Review by FFandMMfan

"An insult to the Mega Man series."

I grew up with Mega Man. One of the two games I got with my NES was Mega Man 2 (The other being Super Mario Bros. 3), so I've been playing the Mega Man series for a looong time. I've beat all of the classic Mega Man games, and most of the Mega Man X games, so I think I know Mega Man when I see it.

This is not Mega Man. This is Mega Man in name only. This is a poor imitation of Mega Man that insults both my pride as a Mega Man fan and as a gamer in general. And no, it's not because it's starring Zero and not Mega Man, that's not the problem. The problem is that it ignores almost everything that makes a Mega Man game, a Mega Man game. However, even if I treat the games contained within this collection as something other than Mega Man games and rate it solely on what it DOES present instead of what it doesn't present, does it make them good games? No, no it doesn't. Well, except for one of them, and even that one is kind of pushing it.

I played the first Mega Man Zero game when it first came out, and was so disappointed that I put it down and never picked it back up until I played this collection. I thought perhaps my criticism was misguided and that I was merely upset that it was so vastly different than what I expected, plus I had heard that the latter three games were much better, so I decided to give it another go. Do I feel that my initial impressions were misguided? Not really, no.

STORY
==========
Our story begins in Mega Man Zero 1 with our non-playable heroine Ciel running from pursuing soldiers that resemble Mega Man X. Ciel eventually comes across Zero who is laying dormant in the forest. She re-awakens him, and you jump into action, and shortly after that you learn that Ciel is the head of a resistance against Neo Arcadia, which is a haven for humans that has exiled all of the Reploids, because there isn't enough energy for both humans and Reploids to live. Neo Arcadia is lead by... Mega Man X... Yes, you're fighting against Mega Man X. Anyway, stuff happens, enemies get killed, and Zero will end up confronting X by the end of the game. The next three games pick up nearly right after the others leave off, so I can't really talk about their stories - spoilers and all, but I can assure you that they are incredibly poorly written and boring.

GAMEPLAY
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The gameplay is standard Mega Man fare. You pick one of eight bosses, play through their stage and face them at the end, exploiting their weakness with one of the 7 other weapons you got from previous bosses and then you copy their special weapon for use on future bosses.

Oh wait, no, that never happens in Mega Man Zero. Well, not properly anyway. That's right, Mega Man Zero, all of them, break the most fundamental gameplay mechanics of every single Mega Man game since the very first one. So, how many different weapons DO you get in the Mega Man Zero games? In all but MMZ4, you get four weapons. That's right, four weapons for the entire game. In MMZ4, you get two permanent weapons and are able to steal weapons from basic enemies, but you can only hold one at a time and most of them are useless and many of them have limited ammo that cannot be refilled.

But how can you exploit boss weaknesses with only 4 weapons? Well, you can't, because the weapons themselves don't actually have any elemental properties. Those come in the form of Element Chips, which you equip to your weapons to potentially give you a damage advantage over any given boss. But there's not 8 of them, oh no, there's only 3. That's right, nearly every boss in every game is weak to one of three elements (Fire, Ice and Lightning) that simply make your charged attacks explode in flames, ice crystals or lightning. Therefore, beginning the game by facing one of the bosses which gives you a particular element, and then fighting the boss that is weak to that element and grants another element, and then the same with the last element, will allow you to deal maximum damage to the rest of the 5 bosses regardless or what order you face them in.

Oh, but they MUST give you SOME kind of special weapons, right? You certainly can't walk out of the rest of the bosses' lairs emptyhanded, can you? Sure you can, and you will, because in MMZ1, the rest of the bosses don't give you anything other than Cyber-Elves (I'll get back to those later), in MMZ2 you must get an S rank on a stage in order for a boss to grant you their EX Skill (which are either minor alterations to your charge shot or let you do things like a diving thrust by holding down and using your Z Saber) and in MMZ3, you must get at least an A rank to get their EX Skill. So, how hard is it to get an A or S rank? Nearly impossible. You must beat the stages extremely quickly, never die, take minimal damage and not use anything like Cyber-Elves or Sub Tanks. Me, being someone who has played Mega Man games for NEARLY TWENTY YEARS can rarely get above an E rank. You know what E ranks get you? NOTHING. This means that unless you have memorized the ins and outs of every single stage, you will never, ever be able to obtain special weapons from bosses. What this essentially does is reward players with additional power when they didn't need it, and leave players who clearly needed more power out in the cold. Then again, the EX Skills barely help at all. I don't think I ever found myself requiring to use them, but the fact remains that they are nearly impossible to obtain in MMZ2 and MMZ3. In MMZ4, getting EX Skills is considerably easier, but is done in a mind-numbingly stupid way. You (somehow, it's never explained how) can change the weather of a given stage, altering the stage slightly and making the boss fight either more or less aggressively, and when you defeat them in their most aggressive stage, they will drop their EX Skill. Sure took them long enough to make it possible to obtain them.

But all I've really done thusfar is complain about how different the games are from other Mega Man series. I should really stop doing that and focus more on what the game DOES offer and not what it doesn't, right? Well, unfortunately, this isn't going to be any nicer.

At it's core, the game engine is very similar to the Mega Man X games. You can shoot, slash, jump, run, dash, and stick to walls. Don't fix what ain't broke, right? Well, the games can't even do THIS right because of the HORRIBLE level and interface design.

Mega Man Zero 1 is the biggest offender here. You could probably fit 3 or 4 Mega Man Zero 1 stages into the stages of the latter three games. They're so small that they take only 2 or 3 minutes max to get through and are all horribly designed, most of them being a straight flat path. MMZ1 doesn't even have a boss portrait screen, or even give you any idea of what kind of boss you'll be going up against. It gives you a plain text list of mission names. That's it. Oh, and as far as I know, this is the ONLY GAME in the entire Mega Man series where, if you get a game over, you can only reload your save data or opt to PERMANENTLY FAIL THE MISSION, FOREVER LOCKING YOU OUT OF ATTEMPTING IT AGAIN. This is a complete wallbanger, WHY would they do such a stupid thing? What were they thinking?

Mega Man Zero 2 has much larger stages, and thankfully doesn't permanently fail you for getting a game over, but the stages are STILL poorly designed. But that's not the biggest offender to MMZ2, it's the fact that it RECYCLES BOSSES FROM MMZ1, and no, I don't mean as random extra bosses, I mean fills some of the 8 boss slots with the EXACT SAME ENEMIES YOU FACED IN THE LAST GAME. This is just lazy game design, which is even further reflected in how poorly the levels are designed. Another major issue the game has is that it enforces the 4 boss limitation that first appeared in Mega Man 7, where you can only face four of the eight bosses at the beginning, which is and has always been a completely stupid mechanic.

Mega Man Zero 3 STILL hasn't fixed the terrible level design, though the stages are SLIGHTLY better than the ones in the first two games, but it yet again enforces the 4 boss limitation. This game however doesn't have 8 boss stages, it has 11 of them. THREE OF WHICH ARE RE-USED FROM MEGA MAN ZERO 2. Then once you get to the final levels, it throws even MORE re-used bosses at you. Again, lazy game design.

Mega Man Zero 4 FINALLY gets it's act together! The stages are long, generally well designed and difficult not because of the fact that there's spikes EVERYWHERE (which all 4 games are guilty of) but because the level design is legitimately challenging. The game offers all 8 boss stages to you right from the get-go, and even makes it possible to gain their EX Skills, though it still has the major fault of only having 3 types of weaknesses. There's no re-used bosses, the bosses are generally much more fun to fight than the ones in previous games and you can even create parts and upgrades for Zero in a much better and much more fun way than in previous games. It's like the first 3 games were a beta of MMZ4 and this is their first serious release. Who would have thought that there could be a GOOD Mega Man Zero game? Not me. I was quite surprised and impressed with MMZ4.

The next thing I want to touch on is the concept of Cyber-Elves. These are essentially items that enemies will occasionally drop or that can be found in crates (in the first 3 games) that will upgrade Zero or otherwise effect his environment. This can range from increasing his maximum life bar (which is the only way to raise it, and the game never explicitly tells you this. I spent a majority of MMZ1 not caring about the Cyber Elves at all and wondering where the heart tanks were), restoring some life, making him move faster or damaging all enemies on screen. Most Cyber-Elves cannot be used right away, and must instead be upgraded by spending E-Crystals - random drops from enemies, on them. Mega Man Zero 4 streamlines this entire process by giving you one single Cyber-Elf that levels up as you beat bosses and feed it E-Crystals that can be customized with whatever abilities you want, provided it's a high enough level to use that ability.

Last, but most certainly not least, the final gameplay point that I would like to talk about is the major new feature of the Mega Man Zero Collection, the Easy Scenario.

Perhaps you were wondering about why I called this collection an insult to my pride as a gamer. The Easy Scenario is the reason. This is a new mode created specifically for the collection which is the top option in the main menu (as opposed to the actual games being up top) that essentially combines all 4 games into one long game. However, Easy Scenario isn't just a normal kind of easy, it's an "impossible to die" kind of easy. You begin the game with all upgrades, maximum life bar, all Cyber-Elves, etc, but it doesn't stop there. Most of the spikes and pits are removed, and enemies deal less damage to you. How much less? Well, let me put this in perspective. I played through the first two areas of MMZ1 in Easy Scenario, intentionally taking damage once from every single enemy and not killing them so I couldn't accidentally pick up health. By the time I had gotten to and beat the boss, I still had 3/4 of my second life bar (you can get a maximum of two layers of life in each game, Easy Scenario starts you with it). This is inexcusable. The very fact that they would include something so pathetic, so insulting to the player's skill, drives me insane, and made me knock an entire point of the score I may have otherwise given this collection.

FINAL THOUGHTS
================
Ultimately, this collection of the four Mega Man Zero games falls flat, simply because only one of the four is any good. This is absolutely not worth your money, and you would be much better off simply buying Mega Man Zero 4 and forgetting that the rest of the series even exists.

PROS:
+ Mega Man Zero 4
+ Generally solid gameplay engine
+ Nice graphics for GBA games
+ No slowdown whatsoever

CONS:
- Mega Man Zero 1, 2 and 3
- Easy Scenario
- No variety in weapon choice (Except in MMZ4)
- Only 3 elements
- Unable to pick from all boss stages from the very beginning in the first 3 games
- Re-used bosses in MMZ2 and MMZ3
- The boss names in all of the games are stupid and ridiculous and whoever came up with them should be fired.
- Poor level design in the first 3 games
- Getting EX Skills in MMZ2 and MMZ3 is nearly impossible
- Forgettable music
- Boring, generic plot
- Poor menu interface
- Overall, not worthy to bear the Mega Man title


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 06/21/10

Game Release: Mega Man Zero Collection (US, 06/08/10)


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