Zero is back in action and in top form.
Fans of hardcore platforming action are coming to know the name Zero. Capcom has taken the side character from the Mega Man X series and thrust him into his own robot-wrecking adventure set in the (even more) distant future. This mark’s Zero’s third adventure, and the quest is just as hard as ever, as long as you choose to make it that way.
The plot finds our hero once again helping the resistance robots fight the dominion of Neo Arcadia in a war caused by an energy crisis. The resistance’s great scientist, Ciel, has finally found a solution to the energy problem and wants to use it to bring peace to the warring factions. However, Neo Arcadia wants to take her solution and use it to power their mega-robot to crush the resistance once and for all. It might not sound like it makes a lot of sense, but there are some details missing from the story that fill in the gaps. Besides, plot was never this series’ strong point to being with.
In order to stop Neo Arcadia, Zero takes on various missions. The game plays out in typical Mega Man fashion. After picking a mission, Zero is teleported in and must make his way through the level and beat the boss at the end. This wouldn’t be too difficult if not for the fact that the odds are severely stacked against Zero. He begins the game with a pitifully small health bar, and enemies will often take out at least an eighth of it with one hit. On top of this, the levels are rife with pits, spikes, and other such perils that will end Zero’s journey instantly. The icing on the cake comes in the bosses, which have health bars that are, at a minimum, eight times the size of Zero’s. They also knock out about a quarter of Zero’s diminutive health bar with each hit.
It may sound impossible to win, but here’s where the twist comes in. The Mega Man Zero series has a user-adjustable difficulty curve in the form of “cyber elves.” Zero finds these helpful creatures throughout the levels he explores. If you so choose, you can raise these elves and use them to even the odds out. However, doing so will affect your skill rating. It’s a tradeoff you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to take. What’s great about this is that each player can tune the level of difficulty to their exact taste. Having trouble crossing a particular ravine? The answer is as simple as equipping the elf that will lift you out of a bottomless pit. Think that you just don’t have enough health? There are elves that will extend your health bar, refill it, or even become a sub-tank used to store energy that can be accessed in a pinch. The thing with cyber elves is, they die after they are used, which for some means their use is gone forever. Other elves fuse with Zero and take a permanent effect.
The third installment of the series takes this difficulty customization a step further. Now, even hardcore players can use two elves without taking any penalty at the end of each level. There are two “satellites” that elves can be equipped to. If an elf is attached to a satellite, its ability will take effect on Zero and it won’t die. Similar to satellites, Zero can now also collect body upgrades. These upgrades improve Zero’s abilities without messing with his skill rank. There’s also the cyberspace option. Each level has two glowing blue doors that lead to cyberspace. Inside cyberspace, every elf Zero has will take effect, turning him into a one-robot world destruction force. The downside to the cyber world is that it will completely obliterate your score and skill ranking, and it also removes pretty much all of the challenge in the game (and as such, most of the fun).
Zero has an arsenal of weapons he can use to take on Neo Arcadia. In addition to the standard Mega-Buster, Zero also carries a laser sword, a shield that doubles as a boomerang, and the new recoil rod (gone is the chain rod from Zero 2). While Mega Man X relies on his Mega-Buster, Zero doesn’t find much use for the weapon. Instead, Zero is all about the sword. It delivers much more damage and completely changes the dynamic of the game. Instead of standing back and charging up like Mega Man, Zero prefers to get right in the bad guy’s face and then chop it clean in half. Graphical effects make sure this looks satisfying. The other two weapons don’t find much use either, except in specialized situations. The shield is only good for areas where there’s tons of ammunition flying all over the place, and the recoil rod can be used to boost Zero high up into the air to access otherwise unreachable areas. In addition to its pogo function, the Recoil Rod will also push enemies back when it hits them. Unlike Mega Man Zero 2, weapons do not level up as they are used.
Mega Man Zero 3 calls out to fans of its genre. Like its predecessors, it’s an action-platforming player’s dream come true. The action is fast and intense, and it doesn’t often let up. Those who have played and enjoyed the first two games in the series will find this third installment just as much fun, although just a hair less difficult. Overall, Mega Man aficionados will find Mega Man Zero 3 to be more true to the classic style of Mega Man gameplay than some of the more recent console Mega Man games (X7, Command Mission). Zero 3 sticks to its roots while adding and changing enough to mark itself as different from its predecessors.