Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Capcom / ESRB: Everyone (Violence) / Played on: DS / Price: $29.99
Mega Man Zero will make you hate pudding. Allow me to explain: while hanging out with friends shortly after the original Mega Man Zero’s release back in 2002, I decided to whip up some pudding (the only dessert within my culinary skill at the time). While mixing, I raised my head and asked if anyone in the room wanted any, to which my Mega Man Zero-playing friend calmly raised his head, looked me dead in the eyes, and proclaimed “FUCK NO.” Though his obscenity was actually targeted at the game, I thought I’d found the first man on the planet to rage out at pudding for a moment.
Eight years later, Capcom crams the whole profanity-inducing series into one DS cartridge. The Mega Man Zero Collection contains all four games, but thanks to archaic difficulty curves, half the series is insufferably aggravating. This, combined with a lack of substantive perks, makes the Mega Man Zero Collection a tepid package (unlike my pudding, which could soothe any gamer rage with its chocolately smoothness).
Core gameplay remains the same throughout the four titles in the collection. You pick a level, battle to the end dodging enemies and instant-death pits and spikes, and eventually defeat the level-end boss by exploiting his attack pattern. The Zero titles stand out against other platformers since they allow you to collect and selectively apply upgrades to your character, which means expanding your life bar, reducing the damage you take, etc.
The Mega Man Zero Collection adds an “Easy Scenario” that simply grants all possible upgrades at the start of each game. Unfortunately, either option – playing au natural or in easy scenario – has serious problems that prevent most of the game from reaching its potential. The Mega Man Zero series isn’t known for its approachability thanks to both cheap difficulty and obscure game mechanics. For example, in Zero 1, dying forces you to restart the stage completely, and running out of retries causes you to fail the mission permanently. You can keep going and pick a different level, but say goodbye to any potential upgrades in that mission. While the series softens as it goes on, Zero 1 and 2 have aged terribly in this regard.
So naturally, the solution is to play these games in easy scenario, right? Unfortunately, not only does enabling Easy scenario make the games too easy, but also saps a great deal of satisfaction from gradually upgrading and customizing your character. This means that Zero 3 and 4 are the only legitimately enjoyable titles in the collection, and they’re still noticeably dated.
Capcom included a few extras on the game card but they don’t amount to much. Beating all the games in easy scenario unlocks character cards, which is just low-quality artwork of the series’ characters and enemies. Playing the games in original mode unlocks additional artwork, which is also not very rewarding. Mod cards are slightly more substantial. You unlock them by beating any of the Zero titles on their normal difficulties, and they change aspects of Mega Man Zero 3 like increasing the damage of your weapons, adding new NPCs, or changing the border of the dialogue windows. These changes are amusing to explore for a few minutes, but ultimately nothing to write home about.
Given the lack of any visual upscaling or filter options, Mega Man Zero Collection looks just as it did when first released, which locates it in an odd grey area between being amusingly retro and pleasantly modern. Most of the game is presented adequately with decent enemy animation but unimpressive environments and levels. Most of the sprites for enemies and Zero himself are recycled from game to game, which, if you’re an optimist, gives the series a homogenous look but reduces visual variety for the Negative Nancys.
Some effects still stand out as particularly cool; killing enemies with Zero’s beam saber results in a neat animation of the enemy slicing in half. Level design improves later in the series as well, with memorable stages including playing through a space-borne rocket as its stages separate around you, and fighting inside a satellite as it drops from orbit. By modern sensibilities, the Mega Man Zero Collection is like a bowl of Lucky Charms – reasonably pleasant with occasional marshmallows of awesome.
Mega Man Zero Collection’s sound aged similarly to its graphics, in that it’s largely above average dotted by occasional peaks. Explosions, bullet shots, and power up sounds are good but exhibit a noticeable lack of fidelity. A small amount of voice acting imparts goofy charm to the game, as bosses will shout and jeer in Japanese during fights. The game’s music is similarly composed of videogame-style synth. In the series’ earlier entries, the tracks are too moody and subdued for proper Mega Manning. The music trends to cheesy 80s speed rock as the series progresses, which matches the gameplay much better.
While Zero’s graphics, sound, and gameplay have been pummeled by the indelible ravages of time, its controls are timelessly excellent. Every aspect of Zero’s controls work together: the dash is perfectly timed, the jump goes just the right distance, and attack animations are neither too short nor too long. While the games themselves sometimes ask too much of you, at least the controls are never to blame for your repeated failure.
The Mega Man Zero Collection is what its title indicates and nothing more: a bundle of four dated platforming games, two of which have retained a small amount of grace. Given that, the experience is not unlike pudding – pleasant, but you wouldn’t run out and spend $30 if you’ve had it before. If you’ve already played the Mega Man Zero games, the Mega Man Zero Collection doesn’t provide incentive enough to revisit.