Slave Zero X Review

Slave Zero X Review

Remember Slave Zero? Most people will throw their hands up in utter befuddlement if asked this question and for a good reason. Slave Zero was a Y2K-era third-person mecha action game set in a dystopian Blade Runner-esque world. As hot of an idea as that sounds, Slave Zero was not a success – it was met with scathing reviews. Even its most die-hard fans always recognize its faults.

It may not have set the world on fire and was destined for obscurity, but there was no denying that Slave Zero had a certain charm to it. The main mech looked cool, the setting was edgy, and if you played it on PC instead of Dreamcast, you had a much better experience. Against all odds, Slave Zero managed to not be forgotten and got a spin-off decades later.

Slave Zero X is set in a grungey and oppressive mega-city, but instead of playing as a humungous mecha in 3D, players are now cybernetic samurai in a 2.5D beatem-up. Was this unexpected revival worth it, or should it have been forgotten? Find out in our Slave Zero X review!

Slave Zero X
Developer: Poppy Works
Publisher: Ziggurat
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: February 21, 2024
Price: $24.99 USD

Slave Zero X is set before the events of Slave Zero and follows Shou, a resistance member who steals an experimental armor from a sadistically evil corporation. Unfortunately for Shou, the armor functions like a Guyver suit and fuses to his body. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the suit came with its own sentience in the form of X, leaving Shou to wrestle for control of his body.

The plot mostly centers on Shou on the run from SovKhan while facing some former allies and elite warriors who want to take him down and probably will because Slave Zero X is very difficult. How all of this connects to the original Slave Zero is that it depicts early versions of the large mechs before they were huge and there is a plot point that alludes to the inevitable construction of the large-scale mecha to come.

While Slave Zero X has its dramatic moments and startling character revelations with some decent voice acting, there is a sense that the game itself isn’t interested in it. Urgency always feels like it is breathing down your neck and the urge to break out Shou/X’s sword and start gutting boys slithers up your spine like a rising climax of an acid frenzy.

This isn’t the kind of game where you’re going to get wrapped up in the plot. It’s the kind of game where you’re going to be sweating bullets and desperately trying to react fast enough when ascending a structure made of flesh and metal while battling a horde of cyber ninjas.

Slave Zero X’s gameplay blends Strider 2’s action platforming with the combat of an early Guilty Gear game. While the focus is on landing hits, the core mechanics lack some crucial elements for a satisfying 2D beat ’em up. The absence of an air dodge to escape stunlocks and the frequent enemy swarms become major frustrations.

A single mistake can leave you vulnerable to a relentless enemy onslaught, draining your health quickly. This is exacerbated by Slave Zero X‘s tendency to throw large groups of enemies at you with little breathing room. There desperately needed to be some way to cancel with an air dodge or tech. It feels like it’s missing this, which is confusing since the developers copied so much from Guilty Gear, like a variation of Roman Canceling.

Shou\X’s moveset is kept simple yet there is enough flexibility to get a bit of mileage out of it. He’s able to do a stinger attack to close gaps on distant enemies and juggling multiple foes comes naturally. There are no complex button inputs for advanced moves and there are no moves to buy from the merchant who looks like the one from the Zelda CDI game for some reason. The only things he offers are stat upgrades.

The most important move in Shou\X’s kit is when he powers up. When in this hyper state, he can leech lost health from enemies like a vampire. Filling the special meter to activate this mode means playing stylishly and not being repetitive when fighting. Due to the intense speed of the game, brawls can be a lot to process in the thick of it, which makes the smaller move list feel like an act of mercy.

On the occasion when Slave Zero X lets up with the fighting, there are some platforming challenges. These are brief enough that they don’t become out of place and mostly serve to break up the action and allow gamers to catch their breaths. This is a short game (under 10 hours), but a very hard one that invites replays, so any variety is welcomed.

Slave Zero X‘s combat is intense and very visceral thanks to the audio-visual feedback. When Shou\X’s sword connects with his opponents, there is a blood-curdling mix of the sounds of crunching bone, tearing flesh, and blood spray. Compounded with the awesome visuals, most of Slave Zero X’s shortcomings are easy to overlook.

The presentation in this game is superb. Most characters are huge, well-drawn sprites, and the environments utilize low-poly models with gritty pixel art. The aesthetics can be best described as an H.R. Giger cyber-nightmare. Shou\X looks like a hulking red demon with a skull-like face and bio-mechanical anatomy. He is by far one of the coolest-looking protagonists in any game in a long time.

It is easy to imagine this having an arcade cabinet in the early 2000s nestled between an Aliens rail shooter and Ergheiz. The lurid colors contrast with the harsh and rusty metallic and pixelated surfaces. The extensive use of biomechanical tubing and industrial ribbing throughout creates a striking and timeless motif.

Slave Zero X is deliberately very retro and hardcore, but it also doesn’t fully understand what it needs to do to be a shining example in its genre. Amusingly, this applied to the original Slave Zero as well for third-person shooting. Just like its predecessor, this game’s style and satisfying action manages to keep it interesting.

With a bit of fine-tuning and rebalancing, Slave Zero X could be magnificent. It is already an audio/visual tour de force and the gameplay mostly works. If anything, Slave Zero X presents a compelling world with vivid imagery that sticks with you. It is no wonder why people still remember the original game and have fond memories of it.

Slave Zero X was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a code provided by Ziggurat Interactive. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Slave Zero X is now available for PC (via Steam), macOS, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

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The Verdict: 7

The Good

  • Shou's unbelievably awesome design
  • At about 6 hours long, it does not overstay its welcome and is priced fairly
  • Devil May Cry-style technical combo action in 2D
  • Big and beautiful sprites

The Bad

  • Sometimes there are just too many enemies where it becomes cheap
  • Getting stun-locked in mid-air is unfair


A youth destined for damnation.

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