Zero returns... as a fancy suit.
Mega Man has been around for a hell of a long time. The series has seen more twists, turns, spin-offs, and evolutions than almost any other game created. While Mega Man ZX is not a direct descendant of the Game Boy Advance Mega Man Zero games, it may as well be. The gameplay blends mechanics from the Zero series and the original Mega Man games to create a solid platform-shooter, and just for good measure, it throws in a tiny bit of Metroidvania.
You'll play as either Vent or Aile, couriers in possession of a very special "biometal", a material formed from ancient robots with great power. In this case, you are hauling the model X biometal, which originated from the original X robot of Mega Man X fame. Shortly into the game, you'll find Model Z, formed from X's pal Zero. In a moment of desperation they merge together into Model ZX, a biometal giving you the power of both X and Zero. However, as far as the gameplay is concerned, you are basically Zero from the Mega Man Zero series of games, hauling both a blaster and a sword, which you'll use to save the world.
That's about as much of the story as I care to talk about. With the ever-rising popularity of anime worldwide, it seems that every game from Japan has to be soaked in cliche anime style melodrama, replete with goofy cut-scenes, Japanese subtitles (remember kids: dubs are for lamers), and lots of whining. Mega Man ZX contains all of these, but thankfully it is very easy to ignore the story and concentrate on the top-notch gameplay.
As opposed to older Mega Man games, ZX does not split its world into concrete "levels". Instead, the entire game world is interconnected, though certain sections can only be accessed by obtaining keys to them. Thankfully, there are transporters scattered throughout the world to make navigation a little bit less tedious. Vent and Aile also have access to a command ship which contains various NPCs that offer help along your journey.
The aforementioned transporters, in addition to teleporting you around the world, also give you access to missions. You won't be getting much done in Mega Man ZX unless you are on a mission. As you complete missions, new ones open up, and the plot moves along.
The gameplay in Mega Man ZX is almost exactly the same as in the Mega Man Zero games. While Zero is equipped with both a blaster and a sword, you will quickly find that the blaster is far underpowered and the sword is a much more efficient (and fun) way of taking out the enemy. This is the fundamental gameplay element that differentiates ZX (and Zero) from the original Mega Man series, which was far more blaster-focused. The sword brings the combat right to the player, offering a much more perilous and exciting gameplay experience.
ZX also brings back some old gameplay elements from the original Mega Man series. Instead of simply gaining elemental enhancements or new weaponry, Vent and Aile gain new armors. These armors let them transform into different robots, each with their own abilities, weapons, strengths, and weaknesses. Much like abilities obtained in classic Mega Man games, these armors are earned by defeating bosses. Each of them offers some functionality on the lower DS screen, such as an area map or item locator, but none of them utilize the touch screen. While it is nice to have several different armors to chose from, they are (except for one) mostly useless except in certain situations. The water armor makes it very easy to maneuver underwater, but is very underpowered and entirely useless outside of water. The ninja armor lets you hang on to the ceiling and rain death upon your foes, but you can't move while doing so, and it's also underpowered. The fire armor allows you to edit the path of your blaster, but only from the pause menu, a puzzling mechanic considering the game never tells you how to do this and seems to suggest that you can do it during gameplay on the touch screen. Finally, the air armor lets you dash upwards and in mid-air. It has no buster (swords only), but packs a decent punch, making it the only useful armor other than the standard ZX armor.
The Mega Man Zero series is known for being difficult, and while Mega Man ZX lives up to this standard, it isn't quite as difficult as it's predecessors. There are very few "cheap deaths" in the game from things such as bottomless pits and spikes. Some of the bosses are push-overs, but others are quite challenging, and will require a couple attempts to defeat. Once again, Mega Man ZX is all about old school pattern recognition. Almost, if not every boss attack is avoidable in some way or another, and there are openings for attack in their patterns. Bosses in ZX have weak spots, which will take more damage than the rest of their bodies. However, the more you attack a weak spot, the weaker the armor will be once you acquire it. This is easily remedied by upgrading, or "repairing", the armor at the command ship, but the process will require the use of energy crystals.
All in all, Mega Man ZX is a worthy successor to the Mega Man Zero line. The combination of Zero's gameplay with X's power-collecting is a nice mesh of the two series, even if the armors you earn throughout the game aren't very useful. With a little work, this could become a killer feature in future ZX games. The challenging gameplay is very well balanced and shouldn't frustrate most gamers. Instead, it offers a well deserved sense of accomplishment. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, and newcomers will find a solid action-platforming game with plenty to do.