At about the same time as Capcom decided to release one of the worst Megaman games ever made they also graced us with one of the finest. Megaman Zero 2 stands as more then just an excellent game, it has knocked off Megaman 3 as my all-time favorite game among the Blue Bombers’ series. It takes everything that made the first one great and – get this – actually adds a whole new host of gameplay elements to a series instead of doing nothing but adding new bosses. Might even be a first for the lineage considering how much cool stuff got added and traditional ways got altered.
Weapon absorption through bosses has returned, but now it actually takes memorization and skill to obtain them. Instead of the typical method of merely beating the boss to acquire new weaponry you now have to score an A ranking on the stage in order to gain access, no easy feat by any means. Certainly don’t expect to beat a stage and then come back later to get good at it, as once a stage is done your rank is stuck and the boss doesn’t reappear. Thankfully, the weapons are completely optional and you still get element powers from destroying bosses no matter what, and now you can also earn new suits that boost your attributes in different ways or give you special powers. Finally, the Triple Rod from the first game has been removed in favor of the far cooler Chain Rod, which works as a grappling hook and can yank enemies and blocks around.
These are the tools you’ll need to survive the levels, most of which are fairly straightforward affairs but each is pulled off beautifully in most every way. Every one is distinct and unique from the previous, even if the enemy listing gets recycled a bit too much. From atop a speeding train to leaping amongst flying ships, they certainly give no sense of repetitious locales. For the most part the music keeps up equally striking, as while a few stages have tunes that seem pulled from a library of generic incarnate a number of them have inspired melodies that best any I’ve heard from Megaman games in years. I actually found myself humming along, something I haven’t done since the days of the NES games.
Missions rarely stray from traveling from Point A to boss, but distractions are numerous and welcome. Mid-bosses are now common and mark a restart point and sometimes they’ll give you a new objective for part of the travel like protecting someone (surprisingly fun!) or finding lost soldiers, none of which are too difficult and often requires a bit of poking around. Searching can often turn up much of the hidden items as well, especially if collecting all the Cyber-Elves is a priority as many are placed in locations that can only be accessed with a high risk of death and a keen eye. The Cyber-Elves are still there to provide extra services like automatically providing an A rank for the stage or cutting down a boss’ lifebar, but they can only be used once and then they’re gone. They can definitely be helpful for some of the stages but I often never even equipped them, let alone used any.
The difficulty has been toned down a bit from Megaman Zero, as continues are no longer limited and the level design is much more solid and elegant. I can only think of one level that delivers cheap shots but, like the rest of the game, it can be overcome through planning and memorization. It just happens to be very painful learning how to make it work right. On the flip side the bosses are still tough and relentless, throwing patterns and attacks that will kill Zero in only a couple of hits and yet that creates a damn good sense of accomplishment after beating some of them. I can think of more then once when I began verbally spouting off, “Yeah! What now?!” after toppling some boss that had all but laughed at my attempts to stop it. Granted, now some people think I’m crazy for talking to videogames, but that’s a small price for getting to tell off a robot master.
Really, is there anything this game doesn’t do well? The Chain Rod can be difficult to handle at times, the translation is less then stellar with spelling mistakes here and there (“form” instead of “from,” “devise” instead of “device”), and the game is built on memorization and repetition, but aside from the bad English those aren’t necessarily detractions in my eyes. For something so clean, stylish, and graceful, I can’t help but love it. It may not have a few things Megaman 3 did (most notably Protoman’s theme music) but in pure gameplay it oozes excellence that helps push the entire family of Megaman games in the direction its been needing for years. Go, play this, and pretend Megaman X7 doesn’t exist.