Slave Zero X (PC)

Slave Zero was a mech game that came out on the Sega Dreamcast and hasn’t been mentioned since, that is until the other year when Ziggurat Interactive announced they were working with Poppy Works to develop a prequel game called Slave Zero X. Is the dramatic genre change enough to reignite gamers onto this franchise? Boot up and strap in. 

So first and foremost, you don’t NEED to have played Slave Zero to enjoy Slave Zero X, being a prequel it’s mostly throwbacks to the original game that would be missed by newcomers. What I will say is that despite how brilliantly presented the story is with some gorgeous art, the story does feel a little thrown together and this is possibly the curse of it being a prequel. 

The story sees player character Shou stealing a “Slave Unit” and using it to fight the oppressive “Sovereign Khan” and his “Guardians” who rule the megacity with a tight fist and reckless abandon for life for those deemed lower than themselves. It’s your basic “Tarentino” revenge plot and sees Shou fighting a cast of bombastic characters in over-the-top battles across the Cyberpunk Megacity. 

The main issue that stops the story from hitting harder than it should is that a lot of it is told while you are mid-fight, this makes it incredibly difficult to pick up certain aspects of the tale as you are busy separating people’s limbs from their bodies while someone chatters on mercilessly in your ear. If you do find yourself captivated by the story being told in this prequel game, not only can you move onto the original 1999 title that is available on Steam but there was also a prequel to the prequel in a total conversion mod for Quake, released officially via the Quake Remaster release and tells the story of one of the main antagonists. 

Visually Slave Zero X just hits a spot that a lot of games seem to ignore in favor of the 8-bit/16-bit “throwback” style, here Poppy Works have leaned into the era of 32-bit 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds and it just lands so freakin’ well that it feels like you’ve just discovered a new Sega Saturn game or something that could have come out from the masters at SNK in their latter years of the Neo Geo. 

As mentioned the game features some gorgeous sprite work that the artists behind should be massively proud of, there is a chunk where it needs to be and they are all fantastically animated and fit in thematically with the world around them, the Slave Unit X especially bridges a gap between Cyber Samurai and H.R Geiger inspired horror and The Guardians all have a distinct look that matches their personality, makes them larger than life yet believable and would even give Hideo Kojima pause for thought with how bombastic they are. 

The stages are made up of 3D polygons and wouldn’t look out of place on your favorite PSX or Sega Saturn game, there are a diverse set of stages on offer and follow the theme of working your way through the slums of a Mega City before reaching its loftier and wealthier heights as you slash your way out of oppression. I feel the mix of polygons and sprites works well in this title and further adds to its rather unique and appetizing art direction, just another notch on the belt that is “Art Direction trumps Graphics”. 

Slave Zero X is a 2D hack-and-slash with light platforming elements buckets of old-school gameplay and difficulty with sadly light amounts of more modern elements to ultimately create a title that is equal amounts fun as it is infuriating to its detriment.

Slave Zero X shares a lot of its DNA with classic fighting games rather than its rage-filled street brothers, yes it has a traditional weak and heavy attack system but it also has a parry system straight from Street Fighter 3: Third Strike and an enemy pushback system in the vein of “Burst” from any Arc System Works titles. 

Naturally, you also have a dodge that grants you a few frames of invincibility and you even can cancel moves into other moves, so far it’s seeming like a pretty good deal for Shou and X. 

You can trigger more powerful moves called EX Moves at the expense of a meter, this meter also ties into a form you can take where you can fire off EX moves seamlessly and regain health for every attack made, it’s a balancing act of if you should use the meter for EX moves or try and build it up for as sticky situation down the line. 

You earn points from killing enemies, more if you gib them turning them into a fine mist, you can spend these points at the in-game store on upgrades such as more health and a longer EX Meter. You can also read extra lore here in the Chronicle menu, you expand this by finding hidden Yellow enemies in the stages. 

All in all, the combat options and general feel of Slave Zero X are pretty tight and when it all goes well, it hits hard. Unfortunately, there are more than a few weak spots here that while a balancing patch could fix, currently still hurt the game to the point it becomes a question of “Am I still enjoying this?”.

First of all the enemies that can grab, will grab A LOT and have a habit of throwing you into enemies that will also grab and throw you. With the enemy count on screen and your complete lack of I-frames on being knocked down the game will often just juggle you to death by throwing enemies and gun-wielding henchmen. Some fights go well and you get that sweet spot where the A.I doesn’t start throwing grabs out and gives you time to work, other times you’ll just watch your death over and over again until you overcome or admit defeat. 

Secondly and just as damaging the platforming is absolutely appalling, for a Samurai/Ninja you’ve all the mid-air control of an obese hippo with gout. It’s all kinds of awkward and even the wall jump feels years behind what it should, while the game is dominated by platform sections, there are enough to make it a real pain in the rear.

Ultimately Slave Zero X is a hardcore old-school experience for better and worse, when it’s good it hits just about every spot your genocidal, samurai leanings could want but iffy balance and a poor relationship with gravity mean you’ll be more aggravated than aggressively stomping down the SovKhan and his goons. 



A beautiful yet unbalanced ballet of violence.

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