One of the most time-tested moneymaking schemes in gaming (or any form of entertainment, for that matter) is to repackage classic titles in a bundle and then sell what are effectively the exact same games to a nostalgia-hungry audience. Sometimes, these compilations prove to be a wonderful return to games long forgotten, and these collections are often stuffed to the gills with extra features and bonus content that make the purchase worthwhile. Most re-releases go the other way, simply slapping all the games onto a single disc and throwing it on store shelves. Mega Man Zero Collection follows this route, as it is a bare-bones rehashing of the original games with almost no significant bonus content. Mega Man fanatics who somehow missed the Zero series the first time around will be thrilled, but everyone else will likely gloss over this compilation.
The Mega Man Zero story line is set a century after the Mega Man X saga wraps up. Hero Zero has been deactivated and is basically rusting in a garbage heap when he is reactivated by Reploids fighting against an evil copy of X that is trying to wipe out the last bits of mechanical resistance in the universe. Some interesting twists and turns over the course of the four games provide a fairly entertaining story, but it'll likely go over the heads of players who aren't steeped in Mega Man lore. Apparently, Capcom believed that only the most hardcore Mega Man fans would bother with the Zero series, so they made these games among the densest and most convoluted. There's definitely some rich mythology here, but you'll have to untangle several layers to get to it.
Gameplay in all of the Zero games follows the traditional Mega Man formula of tricky jumps, plentiful enemies and tough bosses, so anyone who's familiar with the franchise will be instantly at home. Be forewarned, though: The Zero series is regarded as possibly the most difficult of all the Mega Man games, so prepare to get absolutely crushed over and over again. Those who thought the recently released Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 were tough will realize they haven't seen the half of it when they tackle Zero's sadistic torture that passes itself off as a game. Gamers who don't enjoy an extremely high level of difficulty should steer clear, as they'll only find frustration waiting here.
One area where the Zero games depart from the norm is the Cyber Elf system, which is sort of Capcom's answer to Pokémon. Throughout the series, Zero can capture and utilize tiny creatures that provide him with various effects, such as completely restoring health or attacking nearby enemies for a set period of time. The discovery and feeding of the Cyber Elves is very reminiscent of all the other critter-catching games that were so prevalent around the turn of the millennium, so it's no surprise that these same mechanics found their way into the Mega Man Zero series, which began in 2002. At the time of their initial inclusion, the Cyber Elves were just a halfhearted attempt to shoehorn a disparate gaming mechanic into a franchise that didn't need it, but today, their inclusion is downright annoying.
For those who don't want to fight the series' difficulty or wrangle Cyber Elves, Zero Collection includes an Easy mode that thankfully makes the title manageable for everyday gamers. In addition to lessening enemy damage dished out while boosting Zero's attack power, Easy mode also provides the hero with all his finest weapons, armor and energy tanks from the get-go, as well as providing players with access to all the Cyber Elves. The compilation's one real frill is a great way to give nearly everyone a chance to play through the series without the penalties being too severe, as well as providing a springboard into the standard titles, complete with their hair-pulling difficulty and extensive hunting of Cyber Elves. The inclusion of Easy mode is about the only thing that makes the collection playable for non-Mega Man nuts, so kudos to Capcom for having the foresight to think to include it.
The only other bones tossed in the box are a few random wallpapers and art collections, none of which can really be considered earth-shattering. As a whole, it feels like Capcom grabbed its magical GBA-to-DS transfer cables, plugged in each of the Zero games and had a cup of coffee while the progress bar inched along. There are no new bosses, levels, content or any other extra features to be seen, so if you didn't love the series back when it was new, there's nothing here that is likely to interest you in a second go-round.
At the end of the day, the Mega Man Zero Collection is a functional compilation that will please the hardest of hardcore Mega Man fans. The included games are challenging, rich in story and perfectly playable, but there's nothing that would lead one to declare them landmark titles. The difficulty level is cranked to the max, and the Cyber Elf collection system is the opposite of compelling. While Easy mode makes the games more approachable, it doesn't do anything to help with the feeling that the games are just carbon copies of one another with slightly tweaked boss designs and a couple of mostly useless new weapons. If you're the type who has stayed up nights praying for a way to experience the Mega Man Zero series all in one place, then your ship has come in, but for everyone else, this is merely a compilation of some moderately good games that you'll grow bored of while playing on Easy mode or get too frustrated to continue when you tackle the normal difficulty. The Zero Collection is more of a low point for the franchise than a high one.
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