Slave Zero X

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Slave Zero X review
Jordan Helsley


A legacy sequel stuck in 1999

When I first heard a sequel to Slave Zero was in the works, I was shocked. We don’t get many legacy sequels/remakes to middling late 90s action games, but I left my mind open to surprise. In some ways Slave Zero X forgoes the elements that made the original what it was, but in other, more numerous, ways it sticks to the source material, often too close.

A Biopunk Dystopia

The biopunk aesthetic and world is still intact, and you’re still inhabiting the body of a reclaimed (now much smaller than before) "Slave" on a quest to dethrone the overlord of Megacity S1-9. It follows many of the story beats present in other dystopian fiction pieces, and while it doesn't break an enormous amount of new ground, it does keep things interesting. The cast of characters is small, but ranges from enjoyable to love-to-hate. At the centre is your character Shou, who is driven, but has a softer side, especially in the interstitials with Isamu, your apparent partner. It's a nice human touch that comes up between chapters, while during missions mentalities are a bit more focused on the enemies ahead. In contrast, your slave, appropriately named X, has a more confident, calculated and deadly aura that you might expect from a killing machine. The dichotomy of the two personalities, essentially existing as one, is a nice touch during the story, and it helps that the voice acting is genuinely well done. Boss characters, likewise, are well done and imposing, while each bringing their own personality to the playing field. It was an enjoyable action story which featured some unexpected moments that I quite enjoyed.

While you're working your way through the city you're going to get very well acquainted with the distinct style that Slave Zero X employs. While the background settings are reminiscent of Playstation (or maybe more appropriately Dreamcast) era polygonal spaces, the characters are all 2D sprites. These two things are blended together in a somewhat discordant but complementary way. Moving forward in the side-scrolling space will often lead the camera to bend and shift around corners as your path utilizes the 3D space. It's a very cool effect that embraces the two-dimensional rotation of flat sprites and feels quite cool when you fight "around a corner" so to speak. Both the sprites and the levels are lovingly crafted in their own way, but you can see the additional care that went into the characters and their animations, before they burst into a red mist from your blade.

Hack 'n' Slash

Slave Zero X utilizes its precise controls to create a combat loop that feels closer to a 2D fighting game than it does a conventional side-scrolling action game. From the juggling concepts to attack cancelling, it gets so close to realizing its full potential from a combat aspect, but falls slightly short. While there is a parrying mechanic initiated by moving towards your attacker at just the right time, the lack of a true block can make things difficult. You're positively overwhelmed with enemies at certain points, where one missed hit can lead to a seemingly endless onslaught of pain as you're stun-locked in the air, juggled like a clown. You have one escape technique in situations such as these, but if it's not ready, you're left to just wait it out.

While the normal string of light attacks combined with a series of heavy finishers leads to plenty of combat fun, it does get old about halfway through as the variety just isn't there. Even your upgrade opportunities offer nothing in the way of new abilities or ways to engage in combat, but rather opt for shorter cooldowns or increased meters. It's a missing element that prevents Slave Zero X from being something incredibly fun and special, and leaves it feeling rote by the end.

Bruised and Bloody

The snappiness in the combat leads to some seriously fast and frenetic encounters, and the speed of X dashing through spaces makes the whole game feel even more responsive and exciting, especially as you strive to maximize the built-in scoring system by performing efficiently in those combat encounters. It's a fun enough challenge when engaged against the waves of baddies, turning each of them into bloody messes, but things grind to a halt a bit when faced with the game's numerous platforming sections. As soon as you enter the air things feel markedly less responsive. There's no air control, so if you're trying to jump over a waist-high wall, you need to ensure you have a running start, because jumping straight up doesn't even allow the smallest amount of forward progress to overcome the obstacle. Instead you'll likely end up wall jumping at best, shooting you in the opposite direction. It takes some getting used to, but by the time credits rolled I wasn't far from my last failure in the traversal.

Once you're done taking in the visuals and the frantic combat you're left with the realization that you're only halfway to your goal and you've seen all the game really has to offer. It's a disappointing revelation to be honest, especially considering its predecessor was plagued by the same disease. Unless you're really clicking with the setting, story, or simplistic combat, the latter half of the game can too easily become a slog. Unfortunately for this point, the back half of the game features some great visual environments, interesting boss fights, and a decent story conclusion.

The visual and audible treats presented by Slave Zero X can only carry it so far, and even the unlockable customization options (overlay filters that range from pleasing CRT-styles to some that are quite painful to look at, and different character colour pallets) do little to increase engagement in those areas. While the combat is fun enough, it's not without its frustrations, and your move set from the first level is the same as your arsenal against the final boss. There's no growth there outside of player skill, and the ceiling isn't so high that the climb lasts even as long as the game's runtime, which came in at a punchy three and a half hours. It's undoubtedly cool that a sequel to Slave Zero exists, if only for the curiosity of it, but it failed to learn lessons from its predecessors in terms of repetitive gameplay and lack of total variety. Fortunately, if you want to see the story through, not a lot is asked of you to do so, but even conquering the game's frustrating points leads to little feeling of satisfaction.

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fun score


A satisfying audio-visual experience with an interesting story that has potential to carry the total package.


Combat becomes rote too quickly as there are no tools for upgrades to add variety or overcome the occasionally annoying enemy mob density.