If Capcom weren't so fond of tacking on new suffixes every so often, Mega Man ZX would be somewhere around the 30th 2D Mega Man action game. What can you say, in an age of intelligent robots the world is easily imperiled. Given its excessive reuse, it's no surprise that the formula can get stale sometimes. Mega Man ZX is Capcom's latest attempt to freshen things up again, and it does so by delivering an explorable, Metroid-style world that replaces the series' traditionally discrete action stages. While this worked smashingly for latter-day Castlevania, the wide-open design turns out to be something of a sideways step for Mega Man, adding more annoyance than awe.
ZX's plotline is mildly creative, setting the action some 500 years after the events of the Game Boy Advance Mega Man Zero games. Rogue android Mavericks are still terrorizing humans, and it falls to one of two heroes, a boy or a girl, to take on the rampaging robots and discover who's behind them.
They can do this through the magic of bio-metal, leftover artifacts of the previous age that contain the essence of past heroes. Soon after the game begins you'll receive X's bio-metal, letting you transform into a pretty credible facsimile of the legendary blue platformer hero. A bit later that form is replaced by Zero's, changing the focus from shooting to sword-slashing. From then on you'll continue to find bio-metals throughout the game, adding more robotic transformations - and seriously useful abilities, like flight - to your arsenal of tricks.
If this sounds like a pretty solid franchise reboot, you're not entirely wrong. The action is as tight as ever (though thankfully, less maddeningly difficult than in recent GBA games) and the sights and sounds work too. The big problem comes in that huge explorable world. The map system is inadequate, and the game's missions often require you to visit specific areas.
Trouble is, lots of the time you'll have no idea where you need to go to progress in the game. Few things kill fun faster than wandering through an area for the third time wondering what little nook or crevice you should be probing to find the mythical Area M. It turns out that ZX 's interconnected world is just not that interesting to explore, and the game runs out of gas as you tool around trying to find the next fun, straightforward action bit.
Mega Man ZX is surely just the first of a new line of games, and the open-ended structure certainly works for other series. With some refinement Capcom should be able to get the ZX series up to par with the more traditional games. But as of now, it's more of an interesting but unfocused experiment than a tight, compelling Mega Man game.