Being a long-term Mega Man fan, I have a bias toward the positive sides of this game, but I will try to point out the negative elements as much as possible.
This game is pretty much standard Mega Man fare. You run around the levels, destroying enemies and jumping gaps. The main difference that sets this game apart from the others in the Mega Man legacy is its grading system. The system counts the number of hits you take, the number of enemies you “retire” and the time taken to beat a mission, as well as some other factors, which I will come to later.
The first stage can be beaten quite easily with an “A” or higher, but the subsequent levels really push up the difficulty and can be quite frustrating. A boss beaten whilst you have an “A” rank will allow you to capture that boss’ EX Skill, which, when equipped, will upgrade your weaponry, giving you more versatility. The game’s difficulty also changes depending on your rank. If you attempt a mission with rank “A,” there will be more and tougher opponents. Each boss also has a special attack that it only uses if you have an “A” rank or higher.
The game’s plot focuses on Zero’s continuing search for X. His journeys bring him to a wasteland, where a huge army of X clones attack him. He battles through, but then collapses on the sand. His former enemy, Harpuia, rescues him from certain death and drops him off at the New Resistance Base, led by the mysterious Commander Elpizo. The Resistance are still battling Neo Arcadia, who are “retiring” innocent robots. The game’s narrative is a lot heavier than most platform games can manage, with a continuing story that resolves very few of the many questions it raises to the avid Mega Man gamer.
At this point I will warn you—this game is not for casual gamers. It will not sell well here in the UK because it has not been advertised heavily and has not been given great magazine reviews. Most publications’ major criticism of Mega Man games is that there are too many of them and they have not diversified enough. Personally, I consider this a spurious argument.
Take the Resident Evil series as an example. How much has that consistently popular series changed over the years? The simple answer is, it really hasn’t. This argument can also be leveled at the Tekken series of fighting games. It isn’t a relevant argument. A game should be judged as new and praised on its own merits. The reason that this fine game may never be accepted by the gaming mainstream is its difficulty and the relative ambiguity of its main character, Zero.
Onto the gameplay, then. The controls are right, instinctive, and responsive. If you die, it’s your own fault. The levels are well-designed and tough without ever seeming unsurpassable. The game is split into missions, which adhere to a somewhat deep storyline, continued, naturally, from the previous game.
Zero can climb walls, dash, and use four different weapons. The Z-Saber is one of the starting weapons and will probably be your best friend throughout the game. You also begin with a handgun, which is only really used against certain enemies on whom it would be suicide to try a melee attack. The other two weapons are the Chain Rod, which allows you to grapple onto things, and the Shield Boomerang, which allows you to deflect enemy bullets. Each weapon can be upgraded, a process that takes effect through extensive use.
After battling your way through a stage, you face a boss character mano-a-mano. The bosses have ridiculous names such as Phoenix Magnion and Hewligg Urobokkle, and will assault you will all the power they possess. Most bosses are challenging, but they are not on par, difficulty wise, with the guardians you face in the original Mega Man Zero. However, that is not to say they are a pushover. Phoenix Magnion, especially, will have you ripping your hair out.
The graphics are solid. The landscapes and sprites do the job, but the boss characters are very well-designed and drawn. The music can be atmospheric and hummable. Play this game with the headphones on.
Overall? A very enjoyable little platformer which, sadly, few will play.