To say that Mega Man ZX Advent is a step in the right direction from its predecessor would be very much like saying that the surface of the sun is hot: Both are accurate statements, but neither really gets the point across as well as it probably should. Perhaps a more suitable thing to say is that Mega Man ZX Advent includes a complete overhaul of the arcane and largely useless map system that bogged down its predecessor, all while keeping the difficulty setting cranked to 11, the environments varied, and the Metroid-esque gameplay intact. As with the original, fans of the more classically styled Mega Man games--specifically the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series--will feel immediately comfortable with it, and its amped-up difficulty will earn it a place in the heart of any side-scrolling platformer masochist itching for a portable fix. Unfortunately, the improvements made to the game's map system and its more intuitive use of the touch screen are undermined by its rehashed story and terrible voice acting, making Mega Man ZX Advent a worthy sequel to the original, though flawed nonetheless.
As in Mega Man ZX, you will begin Advent by selecting between two characters named Grey and Ashe. However, unlike in the original, your selection is more important than which gender you prefer, as it completely alters your various attacks. Grey fires quicker but weaker shots, his charged shot is a single blast in the traditional Mega Man style, and his sub attack fires multiple homing energy bursts. Ashe, on the other hand, fires less rapidly but more powerfully, has a charged shot that reflects off of solid surfaces, and her sub attack fires a single blast that homes in. In addition, some of the abilities that the two gain throughout the game are also slightly different, and each has a separate backstory, though their games progress almost identically.
The story is, for the most part, a complete rehash of the story from the original game: Your main character unwittingly becomes fused with a sentient metallic fragment known as a "biometal" and must battle a madman in possession of the Biometal Model W to save the world. While Grey and Ashe each have separate reasons for fighting, they will unfortunately play through a nearly identical game, which differs only in starting location and key bits of dialogue. Occasionally, fully animated cutscenes, which are drawn in a vibrant anime style, will appear to advance the plot, though this happens infrequently, as the game prefers to keep the storytelling in the second dimension.
Gameplay is a fine mixture of the side-scrolling platformer action of the traditional Mega Man games and the open-ended exploration of the Metroid series, although it leans slightly more toward Mega Man than its predecessor. The world itself is divided up into a number of different levels, each of which is further divided into stages. The different environments, which vary from an undersea volcano to a mysteriously floating island, are all connected by color-coded doorways and transervers--computer terminals that allow you to teleport to different locations--which means that you'll be free to roam about from one level to the next through a single, connected map. To speed things up, each stage has an access point that lets you warp directly to it from any transerver provided you have activated it. Stages themselves are each designed to be self-contained challenges, and you must typically pass four in order to challenge the boss of the level. Unfortunately, for as much as the game tries to make you believe that it is open-ended, it is a surprisingly linear game veiled in a thin illusion of freedom. You'll spend much of the game performing specific tasks in a prescribed order, as you are prevented from doing almost any exploring at all by the lack of a particular ability or colored keycard.
This time around, you are actually assisted by your minimap, which occupies the bottom screen most of the time instead of being tucked away in the menu. The DS touch screen is put to good, intuitive use here, allowing you to click and drag the map around, reset it to your current location, and toggle a more detailed terrain map that points out doors and relative heights. In addition, you can now select which access point you want to warp to at a transerver by tapping it directly on the map rather than selecting it from a list, making long-distance travel far less obtuse and annoying. The touch screen is further used by a new touch-activated selection screen that makes switching between your various powers as easy as tapping its icon.
As with every Mega Man game, as you defeat enemy bosses, you will assimilate their powers and grow stronger, though Mega Man ZX Advent does manage to throw in a new twist on this formula. Your biometal, Model A, has a unique ability called A-Trans, which lets you perfectly mimic a defeated boss, from its attacks to its appearance. The biometals from the first game all make their return with a slightly new look but identical powers as before, and in addition, a collection of new enemy pseudoroid bosses appear, each with unique powers and abilities, making for a total of 15 forms you can assume, including your base humanoid appearance. Generally, the game never forces you to select a specific form to progress through levels, instead allowing you to customize your own gameplay experience. But that said, it's often best to stick with Model A or Model ZX, as they seem to be the most well-rounded of the bunch.
As previously mentioned, the environments of the levels themselves are well varied, and each one provides a different sort of challenge that walks the thin line between hard and frustrating. Bottomless pits are a common occurrence, deadly spikes line narrow hallways, and hundreds of enemy robots roam about looking for you. To further complicate matters, once you enter a level, you cannot exit it or save until you have defeated the boss and gain access to the transerver at the end. This means that if you lose all of your lives fighting the boss--or fighting to get to the boss--you'll have to start over from the beginning again. The boss battles themselves are as aggravating as ever, relying more on memorization of patterns and attacks than any real strategy, though each does have a weak point for you to exploit if you can discover it. Ultimately, as a handheld game, it isn't very receptive to short play sessions and often requires a significant time investment to get from one save point to the next.
Mega Man ZX Advent looks great. It features a very colorful palette with some highly detailed sprites, and sweeping background vistas once again dominate the environments to give them the illusion that they go on forever. Some of the artwork, particularly for the enemies, is recycled from the series' previous title with little more than some recoloring done, but overall it promotes a feeling of familiarity more than one of shameless reuse. The original artwork, in particular the various biometal forms that Grey and Ashe assume, look great, and your attack animations are for the most part vast improvements over the underwhelming ones previously featured.
The music continues to impress, and the soundtrack is filled with upbeat tunes that match the high levels of action all throughout the game. The most notable addition to the game on the aural front, however, is the inclusion of full English voice acting. The original featured bits of Japanese dialogue scattered throughout, and Advent takes it one step further by including spoken dialogue during any pertinent story moment, making it one of the few DS games that does this. While a nice addition, the quality of the voice acting is uniformly awful and comes across as the sort of phoned-in job one would expect from a fifth-rate anime dub. Part of the problem is that the dialogue is so hammed up and unintentionally funny, but the bulk of the blame is due to poor directing and unenthusiastic vocal talent.
Ultimately, Mega Man ZX Advent is an improvement over its predecessor that will continue to offer tons of challenges to Mega Man loyalists and platformer fans. Anyone new to the series or the genre will likely be turned off by its high difficulty level, though the easy setting might let them squeak by. With two completely different characters and a ton of hidden items to find, missions to accomplish, and secrets to unlock, replay value is high. Though the main story can be accomplished in roughly five hours by an experienced player, the extras make it a worthy investment for anyone looking for a fun challenge.