Slave Zero X Review

Slave Zero X header

Games that pitch themselves as challenging experiences are a common occurrence these days, and Slave Zero X is one of them. Within that challenge, though, there has to be balance and a way for players to overcome them, combining growing player skill with levelling up, better equipment and more. At times Slave Zero X walks that tightrope, but at other time it feels so grossly imbalanced that all sense of any fun trying to beat the challenge is taken out of it.

Slave Zero X is a hack and slash 2.5D side-scroller set in a post apocalyptic biopunk world where the USA is the American Empire, led by the SovKhan and his Calamities. Kitted out in a sentient Slave suit named X, Shou is a Guardian who’s undertaken the mission to take down the SovKhan and exact his own vengeance on the world. The world of Slave Zero X itself has a very dark and sombre atmosphere with a retro 3D look to the background graphics, while the environments are crumbling in the earlier sections, but getting more opulent the closer you get to the SovKhan.

Enemies are colour coded and rank from weak melee soldiers that you can kill in one hit to heavy guards, and creatures that are the epitome of body horror. While the designs are different between soldiers and creatures, some have similar attacks to each other to attack Shou with. Shou and X have their own powers in return. Armed with a sword, they can attack fairly quickly in close quarters, but also have limited grenades to do some range damage. They also have a blast ability to push enemies away to get some space, as well as a focus ability that lasts for a while and gives more power to attacks.

Slave Zero X hack and slash

The duration of the focus ability, the speed at which ability bars, refill, your health, and grenade carrying capacity can all be upgraded using in game dollars, awarded on performance. However, the amount awarded seems paltry the further into the game you get, and you really will want to have as many of the upgrades as possible to survive the last few stages. The meagre amount means you will keep dying over and over, hearing the same repetitive dialogue, like “This is where you die” screamed at you from a lancer, over and over, until you’ve snagged just enough upgrades to improve your survivability.

Slave Zero X is a game that really varies in difficulty throughout its acts, never really hitting the right balance. You can be slicing and dicing through enemies with ease for one stretch, but then come to a room where dozens swarm you at once, obscuring your character model and all the enemies blending into one another. There are a few instances where this happens, and each one is tougher than the last, often leading to you just watching Shou get juggled at the side of a screen with no way out. What also doesn’t help is that some areas have environmental elements at the front of the screen, like pillars, that do obscure your view and hide enemies who then attack off screen.

Slave Zero X boss battle

The balance is also off when it comes to the split between regular enemies and bosses. Some standard foes, like the heavy soldier guards, feel like they could be boss fights with their small parry windows and powerful attacks, but are instead thrown at you while you’re dealing with grounds. Meanwhile, the bosses are almost laughably easy and dull to fight.

As a platformer the running and jumping should be smooth, but that is not always the case in Slave Zero X. For example, to run you need to double tap the direction you want to run in so Shou sprints, but the transition is not always quick which was not helpful in one encounter. There is also no real feedback from the jumping. To reach higher platforms you will need to jump up walls but there is no animation of Shou pushing from a wall, so it instead looks like he is somehow clumsily sliding upward.

Summary
If you really like your punishing hack and slash platformers, then Slave Zero X might be for you, but it doesn’t feel as rewarding as it should when progress is made. You hardly feel like the killing machine you are as you run into difficulty spikes, and the near constant swarms of enemies just gets a bit dull when you are not learning any new techniques to fight them.
Good
  • When the action does flow, it flows really well
  • The level design is really good
  • The music fits the environment really well
Bad
  • No real balance in the challenge, leading to extreme difficulty spikes
  • Upgrading feels super grindy
  • The story is a bit dull
5
Written by
From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.