Slave Zero X Review – 2.5D Mayhem

Ali Hashmi
Ali Hashmi
10 Min Read
Slave Zero X
8 Great
Review Overview

Slave Zero X is a prequel to Slave Zero, a largely forgotten action title from the late 1990s that came out on the Dreamcast and PC. Slave Zero X might share the same setting, but it doesn’t play anything like the original, and it took me by surprise with how much mechanical depth is packed in this 2.5D release. In my review for Slave Zero X, I’ll take a look at one of the best action titles of the year.

Hack and Slash: Third Strike

I want to jump right into the gameplay first because while the story and setting are interesting, the combat is the real meat and potatoes of this action title. Don’t let the screenshots fool you, this is not a 2D beat ’em up, but a Hack and Slash game that shares many mechanics from 2D fighters like Guilty Gear and Street Fighter.

Gore x10
Gore x10

In Slave Zero X, you play as X, a powerful biomecha piloted by Shou (the main character) that can kick some serious butt. You have two main attack buttons that perform a light or heavy attack and have multiple variations depending on the directional input. To perform a special or EX attack, you need to hit the heavy button immediately after inputting a light attack. For example, a regular stinger is forward heavy, but to output an EX stinger, you need to first press the light attack before the stinger input instead of pressing both the light and heavy attacks.

Heavy Attack Variation
Heavy Attack Variation

EX attacks use your special meter, and if you enter Fatal Sync (kind of like the Devil Trigger from Devil May Cry), you’ll have free EX attacks for the duration of Fatal Sync. This is all just the surface of this combat system, and it’s this non-traditional scheme that encouraged me to make deliberate use of each attack, and its specific input. You can also parry incoming attacks by pressing the forward direction towards the incoming attack, similar to how it works in Street Fighter Third Strike.

Parry in action
Parry in action

There’s also a burst mechanic, similar to Guilty Gear that knocks back most enemies to give you some breathing room. You can also integrate it into attacks to extend combos and even refill your meter. There’s also a dash, double-jump, dodge and slide that offer ways to move around, and even evade attacks.

Where Is the Move List Though?

Currently, my biggest issue with the game is the lack of a dedicated move list section. After a tutorial at the beginning of the game, you’re left to figure out everything on your own. This means that you’ll need to figure out which attack combinations are EX, and how you can use them in combos. No matter how hard a hack and slash game is, it’s important to give this information to the player regardless of how simple, or complex any move is.

Practice Mode
Practice Mode

You can pick up practically any fighting game or hack and slash release of the past 15 years and you’ll see the simplest moves listed, often with supporting animations, videos, or screenshots. If Slave Zero X is demanding players understand the combat system, then players should have access to tutorials, and move lists in the game as well.

What’s even more puzzling is that the game has a Practice mode, but even here you can’t look up specific moves. You’re supposed to keep experimenting with different input combinations to discover moves, which I don’t think works well with action titles, especially ones that are on the difficult side.

This might also put potential players off because they’ll assume there aren’t these additional mechanics to begin with. Even if we assume the opening tutorial is enough, that isn’t accessible to the player afterward either. After doing a bit more digging, I found that the developers have written up a combat mechanics guide on Steam, which can be accessed here. This isn’t ideal, and I hope it’s something they add to the game with a patch.

Scoring System, Boss Fights, and Challenge

Like other character action games, some combat encounters will end in a score sheet that rewards how well you did. Even if you land a long combo, your score is more dependent on how much damage you take, and the variety you use in attacks.

Totally not flexing
Totally not flexing

Spamming the same combo over and over can result in victory, but you’re going to keep getting an E rating. Getting a good score is very satisfying, and adds to the replayability of the game. If this sounds discouraging, don’t worry, because it’s not something you have to actively take into account because it doesn’t impact progress.

You can also cancel multiple moves like attacks and jumps to further extend combos. The more you experiment, the more you understand how the systems under the hood interact with each other. This brings me to the bosses, and boy, are those difficult.

Compared to regular enemies, the bosses in Slave Zero X have wide attacks that can catch you easily from mid-screen. These also have a very small wind-up, which means you need to react almost instantly. Bosses require you to master the parry system, otherwise you’ll lose your complete health after a few hits. Parrying and Fatal Sync are essential for bosses, and if you’re looking for a challenge, it doesn’t get harder than this.

Overall, I’d say that the difficulty is tough but fair. The combos aren’t hard to pull off, but getting a good score is quite the task. The combat shines when you’re going against tons of enemies on-screen. It’s satisfying to see the combo score go up as you slice, parry, and cancel into different attacks in both air and ground.

All of these mechanics blend to create a satisfying character action experience that rewards mastery, practice, and experimentation.


Similar to Slave Zero, Slave Zero X has a biopunk aesthetic and that’s a big part of the presentation. Characters have this exaggerated appearance that blends right into the setting with towering figures, protruding pipes, smoke, and abs, so many abs. The character designs are beautiful, and I love how the bosses look.

The game’s environment blends 2D sprites with stylized 3D models. The overall look of the game is reminiscent of many PS1 releases, but with advanced lighting, and the option for a really high framerate.


It’s a great looking game, and all the animation work is excellent. I love how the enemies look, though I wish there was just a bit more variety, especially in the earlier levels. The industrial soundtrack also goes perfectly with the combat.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot to like about Slave Zero X. It’s a stylish character action game with plenty of depth to satisfy both action and fighting game fans. It’s hard to find a 2D action game that isn’t a Metroidvania or a beat ’em up. Slave Zero X rectifies that with a focused, highly replayable campaign that’s challenging, and rewards mastery of its mechanics.

That said, the game lacks some basic things like access to the movelist, and its Practice Mode is incredibly barebones. It’s a standard thing in the genres the game is inspired by, which makes the exclusion all the more confusing. Either way, you’re bound to understand how those moves work with enough practice, but it’s not ideal. If you’re like me, and love 2D character action games, Slave Zero X is tailor-made for you.

What did you think of our review of Slave Zero X? Share what you think about it in the comments below.

This review is based on the PC version of Slave Zero X. The key was provided by Ziggurat Interactive.

Review Overview
Great 8
Overall Score 8
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Gaming enthusiast, massive Soulsborne fan with hundreds of hours spread across different Soulslike titles, and a passionate writer. Always on the lookout for interesting games with unique mechanics and design especially in the indie space. He loves to write informative guides for newer and ongoing releases.
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