Not bad for an old man.
As we've waited with thumbs a twitchin' to see which classic Playstation games would make it to the PSP, we've completely overlooked the fact that other, older systems are full of great, portable possibilities. This virtual reality has not been lost on Capcom, however, and the proof is their wonderfully playable remake of Mega Man X, the re-titled Mega Man Maverick Hunter X.
Originally an SNES action-platformer firmly rooted in the Mega Man side-scrolling tradition, Maverick Hunter X provides a substantial visual upgrade, a new playable character and a great opportunity for handheld gamers to relive a quality classic anywhere they want. While it may not be perfect í¢â‚¬" the framerate occasionally gets stuck in the 1990s and the enemies respawn like crazy í¢â‚¬" this is more than just an old robot in new armor.
[image1]It does star one, though. To go with his fancy duds and edgy moniker, Mega Man finds himself in a new plot as a lowly robo-agent on the hunt for reploid mavericks, rebel robots led by the powerful Sigma. At first it sounds like Blade Runner, but bad voice-acting, uninspired localization and the dumbest evil motive since Breakdown will make you want to forget this tale like so many tears in the rain.
Luckily, you really won't have to because the plot doesn't unfold during the game. Instead, a thirty-minute cut-scene explaining everything is unlocked after the credits roll. You might expect us to poo-poo such an unorthodox storytelling strategy, but we're actually grateful. By the time it's revealed that Mega Man's greatest asset is his ability to worry, you will have already enjoyed at least ten hours of unspoiled platforming, boss-blasting action.
The game begins with a short level and boss battle to introduce Vile, a Boba Fett-looking reploid. From there, you go to the familiar boss selection screen. In the incredibly slim chance that you've never played a Mega Man game, this is how they work: Mega Man kills bosses and gains their weapons, which in turn help him kill other bosses. For example, if you kill Flame Mammoth, you can turn around and use his Flame Thrower to defeat Chill Penguin.
In the slightly less slim chance that you've never played a Mega Man X game, you should know that Mega Man can also find helpful power-ups scattered around the levels themselves. These are called "Parts," and they give Mega Man bonuses like better armor, the ability to dash, and a more powerful arm blaster.
Another neat twist is the way levels change depending on which bosses you've beaten. For example, when you knock out Storm Eagle, his ship crashes into an electrical generator, killing the lights in Spark Mandrill's stage. Considering the number of times you run through some of the levels, such changes of scenery are very welcome.
[image2]The gameplay is typical Mega Man. You run left and right with the analog nub or the D-pad, jump, shoot, charge your weapon and dash. You can bounce off walls, but you can't shoot upwards or duck. For all its simplicity, the scheme still has the potential to get all mucked up since three of your most important abilities are assigned to face buttons. Fortunately, you can reconfigure the controls, keeping your fingers out of an endless game of face button twister.
The single-player campaign lasts about ten hours, although veterans of the SNES original will probably finish much more quickly. Once you smack Sigma down the first time, though, there's still a lot of game to go, because you unlock Vile as a playable character.
Instead of Mega Man's single blaster, Vile is armed with three: one on his shoulder that shoots upward, one on his arm that shoots forward, and one on his leg that shoots downward. Every time you defeat a boss as Vile, you gain three new weapons, as well as special abilities which are the same as Mega Man's parts. Vile doesn't have to equip all ice weapons or all fire weapons; rather, he can equip anything he wants provided he has the points to spend. He begins with eleven weapons points which correspond to point values on each weapon. If the sum of the numbers on the three weapons you wish to equip are greater than your current point value, you'll have to find a different combination. However, Vile gains more weapon points every time he defeats a boss, so his possible combinations grow, as does his selection of arms.
Vile is a great addition to the game. Not only is it extremely refreshing to fire up and down at enemies after ten hours of shooting straight, but his levels are much harder and feature different obstacles than Mega Man's. Once you beat the game as Vile, you can play through again in either character's Hard difficulty mode. Hard mode doesn't simply make you easier to kill, it actually changes boss attack patterns, gives them new powers, and is genuinely harder instead of just cheaper.
That's not to say Maverick Hunter X isn't without some serious cheap points. The most noticeable is the fact that enemies respawn if you leave their area and then return to it. This makes vertical levels especially annoying, as you'll fall a hundred feet and bump into every enemy you just killed on the way down, then be forced to fight them again on the way back up. Deja vu has never been so frustrating.
[image3]This leads in to another classic Mega Man gameplay issue í¢â‚¬" the lame health and ammo system. If you get hurt, you can essentially farm for health and ammo packs by repeatedly killing the same respawning enemies over and over again. This system guarantees good health and ammo, provided you're willing to spend five minutes to get them. Unfortunately, farming enemies is really boring, yet it occasionally becomes the only thing between you and starting a stage over from the very beginning. It's like getting stuck between a Rock Man and a...okay, maybe I won't go there, but I wish Capcom would. They added some great new content and it would have been even better if they'd fixed a couple of the issues that keep the series down.
At least they spruced up the graphics. Instead of 2D sprites, everything is now rendered in bright, vibrant 3D and framed with a distinct, pleasing art style. Spark Mandrill's level in particular is extremely cool, and a lot of the explosion effects look great.
You'll get good, long looks at 'em, too, because the framerate dives down to ten frames per second anytime the action gets hectic - which is to say, all the time. This comes in handy as an exploit during the harder boss fights, as you use the lag to better dodge attacks. Silver lining aside, it's a little silly to give a remake a huge graphical upgrade when it causes the game to slow down more than the original.
The silliness isn't limited to the visuals, with Mega Man constantly calling out the name of whatever special weapon he's using. The rest of the sound effects are clean, though, and the music isn't bad, is a bit overproduced.
Mega Man Maverick Hunter X adds a surprising amount of fresh content to an old hero. Despite its quirks, this is a satisfying handheld platformer. Mega, indeed.