Home » ‘Mega Man ZX’: The DS Metroidvania Time Forgot

‘Mega Man ZX’: The DS Metroidvania Time Forgot

by Renan Fontes

Ask any Mega Man fan what their favorite sub-series is, and there’s a good chance they’ll rattle off the classic games, the X sub-series, or the Battle Network spin-offs. Fans with a deeper attachment to the franchise might be privy to Zero, Legends, and Star Force, but rarely is the ZX duology referred to with the same fervor. More often than not, both ZX games tend to fall under the umbrella of the Zero series– something Capcom even officialized to an extent, packaging all six games together in the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. It makes sense as IntiCreates would immediately develop Rockman ZX following Zero 4, but it still begs the question: why has time forgotten ZX

Perhaps “forgotten” isn’t the right word considering both ZX games have their fans and the first even outsold Zero 4, but the sub-series hasn’t left nearly as much impact on the franchise as its brethren. Of course, this is in large part due to the ZX games not only ending on a cliffhanger but ushering in an era where every single Mega Man sub-series save for Classic went on a quiet hiatus. Keep in mind that all four Zero games were released in yearly increments, all the while X games were still being made and Battle Network was chugging along on the very same handheld. The market was oversaturated with Mega Men by the timeZX basically released alongside the first Star Force. ZX Advent underperforming was an inevitability, but that’s a story for another day. 

Following Zero 4’s powerful ending, ZX would need an equally as impactful opening to prove it could carry the Mega Man torch in a post-Zero world. As an introduction to a brand new sub-series with new characters to follow, new themes to explore, and a new world to discover, Mega Man ZX doesn’t leave the most lasting impressions. Although that’s less to do with ZX’s actual design quality, and more to do with its conflicting priorities. Despite very much having an identity of its own– with gameplay truly unique to this sub-series– ZX spends its first hour acting like it’s a Mega Man X/Mega Man Zero hybrid when that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Of course, it’s hard to come to the conclusion that ZX has a unique identity when: the player character looks almost exactly like X in-action, a stage from Mega Man X is lifted right out of the first game mostly unchanged, and the mission system from the original Mega Man Zero makes an unexpected comeback. ZX is at least conscious of how much it lifts from the previous sub-series, lending the title some early-game charm if nothing else, but first impressions matter and letting your game’s first impression boil down to fan service isn’t exactly the best way to usher in a fresh start for a franchise. It’s a shame because, in spite of how much ZX wants to remind audiences of the series’ rich history, the game quickly finds its footing once the formality of the introduction is over. 

With a few key exceptions, the Mega Man franchise is primarily filled with action-platformers. Legends, Battle Network, and Star Force all offer a decent bit of variety, but Legends is very much a result of the shift from 2D to 3D, whereas BN and SF can comfortably be considered mechanical spin-offs even if they are fully-fledged sub-series. While the main platformers (Classic, X, and Zero) always had their fair share of secrets, adventuring wasn’t exactly a series priority– even Zero 1, which made an active effort to feature a hub world and an interconnected map, wasn’t able to strike a clean balance between action & adventure, resulting in IntiCreates jumping to a more traditional mission structure for the succeeding three Zero games. 

IntiCreates may have brought Zero’s story to a close, but Capcom wasn’t done with their partnership quite yet. With Zero 4 releasing on the cusp of the Nintendo DS and selling relatively well in spite of that, IntiCreates were commissioned for yet another Mega Man game: the title that would become ZX. With IntiCreates taking developmental reigns yet again, it would make sense for ZX to follow in the footsteps of Z4 and evolve the Zero series’ core combat. ZX was even made so it could “go either way,” as a sequel to Zero 4 and as a fresh start for Rockman. While superficially familiar to the Zero games, ZX does end up coming into its own. 

Taking a page out of Zero 1’s book, ZX is the full-blown Metroidvania IntiCreates couldn’t make back in 2002. A subgenre stemming from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s 1997 release, Metroidvania titles mesh the adventuring found in Metroid with the action found in Castlevania, often as 2D side-scrollers, occasionally with RPG mechanics, and ideally with an emphasis on exploration. While Metroidvanias can still exist without all these three qualities coalescing together, it’s that penchant for adventure that arguably gives the subgenre its charm. There’s a natural appeal to being able to stray off the beaten path to explore, or simply the allowance of tackling a game non-linearly. 

Mega Man has always featured non-linearity to an extent, allowing players to choose the order in which they tackle stages from as early as the first game, but ZX tries to add meat to said non-linearity. Rather than picking a mission from a menu and warping to the start, players now have to traverse an interconnected world to reach each stage after selecting their mission. Warp points and shortcuts gradually unlock over the course of the game to keep adventuring dynamic, resulting in only the first hour playing out like a traditional Mega Man game. Once players have cleared Area D, the world opens up and ZX more or less leaves players to their own devices– free to explore the overworld and play through the story at their leisure. 

It’s worth noting that despite Zero 4 and ZX sharing a scenario writer, the latter’s tone isn’t half as dark as its predecessor. Where Mega Man Zero was set in a dystopic future torn apart by perpetual conflict, ZX takes place 200 years after the events of the Zero series. Zero may be dead and gone, but substantial progress has been made since the Destruction of Ragnarok in Z4. A considerable amount of nature has returned to the land with a healthy population in tow. Not just that, the human/reploid racism that defined the Zero games is a distant memory with the two coexisting in relative peace. ZX offers a refreshing change of pace after four straight games of fairly dramatic storytelling. 

“Those humans we fought so hard to protect hundreds of years ago have been lulled into a false sense of security by the empty promise of peace.”

Although the interconnected world is an incredibly important part of the game’s identity, ZX’s main gameplay draw is the Biometal system. Unlocked by defeating Pseudoroids (ZX’s bosses,) Biometals are basically boss weapons that have been given full move sets, each Biometal having combat & platforming properties that can shake up gameplay. On the subject of shaking things up, ZX is also the first game in the series to feature a female protagonist. While she’s presented as little more than a female alternate to the male lead, Vent, Aile is very much her own character. Even their stories, which share the same exact key beats, end up feeling fairly different due to how much Vent and Aile ultimately contrast each other. 

Regardless of who players choose, the first Biometal Vent or Aile gains access to is Model X. Modeled after X himself, Model X plays fairly similar to how X did in Mega Man X2, complete with a double-charged shot that pulverizes enemies like nothing. Considering IntiCreates spent four games straight developing gameplay with Zero in mind, ZX’s introduction– while not a good indication of the game’s actual identity– has an endearing quality to it. With the first few stages intimately connected to one another, the first hour almost feels like an X game at times. Without other Models to play around with, the early stages make use of the basic dashing & jumping at the core of the X experience. Area D, ZX’s fourth stage, is even a revised version of the opening Highway level from X1

As fun as it is to cosplay X, Model X is only available for those first four stages, replaced by Model ZX at the end of Area D. Model ZX is basically a watered down Zero from the Zero games, and the Model the majority of the game is designed around. Unlike Model X which only had access to a Buster, Model ZX has two weapons: Zero’s signature Z Saber and a Buster Shot. The Z Saber can still perform a three hit combo, but has a less responsive charge attack. Likewise, Model ZX can pull off an aerial rolling slash, but Zero’s grounded rolling slash is nixed. Thankfully, ZX’s Buster Shot operates exactly like Model X’s, albeit without the double-charged shot. Both Models more or less play the same, with the key differences being that X has a stronger Buster and ZX has a sword. 

The four other main Models are fittingly based off the Zero series’ Guardians, with three of the Models replacing Element Chips in the process. Model HX is based on Harpuia and has Thunder based properties. Its dual blades might look like a single weapon, but the shorter blade can perform quick slices, while using the longer blade results in a heavy slash. Faster than Model ZX, HX’s blades have decent combo potential, with slice, slash, slice standing out as old reliable. HX’s charged attacks are particularly strong as well. A standard charge releases a homing attack that targets enemies, but pressing Up while releasing HX’s full charge will create a tornado that rips through bosses. 

Unlike X and ZX who can only pull off the dashing & jumping expected from X and Zero themselves, Model HX is far more agile. Not only can HX hover mid-air, making certain platforming sections easier, players can do a vertical dash akin to a double jump and an air-dash when off the ground. In terms of pure mobility, HX is second to none. As is the case with the all the Guardian based Biometals, the DS’ touch screen adapts to the equipped Model. In the case of HX, the bottom screen showcases enemy weaknesses and health. HX is one of the better Models in the game, if not the most practical, but the other Biometals do hold their own. 

Although Model FX doesn’t offer much in the way of platforming capabilities, it’s quite the heavy hitter. FX’s flame based attacks can be used to burn obstacles and FX’s Knuckle Busters more or less act as gauntlets that shoot out fireballs. They’re not only quite fast, the Knuckle Busters do more damage than ZX’s Buster Shot, making it easy to take out long ranged enemies fast. Model FX does lock into place when firing, so it’s not possible to attack while keeping momentum, but this is arguably offset by the fact Model FX can shoot vertically, taking out airborne enemies from down below. The touch screen is even used to customize the trajectory of FX’s shots, really capitalizing on FX’s offense. Accordingly, its base charge attack break blocks while holding down triggers a fiery earthquake. 

Ice type, Model LX is based on Leviathan and is fittingly at its most useful underwater. Equipped with a Halberd, LX isn’t going to be pulling off any three hit combos or dash slashes. The Halberd covers a wide enough range, but it’s not built for offense. On land, that is. By dashing mid-air, LX can swim underwater, turning the Halberd into an utter beast of a weapon. By alternating both attack buttons back and forth, players can perpetually twirl LX’s Halberd, guaranteed to rip through underwater enemies– even the two underwater bosses– in no time flat. LX’s base charge notably creates an ice platform that can be used for platforming, whereas its Up Press charge summons an ice dragon to attack enemies. 

In terms of platforming, LX is the go-to Model for underwater areas. With free range of mobility while swimming, LX can dash anywhere and everywhere, quickly killing everything in its path. The swim controls are quite fluid, in large part due to dash still being functional. Where underwater stages are usually a chore, LX manages to make ZX’s second water stage an incredibly fun area to traverse. Arguably the most useful feature of Model LX, however, is its mini-map. The bottom screen details stages as players traverse them, complete with pointing out any items along the way. 

What should be the coolest form in the game, but is ultimately the most useless, Model PX is still fun to use by sheer virtue of being based on Phantom, the most elusive member of the Guardians. A ninja, PX can throw out Kunai that do poor damage, but at least cover a wide range. While the Kunai can be tossed out at a rapid pace to offset this, PX does at least have access to two decent techniques. PX’s basic charge attack swaps out the Kunai for a Shuriken with the potential to do some solid damage, and by pressing up with a full charge, PX will ditch offense altogether and put up a barrier which blocks one hit. 

By pressing A, PX can enter its Overdrive mode and gain access to the Shadow Dash– a dash which allows players to dodge through attacks and even enemies themselves. All Guardian Models have access to an Overdrive, a super mode of sorts which gradually decreases the Special Weapon gauge. In the case of HX, FX, and LX, Overdrive triggers their elements, whereas PX gets a small buff and the aforementioned dash. Worth noting, PX features a map much like LX, but it’s zoomed in far closer and actually reveals any secrets in the area– perfect for hunting down Life Ups and Sub-Tanks. 

Of course, no Super Sentai allusion is complete without a human form from which players begin their journey in. “Model” HU, filling in for Vent and Aile’s standard human self, is a non-combative form. HU can’t dash or jump, but Vent and Aile at least have access to a duck & crawl. Interestingly, while Aile crawls faster than Vent, she also gets pushed back further by enemies. HU’s main purpose is to allow players to speak with NPCs, as they’ll be hostile otherwise. While players are unlikely to get much use out of it during actual gameplay, most enemies go passive if Vent/Aile are in HU mode.

As mentioned, unlocking a Biometal requires defeating one of eight Pseudoroids, but the Biometals are actually split in two. Defeating a boss will give immediate access to a new Model, but the Biometal’s full capabilities will be locked until players complete the next stage associated with their newly unlocked Model. Making the most out of your Biometal takes more than just defeating Pseudoroids, however. This time around, bosses have actual weaknesses which, when damaged, inflict extra damage. The catch is that hitting said weaknesses lowers the player’s victory level. 

“I’m not just a simple puppet like those Mavericks.”

Tiered from 1 to 4, players score a Lv 4 Victory by defeating a boss without touching their weak point. The more they damage the weak point, the lower the Victory Level. Defeating a boss with a Lv 4 Victory awards the player with a Biometal that doesn’t need any upgrading, whereas Lv 3 Victory Biometals and below require E-Crystals in order to increase the Special Weapon gauge. 

With EX Skills and Zero’s ranking system out of the picture, boss weaknesses are a nice trade-off. They offer a unique and engaging difficulty curve. Lv 4 Victories incentivize players to fight strategically and truly learn boss fights, leading to some tense battles. On the other hand, weak points also make it so players can satisfyingly brute force bosses at the expense of a weaker Biometal– a nice compromise, both for those who need it and who simply want it. 

Needless to say, the boss design is a highlight. Perhaps the bosses aren’t as consistently strong as the Zero games, but ZX makes good use out of its bosses. Hivolt in particular is a nice early boss that shows the weakness system in action. Attacking Hivolt head on will likely result in players connecting with his arms, Hivolt’s weak points. The goal becomes to strike Hivolt at the legs, reacting and waiting for him to reveal any openings. Fistleo offers a more aggressive early game challenge compared to Hivolt, jumping around the room in a frenzy and potentially locking Vent/Aile into some heavy hits. With his weak point his head, players need to be careful to hit Fistleo’s body exclusively– especially since he’ll periodically lower his head to punish players who are fighting too reckless. It can be frustrating, but it keeps the combat dynamic in a game with low combo potential. 

At the end of (almost) every boss fight is a transerver greeting players, where they may log progress, warp to different areas, and take on new missions. But this actually brings us to one of ZX’s biggest problems: the interconnected world itself. It’s a fine idea in theory, and actually traversing the world is easy enough once you take the time to familiarize yourself with the overworld, but it does take time to get to that point. Although there’s quite a bit of visual cohesion making it clear how some stages intersect, areas are poorly connected on a design level. The “in-between” stages (Areas A through D) are fine starter stages, but become painfully boring once backtracked through half a dozen times. 

The naming convention doesn’t help Areas either. As the game is non-linear, there’s no real purpose in alphabetizing stages in a way that suggests linearity– which is exactly what ZX does. It results in a messy world to traverse, a sin for the Metroidvania subgenre. Not helping matters is the horrid in-game map. The sooner players realize that it’s a chart showing how areas connect, and not a map showing them how to get around, the better. Honestly, the “map” might do more harm than good on a first playthrough. If nothing else, areas are visually distinct and tend to feature great music. 

What’s really a shame is all the backtracking taking away from how well designed most Areas are. While the level design on a whole isn’t quite on par with the Zero sub-series, it’s by no means bad. Fantastic presentation helps keep each Area looking dynamic, making use of even better lighting and weather effects than Z4 (courtesy of the NDS.) The interconnected world might be a letdown, but most missions make good use of branching paths, enemy placement, and all-around fun set pieces. 

Of the first set of Biometal missions, Area G has players heading into a Residential District that’s been set ablaze. If Model HX has already been unlocked, its charge attack can be used to put out fires in order to open new paths. Otherwise, players need to creatively platform around the flames, saving NPCs in the process by going through windows to navigate a burning building. Conversely, anyone who unlocked Model HX already has access to a mission in Area I. A warehouse caught in the middle of a rainstorm, the warehouse itself splits into branching paths– one filled with spikes, perfect for HX to traverse, and the other a dark room that requires either careful platforming or PX’s night vision. 

As previously mentioned, Area D is an expanded version of the highway from the first Mega Man X. Since players have access to a dash already, however, enemies are more aggressive and the platforming is a bit more involved. Area D even features an upper half which becomes important later in the game after defeating all 8 Pseudoroids. This upper area not only branches expands upon the highway considerably, it branches into one of the strongest stages in ZX: Area O. The sight of Serpent, the main villain, bombing his own country as players rush through the stage is a sight to behold. In a fairly toothless plot, Area O stands out as ZX’s shining moment. 

What helps more than anything, though, is the boss fight against Prometheus & Pandora. By far ZX’s most interesting characters, Prometheus and Pandora appear multiple times over the course of the game, none of their appearances making their role any clearer. They’re characters completely shrouded in mystery, leaving only the smallest of bread crumbs to follow. All the same, they’re genuinely interesting and a highlight of the story. Each one is also fought once leading up to the boss fight in Area O, making this confrontation particularly meaningful. 

Prometheus is fought first, at the halfway point of the game, and his aggressive play style means players need to get in their hits whenever they can while avoiding damage. Pandora is fought much later, right before Area O in fact, but she approaches the player from long range, requiring varied use of the Biometals to inflict consistent damage on her. Area O pits both of them against the player at the exact same time with little gameplay differences between their initial fights and this two-on-one duel. Area O’s boss fight even removes the walls present in their solo battles, making it much harder to avoid damage. The result is a chaotic fight that tests how well players understand their toolkit. 

“Well, we’ve finally drawn the curtain and have arrived at our final act!”

In spite of the emphasis on story, ZX is a step down narratively from the Zero sub-series– though serviceable. Vent and Aile aren’t as compelling as Zero, but likable enough. Vent is basically X with his trademark pacifism traded for hot-bloodedness while Aile is softer, passive, and far more introspective than Vent. Serpent is IntiCreates’ weakest antagonist by a large margin, but as the President of Slither Inc, he at least continues the trend of power corrupting rooted in the Zero games. Vent/Aile and Serpent unfortunately never manage to strike up much chemistry, which can result in all three characters falling flat even if they aren’t poorly written. 

The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better, but there are two notable standouts: Giro and Prairie. Although he appears to be Zero in all but name, Giro is more or less Zero’s antithesis. Though he fits the part, Giro is softer, kinder, far more talkative, and quite open with his emotions as evidenced by his paternal relationship with Aile. He dies fairly early into the game, but his presence can be felt throughout the plot and his role in ZX’s lore is intriguing enough. The fact Giro’s Model Z design is so cool admittedly does earn him a few points, as well. 

Alouette actually returns from the Zero series under the name Prairie, the leader of the Guardians, more or less filling in the role Ciel once did– albeit with less of her charm and depth. Ciel was a character with a strong motivation and purpose within the story. One could argue that she was just as much the main character as Zero, and they frankly wouldn’t be wrong.  Prairie doesn’t have as much of a presence, which is a shame as she’s a character with a considerable amount of history behind her. All the same, her relationships with Vent and Aile do end up shining some light on what happened inbetween the two sub-series: notably the revelation that Dr. Weil is still active via Model W. 

Weil’s “return” is handled well enough, with Model W’s presence a corrupting one, true to Weil’s character & nature. Really, the most endearing thing about it is that Model W parallels Dr. Wily’s quiet role in the X series (as Serges in X2, himself in X4, and potentially Isoc in X6.) It certainly helps that Weil doesn’t return as the man himself. It should also be noted that while the plot itself is fairly dull, there is substance. In the same way the Zero sub-series focused on legends, specifically in regards to the influence they can have, ZX centers itself on destiny and how it rules us. 

Serpent believes it’s his destiny to usher in the next stage of evolution, while Pandora warns of a “Destiny of Destruction” that Vent and Aile might potentially bring about due to the overwhelming power of the Biometal. All who possess the Biometals are destined to fight, as are they destined to suffer because of them– with Giro killed on Vent/Aile’s path to triggering Model ZX and Serpent wiping out his entire research unit under the influence of Model W. At the same time, ZX’s message is that destiny is merely a concept and one that can be controlled. Giro even goes so far as to invoke the definition of “destine” in Aile’s story– ”directing something towards a given end.” Destiny tends to be a bit bland as a theme, but ZX handles it well enough. 

Bizarrely, it’s worth noting that Aile’s story reads more like a second draft of the main plot than anything else. Giro goes from having a friendly relationship with Vent to a paternal one with Aile, expanding his personality considerably. Not just that, where Giro seemingly gains access to Model Z at the same time Vent triggers Model X, Aile’s story has Giro being a member of the Guardians all along. Giro has been taking care of Aile for years while working for Prairie in secret as Model Z, something that simply isn’t present in Vent’s plot. 

Aile’s story also makes mention of a Game of Destiny, hinting at a larger story brewing in the background: a thread that would become the basis for ZX Advent’s plot. Serpent’s motivation is also made explicitly clear if Aile is the main character, while Vent’s leaves Serpent and the true nature of his character up to subtext. This is a particular instance where expanding the script in Aile’s story ends up hurting the plot. 

As Vent, it’s only implied that Serpent is under the control of Model W. More importantly, however, Serpent’s parting message to Vent is far more philosophical: no matter what, nothing changes. Centuries pass, conflicts rise, and heroes always stand up to protect those they love, thus preventing real change in the process. Considering the cyclical nature of the franchise, it’s a surprisingly poignant note for Serpent to exit on. On the flip side, Serpent simply tells Aile that she’s related to Dr. Weil and leaves her with a personal crisis that, while fitting for her own arc, doesn’t resonate half as well. 

It should be pointed out that Vent’s story feels truer to the storytelling found in the Zero sub-series as it’s very to the point. There are more references to the Zero series than in Aile’s plot, showing Zero & Ciel together while explaining the scope of Weil’s role in the story– something Aile isn’t privy to. In some respects, Vent’s playthrough does feel like the Zero 5 ZX could have been.  Vent’s arc is a very traditional coming of age story, whereas Aile is deeply concerned over her place in the world and her role as the Biometal’s “chosen one.” Vent’s subtle arc fits the natural pacing of the Zero games, but Aile’s more involved arc speaks to the qualities unique to ZX, blatantly invoking the idea that this is a new chapter altogether.

“Forget the past. It means nothing. The power you contain within is the key to creating the future.”

Which is another reason Aile’s script reads like a second draft: confidence. Vent’s story is littered with Zero references from start to finish, trying to ensure there’s a glue between Zero 4 and ZX– outright mentioning the destruction of Ragnarok which occurred in the former. Aile strips away the Zero references, and gives the cast far more to say– giving the impression that there is a larger story brewing even if ZX isn’t going to do much with the information. That in itself is a problem, though. Aiel’s story is interesting, but the payoff isn’t satisfying since so much goes unresolved. That said, ZX Advent is said payoff so it isn’t as if the concepts introduced in Aile’s script are stuck in limbo. 

Whether ZX is played as Vent or Aile, the story isn’t the draw of the game. It rarely is with Mega Man, but it certainly was a nice treat that all four Zero games managed to tell relatively high quality stories. Really, it’s the novelty of being able to explore this universe and embodying its greatest legends that makes ZX such a captivating experience. What Zero fan doesn’t love being able to switch from Zero, to Harpuia, to Phantom in seconds? Each one with their own unique skill set? It makes replaying through ZX a very fun experience, each Model fundamentally changing how you tackle each Area. 

Mega Man ZX ends up being less consistent than any of the Zero games when all is said and done, but one area where ZX undeniably excels at above its predecessors is in the bonus content. Mega Man games are replayable by design, but ZX offers a generous amount of incentive to keep coming back for more. Beyond the Level Victory system making boss rematches far more engaging, completing the game as both Vent and Aile unlocks a permanent Model X for all future playthroughs. Instead of being replaced once ZX is triggered, Model X can continue to be activated for the rest of the game. As expected, its double-charged shot absolutely wrecks bosses, making running through the story again a blast. 

NPCs themselves offer a healthy dose of sub-quests throughout the game, often rewarding E-Crystals and new pieces of equipment. Side missions not only help add flavor to ZX’s world, most are exploration heavy, actually encouraging players to go out and adventure. They’re by no means revolutionary side-quests, but the rewards they offer tend to be useful. More importantly, they simply add length to a series that often caps out shy of four hours per entry. “Quality over quantity,” or so the adage goes, but ZX makes a compelling enough case for the latter. Its overall quality of content may not be as high as Zero’s, but there’s a lot of solid gameplay to sink your teeth into. Sometimes that’s enough. 

After the third to last mission in Area M, players gain access to the optional Area N. By heading to the bottom floor, anyone with Mega Man Zero 3 or Zero 4 in their DS slot can trigger rematches against four Mythos Reploids from each game. Blazin’ Flizard, Hellbat Schilt, Childre Inarabitta, and Deathtanz Mantisk all return from Zero 3, while Noble Mandrago, Sol Titanion, Fenri Lunaedge, and Pegasolta Eclair return from Zero 4. As far as boss fights go, Mega Man ZX might have its brethren beat. That isn’t all there is to Area N, however, as it is home to a secret boss anyone can access. Should they have the skills, that is. 

Area N features a fairly challenging platforming section with vanishing blocks above a bed of spikes. While Model HX can trivialize the second half of the section quite easily, it’s still a tense section that’s made all the more daunting by the boss beyond the spikes. The final boss of Mega Man Zero 3, Omega returns harder than ever. Not only can he heal himself, but he can also lock the player into an extremely heavy hitting combo while tanking damage. Omega will kill anyone who goes in unprepared, making the bed of spikes the least of their worries. 

Between IntiCreates’ two secret bosses (Omega here and Phantom in Zero 3,) Omega definitely takes the cake. He’s challenging, incredibly fun to fight, has a great boss theme, and an even better reward. Upon defeating Omega, players will find a Mysterious Stone in Area N. Once the game has been beaten, players can then return to the Guardian base and unlock Model OX– a form which looks exactly like Omega (basically a palette swapped Zero from the Zero games) with a moveset based on Zero’s X series play style. It’s a shame that Model OX is locked behind beating the game once, but replaying the final stage as Zero and dominating enemies with his wide array of moves makes for a nice capstone. 

It’s hard to believe a game where you can play as X, Zero, the four Guardians, and unlock Omega has little presence in the franchise, but that’s what happens when multiple sub-series are running at the same time and competing with each other for attention. It’s also worth keeping in mind that while ZX’s fanservice is endearing now– in an era where Rockman only comes out to play every now and again– everything ZX shines a spotlight on was still relevant in 2006. The X games were still chugging along and the Zero series had just ended. There was no time to miss these characters and welcome their spiritual return. 

More importantly, the mere act of trying to wipe the slate clean while serving as some pseudo-Zero 5 ultimately hurts ZX. The game does come together well, but the fact it needs to come together at all– more or less wasting its first hour– doesn’t exactly leave the strongest first impression. It’s hard to remember a game when it spends its opening reminding you of other, better video games. The tragedy here being that by the end of ZX, it’s shed away its X and Zero flairings in favor of its own design conventions. 

In spite of its failings and fumbles, Mega Man ZX is more than just a successor to the Zero series, but a celebration of the franchise. Albeit a celebration at a time where Mega Man didn’t exactly need celebrating. All the same, it’s that very aspect that’s helped ZX stand out over time. Sloppy exploration and a mediocre story do drag the game down, but it isn’t enough to take away from the sheer gameplay variety or depth of content. Mega Man ZX was the start of a new chapter in Rockman history, and while time may forget, time has been kind to this Mega Metroidvania. 

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