Slave Zero X review by

Review: Slave Hero X (Nintendo Switch)

A slave to the button mashing will not do well here.

5 mins read

I missed the original launch of Slave Zero X, but now that there’s a physical edition for consoles, I’ve had the opportunity and excuse to give it a go. In theory, I should like this, since it’s an anime brawler of big action that allows you to mow down hordes of fascists.

Unfortunately, it’s just not as awesome as I hoped. The action is good, and you can tell that the development team really loved this obscure Dreamcast IP. You’d have to to want to revive it in the first place, I guess, but the effort that went into capturing the spirit and extreme violence is above and beyond. The problem is that beyond the action Slave Zero fails dismally to be anything. It’s a prequel to the Dreamcast story, where you play as Shou, a member of a resistance faction that stands in opposition to SovKahn.

Shou takes command of a sentient suit of armour thing, and then proceeds to wage a one-man war against the terrible villain with a terrible name. In all seriousness, when you look at the great evils that are depicted in the media, they are given names that are suitably threatening. The Daleks. The Borg. The Empire. These names are all statements as much as names, and even before you meet one of them, the linguistics behind the name suggests tyrannical intent. SovKahn does not. The name is by no means the only area the narrative of Slave Zero X disappoints, but it doesn’t exactly help to know that you’re on a quest against a brutally difficult enemy when the end target is a guy who sounds about as intimidating as an artificial sweetener replacement for sugar.

A screenshot of Slave Zero X

Given that the game can be over in just a few hours (about five, if you’re not great at it, like me), the narrative doesn’t go much further than that. It just barely gives context to the action before letting you lose and largely leaving you to your own devices for slicing your way through the hordes.

And hordes you will face. Slave Zero X largely makes up for its narrative with its pure bloodthirstiness and campy aesthetics. This is a viscerally flashy game, and it’s surprisingly demanding of the players given that at first, it seems like it’ll be more of a twitch response button masher. It’s not. Soon enough you’ll need to use all kinds of counters and manoeuvres to break through enemy defences, so you’ll still need to be fast, but pair that up with specific tactics to suit each enemies. Because it also happens at speed, without much hand-holding from the developers this is a game that requires some genuine old-school action game skills. It ends up being a game for people who like their SHMUPs hard and find Souls-likes sedate. There’s definitely a market for this kind of experience, but it might be more limited than the presentation indicates.

For those who can take Slave Zero X at its level, expect a game that is incredibly rewarding. Making progress through each of the major bosses on the way to the big boss is every bit as enjoyable as taking on the most challenging of arcade games. I just wish there was a little more precision in the controls and the enemy variety was better. I understand why they kept the enemy variety light, so avoid overtaxing players when they really need to be in a twitch mindset and variety would give you pause to think too often. However, enemy waves can be extensive and exhausting when you’re running through the same motions over and over again.

A screenshot of Slave Zero X

It’s fast, furious, and often frustrating. Slave Hero X is what it wants to be, and in principle, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just that Slave Hero X also does little to stand out within its little niche. The original is a cult classic, and perhaps this will be too, especially among the collectors for the new physical edition. If I were a betting person, however, I’d be inclined to argue that it will be simply forgotten.

Support 6

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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