A good compilation is not hard to come by these days. Ever since the transition to the next-gen, we’ve seen countless titles across many generations reach modern platforms with upgrades and quality of life enhancements. In terms of the Xbox One, the brilliant Rare Replay jumps to mind.
The Mega Man series is no stranger to compilations either. The Mega Man Legacy Collections and X Legacy Collections have been mainstays on all major consoles over the past few years. However, one question on many Mega Man fans’ minds for a while was: “Where is Zero?”. While these games were re-released on the DS and the Wii U virtual console, they were otherwise difficult to access.
Thankfully, Capcom has heeded these fans’ cries with the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. It’s a compilation of not just the first four Mega Man Zero games, but also the Metroidvania “legasequels” Mega Man ZX and ZX Advent. The big question is: how do these games hold up?
Beginning with the original Mega Man Zero – it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While the music is wonderful and the sprite work strong, some aspects of the game have not aged perfectly. It is worth noting that the game was released early into the life of the Game Boy Advance, and at times it shows. For example, the camera is zoomed in to a rather extreme degree, likely to compensate for the lack of a backlight on the Game Boy Advance. What this means, in execution, is that many of the traps and leaps of faith can be very difficult to pull off.
As well as this, other aspects of the game are also a bit dated and/or frustrating. For example, at times text boxes can block obstacles on screen, such as spike pits and enemies (particularly egregious in a mid-game boss chase). Therefore, you can expect to die… a lot.
Thankfully this can be circumvented by two of the collection’s new quality of life improvements. The first of these is save points, which help divide the levels into easier, more manageable chunks. The second of these, known as a “Casual Scenario Mode”, is honestly a bit too much of an over-correction personally. The mode effectively maxes out all stats and abilities, eliminates one-hit spike deaths and reduces damage. It will likely be a godsend for new players and speedrunners, but speaking personally I would have liked to see a mode that applied some of these QOL improvements (namely the removal of one-hit spike deaths and the reduction in damage) without having to max all stats. But hey, that’s just me. It is worth noting that many achievements cannot be earned playing in this mode.
All of this being said, the original Mega Man Zero lays a very solid foundation for a sub-series going forward, and this is evidenced in its sequels. Beginning with Mega Man Zero 2, it has held up fairly well. It does away with some of Mega Man Zero’s more cryptic elements and builds on the strengths of its direct predecessor. The player is given more options from the get-go (including more weapons and cyber-elves, the main upgrade system of Mega Man Zero), the mission structure is clearer and more precise, with players able to see which boss they will be facing next, the levels are longer and better designed with sub-bosses spicing them up and the camera is zoomed out, mitigating some of the notorious leaps of faith. All of this being said, some elements such as certain platforming sections can be rather frustrating, and the lack of an option to skip cutscenes and dialogue can artificially lengthen the game (i.e. when you just want to face a boss).
Moving on to Mega Man Zero 3, the gameplay is further refined from Zero 2. The difficulty is also lowered, but will still provide a good challenge, especially for novice players. Refinements are particularly made to the quality of life in the game, as the cyber-elf system is overhauled to allow more persistent buffs, and mercifully the game finally allows the option to skip cutscenes and dialogue, removing some of the artificial bloat prevalent in the prior two Zero games. It’s a very solid game, if not a massive leap in quality from 2.
Finishing off the Zero quadrilogy, we have Mega Man Zero 4. Unlike Mega Man Zero 3, it elaborates on the formula a bit more. A new weapon, known as the Z-Knuckle, is given to players at the start of the game, and sort of functions as a Swiss Army knife. It has a number of different functionalities, including stealing weapons (in a manner somewhat similar to the ability copying from mainline Mega Man games) and in dealing with environmental hazards. Also new to this game are mechanical parts that enemies drop. These can be used to build chips that can upgrade Zero’s abilities.
We’ve now gone through the Zero games, but there are two more to cover: Mega Man ZX and ZX Advent. This duology is set centuries after the Zero quadrilogy, and functions as a spin-off/sequel series with new characters but existing lore. Starting with ZX, the game is a Metroidvania take on the genre, set a century after the Zero titles. The sprite work is beautiful, the music is amazing, the story is rich and the mechanics deep. It’s not dissimilar from the games that bring Inti Creates (the developers of the Mega Man Zero and ZX games) their fame today such as Blaster Master Zero 1 and 2 and the Mighty series. It’s an open, expansive, unique take on the series with large, open levels, body-morphing abilities which allow players to take on various biometal forms, and a unique, if at points overly complicated, mission system. As for the dual-screen controls (the game was originally released on the Nintendo DS), the devs have done a brilliant job adapting it to the Xbox One controller by using the right control stick as a virtual stylus. It works surprisingly well and is rather easy to adjust to. The game also offers a protagonist of selectable gender – a rarity in the Mega Man series.
ZX Advent is even better, albeit with some caveats. The gameplay is faster than ZX’s, the environments and sprite work even better, and the set-pieces more extravagant. The biometal system is now amended such that players can morph into the various bosses they face, which is a really cool twist on the typical Mega Man ability copying mechanic. That being said, the voice acting is… a bit off (to put it mildly), and some of the quality of life improvements come at the expense of some of the Metroidvania depth of the first ZX. For example, there is less backtracking and more linearity, which is either a plus or a minus depending on who you ask.
Finally, regarding the compilation itself, there are a number of pros and cons. Beginning with the pros, the new Z Chaser mode (a competitive speedrunning mode) is an absolute delight to play. The compilation is also stuffed with bonuses including official and concept art, the entire soundtracks of each game and remastered voice tracks.
That said, there are also some eccentricities with the collection. The menus can be a bit clunky to navigate at points. For example, to change control settings you need to enter the in-game menu. To toggle save points, you need to enter the compilation pause menu. To change voice tracks, you need to enter the options menu on the main menu. All of this could be circumvented by being added to a settings subsection of the compilation pause menu. It’s an unnecessary headache.
The Zero games can also look less than flattering when blown up to 1080p. To compensate, you can play the games at the original resolution at the cost of visibility. As these games were made for the GBA, this is forgivable, but it still is far from an optimal way to experience the visuals of these games. The ZX games, in contrast, look absolutely wonderful, with remastered cutscenes and sprite work that truly stands the test of time.
All in all, the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection on Xbox One is a rock(man)-solid compilation of some classic GBA and DS titles. The presentation is great, the games are incredibly polished and fun, and the value (at only $30USD/£25) is undeniable. That said, not every game in the compilation has stood the test of time, and as these games were not made to be played on a television their visual quality can be hit. Still, for Mega Man fans this is a must-buy, as it brings 6 beloved games into a neat and tidy package.