Jonny hits up the Japanese import with his final impressions. If you’re thinking about getting the upcoming US version, be sure to check out this thorough examination.
In the sequel to last year's debut of Mega Man platforming on GBA, the second game to feature only Zero offers little new. But of course, fans of this series are quite accustomed to change coming slowly. If you are one of those die-hard Mega Man fans, MMZ2 will provide you with several more levels and bosses to test your mettle. You can import it from Video Game Depot or wait for the localized version.
Zero 2, like its predecessor, eschews the classic Mega Man (X) character in favor of his angst-ridden friend, Zero. As always, the main appeal of this character is his big energy sword. Playing with the sword provides a distinctly more visceral and risky gameplay style than with Mega Man's trusty old blaster, though the latter is available to Zero as well. Both sword and blaster are exactly the same as in the last game. Also unchanged is the shield, which reflects enemy shots and doubles as a boomerang.
The rod, which was easily the least interesting weapon last time around, has been upgraded to a grappling hook. Such a radical new way to get around could open up new ground for the series, but spotty execution this time around makes swinging across the ceiling more of a chore than fun. Both the timing and hit detection for the grappling hook are brutally picky, so that you have to virtually master the thing before even making basic swings. On top of it all, you are often asked to swing over spikes or bottomless pits, so one tiny mistake spells death. It didn't take long before I started to dread such areas, and dread isn't exactly a feeling you want evoked while playing a game.
The rest of the game is similarly difficult, to the point that I often became infuriated and had to quit playing for a while. Though certainly not impossible (I did eventually beat it), this is a gameplay experience you will remember as much for its frustrating moments as its glorious ones. There is at least a sense of satisfaction to be gained from finally completing that damned ice level full of instant-death spikes, mandatory grappling sections, and enemies that can kill you in three hits. And, it must be said, this is primarily a skill-based game in which you must hone and rely on your abilities (not to mention your patience). But the game would be just as challenging and much more fun without such sadistic level designs.
The cyber-elf system is back and as nonsensical as ever. Basically, you find the little guys flying around levels or left behind by fallen enemies. Equipping one between levels will grant some power to Zero; some can be used only once (like a health refill), while others are permanent, like giving you Sub-Tanks or a longer energy meter. Some elves are practically useless; others can be a big help. It's also possible to play through the whole game without using a single one, as I did. Thankfully, there are two Sub-Tanks simply hidden in the levels, but otherwise your exploratory efforts will yield only more cyber-elves. The elemental system is also back, and it's still way too simple and underused. The element of your weapon hardly ever matters except in boss fights, which can actually become too easy if you exploit an elemental weakness. There are only one or two instances in which you can use an element to affect the environment.
Two new features attempt to extend replay value. Alternate suits are not too difficult to earn, though the conditions for getting each one are kept secret by the game. For instance, if you collect at least twenty energy capsules in one stage, you may get a suit that makes such capsules appear more often. The different suits are a cool addition, though the abilities of each are not all that pronounced. On the other hand, EX powers are basically super-moves that can be incredibly powerful, but you have to play through a level almost perfectly to earn one. Both suits and EX powers can only be unlocked the first time you complete a level, so it's unlikely that you'll find many until your second time through the game. Thanks to a “New Game +” feature, you can beat the game over and over, each time keeping your suits and EX abilities for the next time around. In this way, Zero 2 actually has quite a bit of replay value for those with the skill and patience to keep attempting the unlockables.
MMZ2 works fine as an import, even though there is almost no English. The menus are fairly easy to figure out, and the story will probably make just as little sense after being translated for the US release. One semi-major problem is the cyber-elves, which are described only in Japanese text.
Finally, it's worth noting that the intriguing (though less than fully realized) RPG elements from the first Zero game have been toned down dramatically. You can still walk around the base between missions, but there is no reason to do so, and the world is much smaller this time around. Missions are now simply chosen from a menu, and you are teleported directly to the appropriate level. In other words, the levels are no longer tied together by one giant overworld. This change makes Zero 2 feel more like a straightforward action game, for better or worse. All four weapons can still be leveled up, but there are no new abilities or upgrades over the last game's offerings.
Mega Man Zero 2 is a very solid handheld action game, just like its predecessor. However, its cruel level design (blind jumps abound) takes some fun out of the otherwise satisfying skill-based gameplay. The only major addition to the formula, the grappling hook, is interesting but ultimately too frustrating in implementation. Otherwise, Zero 2 is pretty much more of the same, even less avant-garde than the first one. Hardcore Mega Man fans should find it to be a worthy sequel with plenty to do. Everyone else should attempt this challenging game only with a great reserve of patience.