All Together Then: Mega Man Zero

Looking at the games that fill out the latest Legacy Collection

Good news - the best Mega Man games ever made will be available on Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC in a couple of days. Plus the Mega Man ZX series, which aren't quite up to that standard but still well worth playing.

It seemed like a good time for All Together Then to have a little squint at the four games in the revered handheld action series Mega Man Zero and take note of some of the series' distinguishing features. Though with games are good as these, looking for differences and picking nits is a little bit churlish. But hey, picking nits is what being a gamer is all about!

Ah, I'm just funnin' ya, gamers! Except I'm not. I mean every word. All Together Then!

Mega Man Zero (GBA, 2002)

The series kicks off with a bang, but it's a somewhat frustrating bang. While Zero's core dash-slash-make-a-splash gameplay is very much present and correct, a few niggles prevent this from being as strong as its follow-ups. For one thing, a tacked-on "level up" system effectively adds nothing, with enemy kills translating to invisible EXP that eventually unlocks new moves for Zero. This was dropped after Mega Man Zero 2 when someone at Capcom realised it was super dumb. Despite its teething problems, Zero 1 is worth your time. It's easily the trickiest game in the series, with some extremely unforgiving scenarios - the bomb defusal mission springs to mind, with its harsh time limit and many leaps of faith. It's an essential play nonetheless.

Mega Man Zero 2 (GBA, 2003)

Recognising they were onto a good thing, Mega Man Zero 2 is basically the first game with bells on. The boss fights are much better and more involved, the stages are more intricate and rewarding, the set-pieces more exciting and memorable. The gameplay is more linear - the quasi-open world of the original has been sensibly replaced with more traditional stages, lending a tighter, better sensibility to the design. It's even got a more interesting story, building on the setting and characters established in the first Mega Man Zero for a sense of real continuity that's only going to get more satisfying as the series progresses. It's a killer game and a big step-up from the already excellent original, and the best is still yet to come.

Mega Man Zero 3 (GBA, 2004)

And here's the best. Mega Man Zero 3 is peerless among side-scrolling action games, boasting a confidence that's only matched by its design and the spectacle of its graphics and sound. It's the biggest game yet, but even with more stages it never outstays its welcome. The side-mission of collecting Secret Disks is of compelling appeal to completists, the story is the best in the series and the boss battles the most expertly designed. It's easier than 1 and 2, but under no circumstances is it unchallenging. If it falls down in any way, the new Cyberspace feature is rather counter-intuitive if you want to maintain a high rank, meaning you'll rarely if ever use it - except to battle the secret boss towards the end of the game that requires you do so.

Mega Man Zero 4 (GBA, 2005)

A last hurrah for Zero on the Game Boy Advance, Mega Man Zero 4 feels simultaneously fresh and a little extraneous, the extra sequel that nobody needed but everyone was happy to have. The big new gimmick is the Zero Knuckle, which allows you to rip weapons straight off enemies and use them against their fellow baddies. This is a cool idea in theory, but in practice the enemy skills are never really as useful as your good old Z-Saber, so the Zero Knuckle tends to be a little left by the wayside. For all Zero 4's redundancy and slight feeling of being stretched thin (Chicken Maverick "Popla Cocapetri" is a Tornado Tonion-level misfire), there's no arguing it isn't a dramatic, emotional climax to the best sub-series in Mega Man history, and one of the best 2D action series' ever made, period.