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Slave Zero X Review

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I was never great at arcade fighting games. Button bashing was a temptation I gave into before too long, but these days the mechanics are advanced enough to prevent that being a winning strategy (most of the time anyway). Slave Zero X channels that style, but also combines it with a bit of light platforming.

That’s right, I found Slave Zero X to differ somewhat from the crowd because, despite being presented in the classic beat ‘em up framing, you actually progress through numerous stages whilst the side scrolling angle is maintained. Furthermore, you’ll often pivot to different directions which spins the environment on its axis, as well as tackling some basic platforming thanks to your regular and wall jumping abilities (although executing them is a little fiddly).

Slave Zero X review 1
Beat ’em up – with a twist

I must admit, I lost my way a little at various points when it came to the story in Slave Zero X. In a nutshell you play as Shou, who merges with a slave unit prototype called X in a battle against the self proclaimed god who rules Megacity S1-9. However, it quickly becomes clear that the sprawling metropolis is built on poverty and suffering, as the seemingly endless dystopian slums offer little hope. But instead they do offer plenty of enemies looking to duff you up.

There’s no shortage of hired goons in Slave Zero X, and they will rain down from all directions, often popping on your six in an attempt to surround and flank you. There are a fair few different types of baddie, who mostly operate at close quarters but some have ranged attacks too.

Shou has his trusty katana blade and a variety of different moves at his disposal. Basic attacks can be strung together and are the bread and butter for achieving combos, and the dodge and parry abilities are crucial to prevent getting quickly overwhelmed. A mix of ground and aerial attacks is an effective way to dispatch the enemy hordes, however the burst system is the most important survival tool.

As you slash your way through the constant enemy waves, you’ll build up your burst meter which is represented by a glowing orb underneath your health bar. Activating it will push nearby enemies away in all directions. If executed correctly, this will allow you to briefly achieve an offensive burst of power known as “Fatal Sync”. A ring of light will surround you, unlocking a temporary boost of speed and devastating moves that allow Shou to cut through enemies even more quickly than usual. If taken advantage of, this will refill your burst meter and recover health at the same time. Referred to by the development team at Poppy Works as the “Golden Circle”, I found this to be the most effective strategy in Slave Zero X.

Slave Zero X review 2
You’ll discover a few special tricks

Shou has a few other tricks up his sleeve, such as a variety of projectiles that can be chucked at your enemies. The most satisfying for me, the red phosphorus bomb, not only explodes but ignites the ground for a few seconds afterwards. 

As with any combat system, it takes some practice to master all the moves. Thankfully, Slave Zero X has you covered with the Training Room. It’s here you can batter a poor trooper in all sorts of ways, experimenting on keeping your combo going for as long as possible. Once I got my head around the combat system, I found it to be fairly intuitive. A lot of the time you will be bashing X and Y, but there are enough options in there to mix it up now and then. I just settled on those two handy choices pretty quickly, whilst ensuring I achieved the “Golden Circle” feedback loop.

This is partly because boss battles are tricky encounters at first, at least before I perfected my strategy. Known as the “Five Calamities”, these tougher enemies act as the final battle in each zone and usually go about taunting you throughout as they dispatch many, many henchmen. And hidden throughout the city are golden troopers who, when cut down, will award you a chronicle entry. These peeks into the lore of Slave Zero X also show off some awesome, if not visceral artwork.

You’ll also earn cash as you battle for justice, which can be spent at the shop between stages. You can upgrade your stats such as health and burst charge, as well as restock health and grenades. Customisation options can be purchased here too once unlocked. Numerous palette and shader options will ensure Shou is looking stylish as he gets busy chasing revenge.

Slave Zero X review 3
Oozes style

The 90’s inspired 2.5D visuals in Slave Zero X feel really well realised and faithful, as does the gritty, industrial soundtrack which matches the setting. The game boasts both English and Japanese voice acting from some well known contributors too which I’m sure you’ll recognise.

However, if you get a wriggle on it’ll only take a few hours to beat the campaign. This feels steep for £20.99, even if you do unlock the “Crimson Citadel”, a procedural challenge tower, once the campaign is completed. Online leaderboards or not, it will still leave you wanting after the credits roll.

Slave Zero X will certainly put a smile on the face of those who played the original in the late ’90s, and oozes a distinct biopunk style. However, a short and shallow structure prevents it from being a must play, even though the gory hacking and slashing is a lot of fun.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Well designed combat system
  • Authentic retro style
  • Many ways to upgrade Shou as you go
Cons:
  • Hack and slash gameplay can get repetitive
  • Little replay value
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ziggurat
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
  • Release date and price - 21 February 2024 | £20.99
Darren Edwards
Darren Edwards
I have been playing games since a very early age, thanks to my Dad's encouragement. I've been an Xbox gamer since the very beginning, the Master Chief is to thank for that. I'm also a big Nintendo geek, and my other half is a PlayStation nut. I'll play pretty much anything in any genre (although FIFA and COD maybe pushing it).
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Well designed combat system</li> <li>Authentic retro style</li> <li>Many ways to upgrade Shou as you go</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Hack and slash gameplay can get repetitive</li> <li>Little replay value</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ziggurat</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5 <li>Release date and price - 21 February 2024 | £20.99</li> </ul>Slave Zero X Review
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