I'll be honest here. I haven't touched a Mega Man title since the X series last graced the Super Nintendo Entertainment System nearly a decade ago. The iterations that followed seemed to stray more and more from what made Mega Man so great, especially when the franchise took a turn for the turn-based RPG genre. If not for Capcom sending this game our way, I don't think we would have even bothered with Mega Man ZX Advent, a title I knew absolutely nothing about. After playing through the title on Beginner and Normal modes with both the main characters, I think I need to start paying more attention to the series again.
For the uninitiated (like myself a week ago), ZX Advent is a traditional Mega Man title which puts players in control of one of two protagonists with different stories, but the same basic gameplay experience. How ZX Advent deviates from the normal formula is that the entire game world is connected, allowing players to freely go from one end of the game world to another, more like a Metroid title. This is in stark contrast to the older installments in which players only selected stages from the menu screen and could only stay in that stage until it was completed. The map is still divided up into sectors which have their own unique theme which suits the final boss of that zone, so classic Mega Man fans won't be dissapointed.
As Ashe, the female hero, or Gray, the male hero, players will need to track down and destroy the other "Mega Men" units and the Psuedoroids that assist them in order to gain new abilities to progress to new areas of the map. Unlike classic Mega Man titles, though, your character will physically change into the robot's ability selected. So not only will the firepower of your character change, which is what traditionally happens, but the physical appearance and abilities of the character morph as well. Thus, more than just weaponry alters with the shift; some robots can function underwater, some can fly through the air, and each has a unique ability that suits certain situations better than others.
In addition to just simply traversing each area to reach a final boss, collectibles make a return in various forms. Life meter increases, special power meter increases, sub tanks and more all make an appearance. Additionally, a form of currency is also present, known as EC, which allows Ashe or Gray to purchase power-ups, activate warp points, and more. With the game world being relatively big and backtracking a key gameplay device, warp points were placed in nearly every area of a sector, though they cost EC to activate (on Normal mode). The game also has two initial difficulty modes: Beginner and Normal. Beginner is a cake walk and should allow even the weakest of players the chance to complete the game. On Normal, the difficulty steps up to what is the expected level of a Mega Man game, with less forgiving enemies and obstacles. For example, in the Beginner mode, falling into a pit will simply damage your Mega Man and allow them to float back up to safety. On Normal, you die, just as it should be.
The game's overall length is around 5-10 hours depending on your skill level, with most of that time coming from the lengthy cutscenes featuing full voice work. For those who feel that voice work is required for all games now, Mega Man ZX Advent is one title that proves otherwise. The voice work is over-the-top, anime style and really does not suit the game. Text boxes still appear as the narration occurs, and the story for the most part is convoluted and rather distracting. In fact, I found myself skipping through the dialogue and story most of the time simply because classic Mega Man titles are not about story, they're about gameplay. Additionally, as mentioned, the cutscenes are long and quickly get boring.
ZX Advent looks and feels just like a Mega Man X title back on the SNES, even throughing in psuedo-three-dimensional visual effects here and there. The amount of layering in the background and action on the screen is impressive, and as such the game is a visual treat. Occassionally players are treated to still-screen anime cut scenes, which look rather choppy on the Nintendo DS - a common reoccurence as this title, like so many before it, uses the ACT Imagine Codec to try to force full motion video onto these small game paks. on the audio front, despite the rather annoying voice work, the music is nearly perfect, driving the gameplay experience and nothing more.
So, despite the story elements, which may be what some fans prefer, the rest of the package is spectacular. Action is typically fast-paced, frantic and fierce. On the intended difficulty level, the game provides an excellent challenge, and the length is very appropriate of a 2D, side-scrolling action game. The adventure elements thrown in only make the game that much deeper, and the game does not lose its identity worrying about how to be original rather than expanding on what makes the series so great. If you haven't experienced a Mega Man title, or if you've been out of commission like myself for some time, ZX Advent is the perfect title to get into (or back into) the series with.
Final Verdict - 9/10
Excellent gameplay, challenge and visuals. Voice work and story are the only low marks. Two character scenarios allows for at least one replay, and the difficulty options make this title easily accessible to most.