Before Dark Souls, there was Mega Man Zero. Developer Inti Creates took the action platforming formula of the X series and refashioned it on Game Boy Advance into something way more extreme — and sometimes agonizingly tough. And they did it for four entries straight. Then they threw another curve ball on Nintendo DS with Mega Man ZX and sequel ZX Advent, which adds a Metroidvania spin on things. To be sure, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection on Nintendo Switch is an eclectic collection of Capcom titles, but a perfect frame rate and the addition of various quality-of-life options make this the ideal way to experience these games.
From X to Zero
Mega Man Zero takes place many years after the X series, with iconic protagonist Zero waking up from hibernation to a new war being waged. He joins a ragtag group of rebels to battle the tyrant in control of Neo Arcadia, and the narrative takes on a prominent role in each game. Unfortunately, most of it isn’t actually that interesting, and being unable to ever skip text in the first two games hurts the pacing.
Still, a more focused narrative means that missions aren’t always just “kill (random baddie).” There are sometimes secondary objectives like deactivating bombs or rescuing soldiers that spice things up. The first Zero in particular tries hard to offer mission variety, but it’s also the shortest game by far. After that, the games start to blur together a bit, feeling admittedly very similar.
Zero gets weapons beyond his melee saber and long-range gun to accomplish missions, like a throwable shield and a gimmicky fist that temporarily steals an enemy’s weapon. In the first two Zero games, weapons actually level up and become more effective with prolonged use, but Zero 3 and 4 ditch this, realizing that it’s more fun if a weapon is just useful in the first place. Also, Zero can assign an element (lightning, fire, ice) to his weapons to strike enemy weaknesses.
Another difference with Zero is there is a home base to explore. Talking to people and collecting “Secret Disks” can expand on the world a bit. However, base is often larger than it needs to be, and navigating it is tedious.
Mega Man Zero hates you and wants you to be unhappy with life
The defining features of Mega Man Zero are the grading system and Cyber Elves. In every mission in the Zero series, you get graded on everything — completion time, how well you completed secondary objectives, amount of damage dealt, amount of damage received, amount of deaths, and your use of Cyber Elves.
Player rank ranges from F to S, and falling below A rank means you won’t receive special abilities from bosses when you defeat them in Mega Man Zero 2 and 3. To maintain A rank or better, you basically need to speedrun every mission while killing a lot of things and not dying, which requires you to understand every nuance of the meticulously crafted level design (and their myriad pits, spike traps, and vicious bosses). Thus, skilled and dedicated players will be rewarded, and everyone else will be punished. Zero 4 more forgivingly grants special abilities if you beat a mission when there are adverse weather conditions. And the original Zero just doesn’t offer any extra abilities regardless of your actions.
To make the experience much easier, you can choose to use Cyber Elves. At first, they are single-use entities that grant temporary or permanent player bonuses, like expanding health or granting subtanks. Using a Cyber Elf kills it, which then permanently decreases your mission scores. So in the first two Zero games, the “correct” thing to do is ignore the Cyber Elf mechanic altogether or be punished.
Mega Man Zero 3 and 4 introduce systems to let you use some Cyber Elves without killing them, making these games less brutal in some respects, except that the level design still requires deep player mastery. And while Zero 2 frowns on Cyber Elf use, you can still unlock special armors that aid Zero in various ways — but how to unlock them is kept secret. Inti Creates just hates you.
But on the flip side, there are few things more satisfying than conquering the difficulty of the Mega Man Zero series. And the frame rate remains perfect here at all times, though you might find yourself customizing the controls for each game, as the default settings feel a little awkward.
Save-Assist defangs the extreme difficulty
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection offers ways for less skilled players to still enjoy Zero (and ZX) without missing out on content. Chiefly, new optional Save-Assist functionality offers you copious checkpoints, and if you die, the game ignores the death and just resets you at the checkpoint with full health — no score penalty or adverse effects. You can turn Save-Assist on or off at will too, so if you want it just for boss fights, for example, you can do that.
Save-Assist doesn’t make any of the games easy, but it definitely makes them a lot easier and removes frustration. If you’re unskilled or just don’t have the free time to “git gud,” then Save-Assist is a godsend. I’ve beaten most of these games in the past with A rank, but I was more than happy to just use Save-Assist in Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection.
Alternatively, if you want to cheese everything completely, you can also turn on Casual Scenario Mode, which gives you tons of health, lives, and subtanks.
Mega Man ZX gets it right the second time
Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX Advent go off in a wholly new direction for the Capcom franchise with Metroidvania exploration. The story is set many years after Zero, and it’s somehow even less interesting than in Zero. In both games, you can choose between two characters, a human male or female, who have slight but not dramatic gameplay differences.
The Metroidvania approach means all action occurs in one overarching world, with backtracking as new keys and powers are collected. Optional fetch quests and challenges can grant additional money and power-ups for completion. Navigation is tedious and confusing in the first ZX, and in general, the level design feels bland and uninspired. Meanwhile, navigation is more comprehensible in ZX Advent, and the level design is a lot tighter and more imaginative. Ironically, the pieces of ZX Advent’s world are also more clearly segmented. And mercifully, mission scores are largely gone from these games.
But in truth, the hallmark of ZX isn’t the Metroidvania exploration, but rather the new Biometal mechanic. In a nutshell, the first ZX lets you transform into many different “Mega Men” modeled after characters from the Zero series, including Zero himself. This grants you a wide spectrum of different skill sets to swap between instantly, for when you need high maneuverability or heavy firepower, for instance. You’ll need to deploy them tactically for the rough boss fights in particular.
ZX Advent expands on this mechanic by also letting you transform into the boss enemies themselves after you’ve beaten them. They come in different shapes and sizes with radically different powers — including a robot hedgehog that dashes like Sonic — and the environments give you fun reasons to experiment with them all. And since the difficulty is surprisingly toned down compared to that of every other game here, ZX Advent winds up the most accessible and maybe even most fun game in the whole collection.
Since these were originally DS games, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection offers you numerous options for displaying the second screen. But the default option of just nestling it in one corner of the screen works great.
Extras galore and Z Chaser
Beyond Save-Assist and Casual Scenario Mode, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection offers more delights. Comprehensive art galleries and music selection are available, both of which are awesome. All Game Boy Advance e-Reader modifications for Mega Man Zero 3 are included here digitally to unlock, as well as Zero 3 and 4 Plus Mode content for Mega Man ZX. There are also arbitrary challenges (akin to Xbox “achievements”) for each game to complete if you want.
Additionally, new Z Chaser mode lets you speedrun select levels from every game by yourself or against a friend locally, and it records your best replay. Since there is an option to display two screens in Z Chaser, you can literally race against the world-record holder’s performance replay. Although, going dual screen in Switch handheld mode makes everything tiny and is not advisable.
Finally, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection offers an option to apply a smoothing filter to the pixel graphics, which works fine but feels sacrilegious. An additional filter to apply CRT monitor effects feels similarly arbitrary for games that were originally for handhelds.
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is an awesome value
At $29.99, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is an outstanding value. Mega Man Zero was designed for hardcore gamers to test their platforming skills to the max, but if you’re not up for that, Save-Assist enables less skilled players to still enjoy those titles to the fullest. And Mega Man ZX, though unremarkable the first time, truly shines as something unique, memorable, and exciting with ZX Advent and its diverse gameplay options. Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection contains most of Inti Creates’ best work, and it’s another Capcom collection worth adding to your Switch library.
A review code was provided by the publisher.