|Title||Mega Man Zero 2|
|Release Date||October 14, 2003|
|Age Rating||E (ESRB)|
A year after Mega Man Zero, the titular character wanders the desert alone. Out of nowhere, a large group of enemies surrounds him. Fed up with running, he throws off the cloak that’s kept the sandstorm at bay, and gets to work fighting them off. With no more fanfare than that, the player has now been launched into the fray of Mega Man Zero 2.
Instantly, you’ll find that gameplay hasn’t changed one bit. Zero starts off with his Buster and Saber right away this time, though they’re downgraded to their lowest level — you’ll have to gain weapon experience all over again. The mechanics of running, jumping and wall-climbing are taken directly from the previous game, as well. You’d better remember them, too, because the first area is strangely challenging for an opening level — riddled with clever enemies and two miniboss fights. After fighting the real boss of the level, Zero collapses from exhaustion. It’s lucky that someone unexpected shows up to help him…
After waking up, Zero finds out that Ciel isn’t in charge of the Resistance anymore. She’s just focused on looking for an alternative to Energy Crystals. The base, on the other hand, is in the hands of Elpizo, a more ambitious commander who wants to conduct a raid on Neo Arcadia. He sends you on missions, giving you four options in each half of the game. Closer to the classic Mega Man style, the selection is focused on the bosses you’ll meet at the end. Halfway through the game, there’s a more extended mission that changes Elpizo’s role dramatically — but then, saying any more would be a spoiler.
Getting back to the Resistance Base also gives Zero a chance to upgrade to a newer system. This gives the Pause menu a very different look, even though its functions haven’t actually changed at all. The only new thing is the Forms screen. When you use a certain weapon effectively and repeatedly in one stage, you might earn a new Form at the end. Each form affects Zero’s attack power, defense against blows and movement speed. Some make a slight variation on combos.
The other thing you might find on the Forms screen is EX Skills. These are a lot harder to obtain than Forms. You see, the game still ranks your performance on each stage. Finishing quickly, avoiding damage and completing side objectives helps boost your rank. If you get an A or S ranking, the next stage you choose will have a slightly more difficult boss fight. The boss will have a new attack — as if they weren’t ridiculously challenging already — and defeating it will net you an EX Skill. Then you just enable the skill on the Forms screen and put in the button combo on its description. Bam! Unique new attack.
The repairs also include Zero’s weapons. The Shield Boomerang from the first game is back, functioning exactly as before. The Tri Rod, on the other hand, has been turned into the Chain Rod. You can still attack in all directions, but it has a grappling property. The level design builds in a lot of uses for it often: you can pull shields out of enemies’ hands, and Zero will frequently need it in order to swing across gaps or pull blocks for puzzle solving.
Yes, you read that right. Puzzles. There are only a few, and they aren’t too complicated, but they add to the sense that this is a slightly smarter game than the original Mega Man Zero. One or two levels are even possible to get lost in, and the elemental chips now apply to more than just the main bosses. Almost every miniboss is weak to one element or another, and it can even apply to normal enemies on occasion.
That whole “smarter” thing applies to the storyline, as well. While the current plot revolves around ancient Cyber-Elves that draw the interest of both the Resistance base and their enemy, Neo Arcadia, these things are better explained than in Mega Man Zero. In fact, talking to certain characters not only gives you a more in-depth backstory to this game, but also fills in questions and even covers up plot holes left by the first game. It’s not heavy or exhaustive by any means, but at least you can better understand why things are happening.
Other things, as hinted early in this review, are left virtually untouched. The Cyber-Elf system, for example, is exactly the same. Even the layout of the Elf selection has been reused. Sure, all the Elves have been renamed, some are rearranged or have slightly different uses (like giving you a free A rank for one stage), but it goes just the same way.
Gone is the explorable world from before. Mega Man Zero 2 sends you to areas that feel further away, deeper into the natural world. Enemies have a much greater variety, and often seem to blend in well with their surroundings, almost like actual animals. (Don’t let them fool you, though. It’s all robots.)
Once again, you’ll hear music and effects that hold up well while evoking the more classic age that makes Mega Man so memorable. Boss battles and major scenes can occasionally be punctuated with a snippet of voice acting. None of this is translated at all, but it’s still cool (and that means I get to guess what they’re saying!) As with the first game, one of the best and most iconic tracks is played right in the first level, starting with Zero’s reveal.
Compared to Mega Man Zero, I would have to say that Mega Man Zero 2 is the better of the two, if only by a small margin. Level designs require you to slow down a bit more, and as I said, the plot is just that tiny bit more fleshed out. It offers about the same amount of content. If you’re going with the original cartridge, you can find it online for only about $10 used. Once again, though, I encourage you to go the route of Mega Man Zero Collection for the DS. After all, there’s still two more games to go. Until then, fight hard, warrior!