Slave Zero X

Originally posted on 2024-03-13

Fun as hell and just as terrible

It took 5 minutes of training mode practice in Slave Zero X before I knew I loved the game. It took 5 hours of playing the main campaign before I knew I hated the game. 25 hours in and I still (love . hate) it. I'm not going to write a structured review on this game; I'm just ranting about the things I feel passionately about.


Slave Zero X exhibits a deep understanding of the most engaging combat mechanics found in 2D anime fighting games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue as well as the core fun of character action games like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or Darksiders. You can jump cancel your grounded normals. You can jump cancel your air normals. You can jump cancel and reset your air jump with divekicks. You can EX cancel almost anything and normal cancel many of those EX moves for free. You can "roman" cancel anything. You can dash cancel your normals for free and your specials for meter. You can do infinites with a normal chain as simple as:

5LL. jc. j5Lj2L

on repeat. But you can make it look a lot spicier by doing:

5L6H4L. jc. j5Lj2L

on repeat instead! Labbing these routes and finding new ones is so pure and fun. It takes the strict limitations of traditional fighting games and gives you a small taste of what cancelling almost everything can do to combo routes. Dishing out high damage with Pulse Sync and endless EX cancels is the definition of a power fantasy, but I find the most interesting routes to be restricted to normals and regular specials with interesting cancel opportunities; EX cancels allow for large pickup windows that remove the challenge and interest in finding tight links or challenging sequences.

I've really had a blast labbing this game and playing through it. I hold the #1 score rank for the first 5 or so levels on GOG at the time of this writing and am top 3 on the "Crimson Citadel" scoreboard - I "get" how to play the game.


I refuse to believe the developers of the game played each level of this game and thought "yeah, this is fun" would be an accurate summary of the experience they had. There are only three possible explanations I can come up with for why playing the campaign is so miserable:

1 - There wasn't enough time to dedicate to encounter design or enemy systems after crafting such a deep player character and making the impressive art assets

2 - The developers in charge of encounter design and enemy systems have no idea what makes the popular games in this genre fun.

3 - This is meant to be a "bro the game is so hard xddd" experience that only contrarians or masochists pretend to like

I'd be surprised if the first point isn't what happened here. Almost everything but the character you play is deeply flawed or completely nonsensical.


There is another excellent game in this genre of arena combo games called Defect Process - yes, "Defect" goes to the Steam page and "Process" is a GitHub link! The enemies are far dumber in Defect Process in that most will walk wall-to-wall until you wander into their fighting distance while they are facing you, but each one has a unique role in pressuring your spacing. Enemies have widely varying attack distances: some will fly and fire projectiles towards you, some occupy standard melee distances, some are rooted turrets firing laser beams, and some throw javelins across the arena which you can jump on and ride.

You have to clear each fighting arena while dodging attacks that all occupy different parts of the screen which keeps you moving on both the X and Y axis constantly. You don't have any standard defensive options because you don't need them; super armor is used very sparingly and is appropriately fitted to enemies with generously telegraphed attacks. As a result, you are meant to leverage movement options to navigate the room and enemy attacks like solving a puzzle. Defect Process doesn't have half the style that Slave Zero X does, but it's proof positive that an indie developer can understand how to take a game idea and flesh out compelling challenges in the limitations they design.

(5LL 62H 268)'s RAGE

I love Slave Zero X. I hate Slave Zero X. I hope to play games inspired by, but without many of the mistakes made by, Slave Zero X.