Map Quest: Mega Man ZX
I hear this phrase quite a bit from Mega Man fans: “Capcom should just make an open world Mega Man game! They’d make so much money.”
Guess what? They did! They made three actually! Mega Man Zero 1, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man ZX Advent. Although the Zero series (which would go all the way up to Zero 4) would ditch the open world mechanic after the first game, the ZX series was entrenched in it.
Here’s a look at the unsung, unrecognized, ill-fated Mega Man series: Mega Man ZX.
ZX is kind of an amalgamation of the X and the Zero series (go figure!). Seriously though, it incorporates elements from both sub-IPs of the Mega Man franchise, and sought to be a spiritual successor of sorts.
In addition to incorporating classic MM mechanics like weapon swapping, classic platforming, and player progression choice, it also added one major thing that was rarely done in a Mega Man game: an open world.
Yep, players were sort of plopped into the sprawling world of ZX, free to roam about (within reason) and locate delicious secret items, just like any other Metroidvania-type. The concept of an open ended set of tunnels in which to allow players to progress through was realized in a way that pushed the “choose your stage” mechanic even further than other Mega Man games before it.
In the first game, the bottom half of the DS screen was often wasted with a nebulous graph that didn’t really give you any information on your location, but that was quickly changed in the sequel, ZX Advent, which clearly showed a more traditional map screen. Combat was fast and frenetic, and incredibly challenging.
Rather than simply change weapon weapon type like in past MM games, ZX would take a decidedly more Metroid or Power Rangers approach, and change your suit entirely. This could be anything from changing your jumping mechanics, to your stats, to a complete rework of every facet of gameplay. It was really refreshing to be able to change types on a whim, and acclimate yourself to your surroundings.
Despite the many accolades I’ve given the games however, at the same time, this edition of Map Quest is partially on how to not create a world map. Since Capcom was relatively green at developing open world Mega Man games, the map wasn’t really that intuitive (especially in the first game — just look at the header). It was incredibly hard to tell where you’ve been, where you need to go, or how you get there.
When combined with the extraordinarily high difficulty of the game’s platforming and combat sessions in general, it’s easy to see why so many people were turned off by the ZX series. If you’re having trouble getting to a place that’s just going to be incredibly frustrating, why even bother?
If Capcom ever decides to return to the open world setting, they would greatly benefit from creating an easy to read, unique looking map screen that wouldn’t dissuade people from actually exploring the world. Dust: An Elysian tale is a perfect example of a well made Metroidvania style game, and it works so well because it segments its worlds into different stages.
Using a mechanic like this could allow a more Mega Man X style approach, where you load up levels with tons of secrets and items as players work their way up to the boss. Keeping it simple, or at the very least, easy to read, is key here.
Sadly, any semblance of a long running open world Mega Man franchise is gone for the moment, as the ZX series would end after just two games — the sub-IP would be left for dead ever since Advent launched in 2007. In five years, Capcom has barely said two words about the franchise, or any other potentially open world Mega Man to date.
It’s a shame, because with a few tweaks, and open world Mega Man game on the PSN/eShop/XBLA could be just what the doctor ordered in terms of reinvigorating the franchise for a new audience. Slap some HD, yet old school visuals on there similar to Hard Corps. Uprising, and design some interesting stages, and you could have a real winner on your hands, Capcom.