier as you go. Normally, the decaying difficulty can be explained by the fact that the game designers don't know the order in which you will play levels, so they can't craft a linear difficulty curve as in most games. ZX Advent usually serves up levels in groups of one to three at a time, so that old excuse doesn't hold true anymore. Some of the later levels are pathetically easy if you use the right transformation, and likewise for most bosses. However, there are three difficulty levels available when creating a new game file, so experienced players may get more mileage by using Expert mode.
Transformations are definitely the most memorable thing about ZX Advent. Half of the transformations you will eventually earn turn you into other Mega Men (yes, it's plural now) that are the same size and form factor as your normal character but have very different abilities and elemental attributes. One of them slashes with a saber and can air dash. Another sees in the dark and can hang from special platforms. Another can swim underwater and attack with homing ice dragons. Still another has customizable shot patterns that you draw on the touch screen. The best part is that these are all legitimate forms that you can use at will: you can play through entire levels as these guys, if you feel like it.
The rest of your transformations are Pseudoroids, animal-based characters that look and control very differently from the Mega Men. There's a tiny electric porcupine, a screen-filling alligator with icy teeth, and a vulture-man who attacks with his electric guitar. These transformations look cool and are often funny, but unfortunately, they are not very useful. Most of them can't wall jump, dash, or even climb ladders, and some move so slowly that you won't use them at all except to pass very specific areas. One minor problem with all the transformations, both Mega Men and Pseudoroids, is that you automatically revert to standard form when talking to any character or entering any cut-scene. This happens more frequently than it should, and the mandatory transforming back and forth gets annoying.
Aside from the un-transforming, these little bits of story are also unwelcome for their pointlessness. The story in this game is like an extended, even more unbearable Saturday morning anime. It's hard to believe that anyone old enough to appreciate the Mega Man series and its gradual development over time could care much about yet another convoluted, melodramatic anime plot. Only the fan fiction crowd could possibly be interested in the dramatic posturing and unintentionally funny dialogue. The amount of voice acting is impressive for a DS game, but the acting itself is uniformly terrible, even excruciating for the Biometal Model A character. It will have you turning down the system volume, which is a shame because the soundtrack is consistently good for the Mega Man series. Related to the story woes are the adventure aspects, most notably the hub-like base area that is too large and has nothing interesting to do. Too much of the game is spent dashing across this useless terrain and talking to characters with nothing to say. The game would be a much tighter experience without this filler content; just give us the action stages and let us slice androids in half with our energy blades.
Even with a few notable annoyances, ZX Advent is a fun and addictive action game with plenty of clever level designs and fun abilities. The controls are impeccable, and Mega Man really is still fun after all these years. This is one series totally unaffected by the casual, non-game trend, so consider it a rare gem in the "hardcore" DS lineup.