Mega Man was relatively synonymous with half-hearted cash-ins and disappointing sequels ever since the brilliant Mega Man X4 for the Playstation, but when Mega Man Zero finally made it's way the the GBA, things were clearly about to change.
Taking place in the far future, Mega Man Zero stars X's buddy Zero, who, having joined a rebel army opposing a corrupt government, is tasked with completing a series of fairly unrelated missions for no actual plot-related reasons. Then again, the Mega Man series never really got a following due to the plot, and the more story-driven X games were a complete mess to follow, so what little plot there is to find here ends up doing it's job fairly well. It should also be mentioned that the new bosses introduced in the game are fantastic additions to the series, and despite only having a few lines of dialouge each, absolutely ooze of personality. Especially the Four Guardians are noteworthy, ranking up there with legends like Shadow Man and Elec Man as some of my favorite characters in the franchise.
The game is relatively standard platforming fare at first sight - Zero is armed with a weak handgun with good reach, and a powerful beam sword with limited range (and two other weapons you won't ever touch), and has the ability to add one of three elemental powers to the weapons in order to do extra damage to bosses. In addition, Zero has the ability to dash and stick to walls, just like in the Mega Man X games. It all looks and feels very standard at first, but one soon discovers how amazing the game actually plays.
Enemies take relatively few hits to die, and using the dash button, Zero can zip through the levels, slashing down enemies at amazing speed. The game is extremely fast-paced, and while Zero can take relatively few hits before dying, the game manages to avoid the problem that has always plagued the Sonic games -you don't have anything to gain by taking it slowly, so you can actually proceed at the pace the game seems designed around. The screen keeps up with Zero perfectly, you have perfect control over Zero even while he's jumping, and the game never throws unfair dangers at you, so as long as your trigger finger is ready, you can speed around unknown areas at no greater risk than you'd be at while taking it slowly.
Even the boss battles are fast-paced - the bosses oftens have extremely damaging attacks, and will kill you in the blink of an eye if you let them, but they die easily themselves too.While MMZ is certainly no easy game, once you get the feel for the game down, it shouldn't prove much of a problem to get through. Until you try your hands at the unlockable hard mode, that is...
MMZ is a perfect combination of high-risk, high-speed, high-action platforming, and an absolute must in any GBA or DS owners' collection. I think I love it.
Final score: A+