The excellent Mega Man Zero and ZX games have always been trapped in the shadows of their more popular Mega Man and Mega Man X predecessors, but thanks to Capcom’s latest collection, the unique side-scrolling run-and-gun platformers finally get their due.
Out tomorrow on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection combines Mega Man Zero 1 through 4 from the Game Boy Advance with Mega Man ZX and ZX Advent from the Nintendo DS. They were the first Mega Man games to be created by the ex-Capcom developers at Init Creates, cautiously remixing the classic formula with new RPG and Metroidvania-lite elements to expand the series’ mechanical world of androids, reploids, and mavericks beyond the polished arcade action of the earlier games. While Mega Man Zero remains the lesser of two Mega Man spin-off series, it’s still a great bridge between old and new that nails much of the fast and tightly controlled 2D platforming that made the earlier Mega Man X games classics.
The Mega Man Zero games are beautifully preserved and visually buffed in the new Legacy Collection. You can play with the original aspect ratio or with the games stretched to fit modern displays. There are also smoothing and CRT filters, though in my opinion the games look best without them. Originally created as bite-sized experiences for the Game Boy Advance, they stuck to the series’ classic pixel-animated roots while Mega Man X was off doing weird hybrid 3D stuff on PS1 and 2.
What the games lacked in scale they made up with a story that unfolded along a new non-linear mission-based system and with upgrade paths the let you increase the power of Zero’s buster and sword simply by using them. On Switch, the worlds look just as bright and colourful, and thanks to a new checkpointing system, it’s easier to spend more time collecting power-ups and blowing stuff up.
To anyone familiar with the original Zero and ZX games, the Legacy Collection’s biggest draw is a save-assist mode that scatters checkpoints throughout levels and before boss fights. Zero is a glass cannon, and his melee attacks make getting up in enemies’ faces a routine affair. Being able to restart from nearby spots makes what was often a laborious affair on the Game Boy Advance feel much more in line with the twitchy action games of today. Fast deaths and fast restarts feel much better than having to start over because a poorly timed jump sent Zero hurtling down a pit.
The assists can be toggled on and off at any time from a menu for anyone who wants the pure Zero experience. There’s also a story mode that directly dials down the difficulty by reducing how much damage enemies do and making Zero more powerful. While other collections offer save states, these two options are more than enough to help you through the tougher spots in the series without the temptation of save scumming your way through a boss fight.
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection runs fairly well, although it occasionally felt like it was dropping a few frames when lots of enemies were on screen or following a particularly intense explosion animation. There is also some lag, though it barely registered for me except when the game dropped a button press, leading Zero to stall slightly before jumping or dashing again. It was most noticeable when I played the original Mega Man Zero on my Game Boy SP side-by-side with the new collection, but it didn’t radically change my experience replaying the games.
One other minor annoyance is how the the collection handles the second screen in the ZX games, which was mostly used as a map or for swapping power-ups mid-level in the original DS games. The collection simply recreates the DS’s touch screen in a small window on the right of the screen that you can navigate with the right control stick. It would have been nicer if Capcom had found a way to strip out the second screen, which is mostly perfunctory, altogether.
There’s also a new speedrun mode where you can play time-trial versions of levels from all of the games against another player in local coop or AI ghosts. The times are tracked on a global leaderboard, but it’s not the kind of thing that feels best suited to Zero’s shorter, more open-ended levels and not as creative as the X Legacy Collection’s boss rush mode.
One last little thing the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection has going for it is that unlike the Mega Man and X Legacy Collections, which are both split into two volumes, it all comes in a single package. For about $45, you get all the GBA and DS games on a single cartridge. And even given some of the performance constraints, it’s nice to finally have them all in one place with modern conveniences in tow.