Hands-onMega Man Zero
The next Mega Man doesn't actually feature Mega Man at all. Get the latest on Capcom's new Mega Man game for the Game Boy Advance.
Capcom has finally released Mega Man Zero in Japan, and we've had a chance to play through a small portion of the game. The first thing you'll notice about Mega Man Zero--which takes place 100 years after the other Mega Man X games--is that it actually doesn't actually feature Mega Man as its hero. Instead, you'll play as Mega Man's longtime rival and occasional ally Zero, because Mega Man has apparently turned evil and enslaved the world. A young scientist and her crew of soldiers are driven deep into a junkyard area by a group of large robots when they discover Zero and try to reactivate him. After the soldiers are demolished, the scientist tries one last time to reactivate Zero and is successful. From there, you start playing as Mega Man's crimson counterpart.
After escorting the scientist through a portion of the first level, you'll stumble upon one of the large robots seen earlier. Since Zero only has a pistol weapon, you have to take shots at the boss from a distance while avoiding the powerful lasers that he shoots out of his mouth toward the ground and the ceiling. When you get his energy level down to a certain point, a matrix-like object--which has been associated with Mega Man in images on Capcom's site--appears on a monitor in the background, and all of a sudden, Zero's sword flies onto the screen and pierces the ground next to him, allowing him to grab it. With one quick slash, the giant level boss robot is cut in two, and Zero and the scientist then head back to what appears to be the resistance base. From that point on, you have access to two weapons, the pistol and the energy sword.
In the character menu screen, you'll be able to select which is the primary weapon and which is the secondary weapon. The primary can be used simply by pressing the B button, but to use the secondary weapon, you have to press the R shoulder button along with the B button, which can be a little awkward at times. You may find yourself switching the primary and secondary settings in the menu as opposed to just sticking with that control scheme.
This same menu will let you mess around with the support character system, which Capcom has called the "cyber elf system." As you progress through the game, you'll occasionally come across floating balls of light--these are the cyber elves, which essentially function like the familiars in Symphony of the Night. Some will give you health, some will stop enemies from moving, and others will fire projectiles as you run. You can use them just once over the course of the level, and you'll only be able to carry three different types of cyber elves at a time. To switch cyber elves, you have to return to the resistance base to equip the three that you want to take with you on your next mission.
The core gameplay mechanics in Mega Man Zero are essentially the same as those found in previous Mega Man games. Zero can run, shoot, jump, climb walls, and dash. Much like in previous games in the series, the levels themselves are linear, but some major changes have been made to the overall game structure for this installment. Instead of having a screen where you select from several different bosses, Mega Man Zero uses a central hub system that uses the aforementioned resistance base as its hub. You'll be able to move around the rather large base and speak with various members of the resistance. When you want to take on a mission, you simply go talk to the scientist and have a brief conversation in which you can select from one of three or four missions. Interestingly, it seems that the mission selection changes depending on the conversation, but either way, it's a distinctly different approach to the typical Mega Man interface.
There's also a little more variety in the levels. Though most of the game is just straight run-and-gun action, there are portions where you'll have to slow down. In one level, there is a room that's completely wired with security cameras searching for intruders, so you'll have to evade detection. This isn't really all that difficult because you'll see targets appear on the screen to indicate where the cameras are focused, but if you happen to get caught, a series of flying spiderlike robots will be sent your way, and if you can't fend them off, you'll be captured and the game will end.
The Mega Man series has almost always represented the pinnacle of 2D action gaming when it comes to graphics, and it looks like that tradition will continue on the Game Boy Advance. Zero is detailed and animates fluidly, as do his resistance cohorts. The enemies are also quite detailed--especially the boss characters, which are made up of enormous sprites--and have multiple death animations depending on the weapon you use to kill them. It's easily one of the best-looking Game Boy Advance games to date.
But even more surprising than the graphics is the game's sound. From the remixed Mega Man X theme in the early portions of the game to the completely original tracks, Mega Man Zero sounds great, with almost Super Nintendo-quality sound without that weird background fuzz effect that can be heard in so many other Game Boy Advance games.
While we've only scratched the surface of the game, Mega Man Zero is already shaping up to be a worthy installment in the 2D Mega Man line. It's scheduled for release in this territory in Q4 2002.