IT’S LIKE YOUR COUSIN: Still the same as always, still doing okay.
Remember the last time you saw your extended family? You had to talk for a little while with the one cousin who’s about your age, with whom you, in your youth, spent innumerable hours at family gatherings. Remember how you realized, again, that though he’s a nice guy, he’s the same exact nice guy he was when you were both nine? Still, though, on the ride home, you felt satisfied that he was doing okay, that he hadn’t screwed up too badly. You gave yourself a pat on the back for being concerned.
There’s a new Mega Man game.
Mega Man ZX takes place several generations after the previous Mega Man story arc — that of Zero and X — left off. Having saved the world only a few hundred years earlier, Zero and X have died and somehow been forgotten. You begin your adventure as a delivery boy or girl who is, you guessed it, quickly ensnared in a robot-based maze of political and industrial intrigue. (Yes, you can choose between two characters. Yes, they have all the stereotypical differences of boys and girls in games. He is stronger but slower; she’s agile but takes more damage. The story difference is negligible.)
Turns out Zero and X aren’t dead; their essences have simply been converted into small robots, called biometals, that can take the form of suits. Using these suits, you can access the abilities of both Zero (energy sword, flowing blond hair) and X (chargeable blaster), engaging in the boilerplate activities that have sustained the Mega Man brand for more than two decades.
Not much has changed since we last visited the Mega Man universe. The bad guys are still (thank God) manufacturing giant wasp-shaped robots en masse, pretty much everything can be jumped on, and defeating a boss allows you to steal his power. The biometal system adds a new dimension, however: defeating a boss nets you his suit. Each suit comes with its own set of physics and unique powers not limited to the traditional “HARD KNUCKLE” or “ATOMIC FIRE.” I am very glad, for example, that a Mega Man has finally come along in which a harpoon can be used underwater.
ZX also features a world map, a small arcade of unlockable mini-games, and NPCs that can be approached and talked to. Although navigating the game’s giant expanse of territory sometimes proves unwieldy, it’s refreshing to see the move away from “pick-a-boss” territory and toward a more Metroid-esque open-ended system.
Aside from offering a small number of night-vision sequences and continually reminding you that, in Mega Man ZX, “M.E.G.A.” stands for “Meta-Encapsulated Granule Awareness,” the touchscreen serves little purpose. That doesn’t affect the gameplay, but it’s always disappointing when a new DS game doesn’t find some inventive way to use its trademark technology. Indeed, Mega Man ZX’s most serious shortcoming is its failure to make full use of the DS’s capabilities. After Mario and Simon Belmont showed us what kind of graphics the system is capable of, it’s tough to see the Mega Man series backsliding into the look of its Super Nintendo incarnations.
Yet by standing the test of time the way it has, Mega Man has made itself all but critic-proof. In essence it’s still the game I loved when I was five. Mega Man ZX leaves me with little more to say than “Fight, Meta-Encapsulated Granule Awareness Man! Fight for everlasting peace!”