Slave Zero X Review — Devil May Cry Meets 90s Beat ‘Em Ups

Be the Stylish Red Devil your foes fear so much.

Slave Zero X Review
Overall
4
  • Story And Setting
  • Gameplay
  • Visuals And Performance

Verdict

Some mechanical hiccups and issues aside, Slave Zero X has crafted an enjoyably complex combat system while staying a Beat ‘Em Up.

Pros

  • Classic Art style
  • Creative Combat Mechanics
  • Fun Boss Fights
  • Superb Voice Acting

Cons

  • Lack Of Combat Explanation
  • Overusage Of Gang Fights
  • Lackluster Upgrade System

Looking back, Beat ‘Em Ups were some of the earliest games I have played since I started my gaming journey with arcade games. Stuff like Cadillacs And Dinosaurs and Captain Commando were some of my favorite games growing up. Even now, I’m always fascinated by any new classic-style beat ’em up, and Slave Zero X hits just right. 

Key Takeaways
  • Developer: Poppy Works
  • Publisher: Ziggurat Interactive / U&I / Beep 
  • Release Date: February 21, 2024
  • Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
  • Game Length: ~8 hours
  • Time Played: 10+ hours
  • Editors Note: Our writer extensively played Slave Zero X, trying out every system and combat mechanism.

Did you know Slave Zero X is a revival of an obscure IP from the 90s? I’ll be honest, I had never heard of the game “Slave Zero” before. It was a mecha shooter that never got any appreciable recognition back then. The IP is now back in a new genre and the same classic look, which I aim to analyze in detail in my Slave Zero X review.

Story And Setting

I’ll be beginning my analysis with the game’s story. It’s set in a futuristic sci-fi world with a scary-looking human-machine hybrid staring you down on the main screen. That’s the protagonists, who you’ll be controlling on this quest for vengeance and liberation.

Shou, The Red Devil (Image credit: eXputer)
Shou, The Red Devil (Image credit: eXputer)

Since it’s a revival of a long-buried IP, the plot’s also connected. Story-wise, Slave Zero X is a prequel to the 1999 Slave Zero. The premise of the world is pretty straightforward. It’s a biopunk sci-fi world under the rule of a ruthless dictator called the Sovereign Khan (SovKhan), who has established a massive settlement called the Megacity as a testament to his rule, and powerful humanoid machines called “Slaves.”

Although this plot is pretty simple and only a means for the gameplay, I felt that it was still pretty engaging, even more so because of the brilliant voice acting

A group of warriors challenges his authority called the Guardians, who happen upon a Slave unit and make use of it. This premise remains the same in Slave Zero X, except the story follows a different guardian, Shou, who uses a defective Slave unit called X. Shou’s motivations stem from a personal reason, and he is essentially on a quest for vengeance, which I’ll refrain from spoiling.

Shou's past (Image credit: eXputer)
Shou’s past (Image credit: eXputer)

Just know that this simple tale of revenge soon turns a lot more impactful and emotional down the line. Although this plot is pretty simple and only a means for the gameplay, I felt that it was still pretty engaging, even more so because of the brilliant voice acting. Every character’s emotional state is expressed perfectly, which made me care about the story a lot more despite my being here for the gameplay.

Gameplay

Now for the spicy discussion, it’s gameplay. I think it’s safe to say that Slave Zero X genuinely surprised me when it came to the combat. I thought it was a simple beat ’em up with button mashes. But what I didn’t know was that it is a Devil May Cry/Fighting Game in disguise. I realized this when I played the demo, and that’s when I was sold on the game.

Going over the basics first. Slave Zero X is a 2.5D, side-scrolling beat ’em up in which you control Shou, who has merged with Slave Unit X, becoming the Red Devil. He can hack away at SovKhan’s army with normal and heavy attacks, consumable explosives called Ordances, and some special abilities, including EX moves, Bursts, and a devil-trigger like Fatal Sync.

Fatal sync mode (Screenshot Grab: eXputer)
Fatal sync mode (Screenshot Grab: eXputer)

The Combat Depth Is Unlike Any I’ve Experienced In The Genre

Sounds simple, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of Slave Zero X’s combat system. The game may be a beat ’em up, but it plays a lot like fighting games. You can execute complex moves and combos by combining directional inputs, jumps, and light/heavy attacks. 

But what I didn’t know was that it is a Devil May Cry/Fighting Game in disguise

You must be wondering, so it has fighting games like combat. How complex is that? The real depth of the combat starts when you have to apply this in encounters. Animation cancel is an integral part of the combat system to keep juggling enemies, and the game encourages you to make use of it. 

EX moves (Image by eXputer)
EX moves (Image by eXputer)

You can cancel attacks with jumps, dodges, bursts, and almost everything else. You need to chain together hits, cancel animations into subsequent attacks, and keep up the variation in combat while making sure you don’t get hit. My explanation might not be able to do it justice but trust me, the layered mechanics and depth in Slave Zero X’s combat is something I haven’t seen in any other beat ’em up.

Burst animation (Image by eXputer)
Burst animation (Image by eXputer)

However, there’s a very critical problem. For such an impressive combat system, the game tells you absolutely nothing about how to execute all this. I think the developers tried to adopt the classic fighting games strategy of “find it out by yourself,” but honestly it hurts a game like this. You’re not competing with players; it’s enemy AI. 

A practice mode is present, but it doesn’t even have a basic inputs list, let alone the commands for advanced moves. I don’t say add a step-by-step tutorial for every move, but a command list was crucial. You’re letting such a brilliant combat system go unnoticed when people just spam slashes.

Outside Bosses, Slave Zero X Thinks “More Enemies, More Difficulty”

Next up, we move to the boss fights, and that’s where the game truly tests your understanding of the overall combat systems. Back when it pinned us against Atavaka in the demo, I knew right there its bosses would be no cakewalk, and I was right. Slave Zero X does boss fights extremely well, each possessing a unique fighting style and forcing you to improvise accordingly.

Boss fights (Image by eXputer)
Boss fights (Image by eXputer)

That’s great, but other than the boss fights, its difficulty takes a very frustrating turn. In general encounters, the game will almost always throw a ton of enemies at you for the sake of “difficulty.” I felt that it was counterproductive to its brilliant combat system. When you’re this surrounded, the complexity of the combat matters little as compared to quickly escaping this pinch.

The overuse of the “enemies galore” trope always made me more fixated on mashing to wipe them out rather than strategize. And the game’s enemy mechanics are so annoying that giving up style to kill them is justified. When you’re surrounded, you can never make out if an attack is coming at you, which enemy is attacking, and how to avoid it.

Tough Elite enemies (Image Captured by Us)
Tough Elite enemies (Image Captured by Us)

If you jump or dodge and then get hit by another one, it’s over. Once the enemies start juggling you and you do not have your burst ready, prepare to lose a chunk of your health. I don’t know how many times I died frustratingly just because I was stun-locked by common goons in excess. 

In general encounters, the game will almost always throw a ton of enemies at you for the sake of “difficulty.”

On top of that, some of the enemies’ attacks, like grabs and rushes, don’t have an appreciable tell that you can clearly see when your screen is fully cluttered with mobs. And trust me, these grabs are no joke. I genuinely think it limited my enjoyment of the combat somewhat.

Visuals And Performance

The next stop is the visuals station, and I must say Slave Zero X did a great job of presenting its “90s Beat ‘Em Up” aesthetic. The static backgrounds are a work of art, and so are the moving character sprites. The visual presentation never betrays the biopunk sci-fi image established.

For a game of 2024, the visuals might look a little too “old” for modern gamers. But that is a discussion of the overall aesthetic, not a problem with Slave Zero X itself. I felt that it did a great job with its presentation. Plus, you’re treated to some still artwork at certain points over the story, which is beautifully done.

Visuals (Image Captured by Us)
Visuals (Image Captured by Us)

In terms of performance, the game is a throwback to the 90s and, thus, is not hardware-heavy in the least. I’ve played the game on a rather humble PC, and not once did it suffer from any dips in performance. Considering its classic style, I never expected any frame drops to happen, either.

Verdict

Verdict (Image by eXputer)
Verdict (Image by eXputer)

All in all, Slave Zero X is an excellent throwback to a past IP while retaining gameplay novelty and creativity. Not only did it serve as a revival, but it made sure to appeal to the modern audience with a newer presentation. Some mechanical hiccups and issues aside, Slave Zero X has crafted an enjoyably complex combat system while staying a Beat ‘Em Up.

That was all about my Slave Zero X review. I hope that cleared your doubts, and do consider going through some more of our reviews:

This is box title
Get This Game
If you like a classic beat ’em up with addictive and complex gameplay.
Dont Get This Game
If you do not like games with dated visual-style, or difficult games in general.
Do I Need To Get This Game
Yes, it’s a splendid hack-and-slash beat ’em up hybrid with creative combat.
Alternative Slave Zero X Games
  • Slave Zero
  • Slave Zero X: Episode Enyo
  • Streets of Rage 4
  • Battletoads
  • TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge
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Hanzala is a dedicated writer who expresses his views as opinion pieces at eXputer. He's always been fascinated by gaming and has been an avid consumer of many different genres for over a decade. His passion for games has him eager to encounter the latest RPGs and actively look for new Soulslike to challenge. He puts forth his experience and knowledge of gaming into captivating opinion pieces.

Experience: 8+ months || Education: Bachelors in Chemistry.

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