MEGA MAN ZX / Capcom / Nintendo DS
Mega Man ZX is a continuation of the Mega Man Zero series, which managed to crank out a whopping four games for the GBA. Those looking for ZEEELLOOOOO or Mega Man will be somewhat disappointed, though; the playable characters are X-alikes named, um .... Nair and Alfa, or something. (Shows you what wonderful and inspiring characters this game has, I just played it yesterday and I can't even remember their names). The new peeps basically look and handle like X, though, and there's a confusingly androgynous character who pops in from time to time with a sword and blond hair and a red outfit, so you probably won't end up feeling like you are missing too much.
Anyway, for those new to this derivative of the Mega Man franchise, the games basically play like any Mega Man X game, but they have a non-linear structure somewhat comparable to Metroid/Castlevania. I say *somewhat*, because this game's map is nowhere near as well-crafted and intricate as any of those games. It's a collection of a bunch of different "worlds" in a confusing grid system, the center of which is a city that is kind of like a huge version of the little towns in River City Ransom. You have a map that shows you what grid connects to which, but not specifically where or what exit to use to get to each one, so there's a bit of stumbling around and confusion accompanied by tourist-like repetitious map checking whenever you try to get anywhere. Here and there are teleporters, however, which act as combination healing, save point, transportation shortcut and source of "missions", which you have to accept to advance the plot. There is a series of main missions that the storyline centers around, but you can also get side missions just to pump yourself up a bit.
Like other Mega Man games, you get into Boss Battles which leave you with an upgrade when won, but unlike the other games, you now get new armor instead of new weapons. Each suit of armor comes with a whole suite of abilities, from new firepower to stuff like being able to smash rocks and see enemy HP levels. To do stuff like increase the health bar and get "sub tanks", you have to go on little side-quests, most of which seemed to be tedious fetch-quests and errand running. The game also has a "credits" system where you can buy stuff in the town and play little mini-games at the arcade by finding little caches of money at various places out in the field.
I can't fault the play control; it's very solid, and easily the high point of the game. And unlike the Zero series, and pretty much all the X games after the first one, the difficulty isn't cranked up to masochistic levels. Thus, the game has become more accessible to a wider range of gamers. However, there are still some things that hold it back.
The first is the map structure. Games like Castlevania and Metroid get away with having you re-tread old areas over and over because they constantly give you new abilities which, in turn, allow you to explore little cracks and crevices you couldn't get into before, and there's usually a lot of hidden stuff to find. There's none of that with this game. Each world is just linked to by a door in some other world, and that door stays locked mysteriously until the plot requires it to be open. There's also very little in the way of hidden stuff, or stuff to sidetrack for, so travelling around the map turns into a lot of long runs through boring old areas with nothing to do but kill the same old tedious enemies, for which you don't even get EXP or anything. This was a problem that I recall from the very first Zero game and I'm very disappointed to see it still hasn't been adressed four releases later.
The other problem is the story. It's adolescent, animu tripe (GEE DO YOU THINK "SLITHER INC." MIGHT NOT BE AS BENEVOLENT AS EVERYONE THINKS THEY ARE?!?!?!?!?!1!!?!) that just recycles a bunch of conventions from the previous X games. Since both the story and the levels are pretty boring, the only points of curiosity to keep playing for are what sorts of armor you are going to get next, and what cool abilities it will give you.
So it's playable, yeah, but it still isn't doing it for me. Seeing as this is the fifth attempt, I'm pretty sure at this point it is never going to. Only for hardcore X-heads.