Yes, as mentioned in the Nintendo DS Lite article from the other day, my PlayStation Portable (PSP)‘s been collecting dust for the last… well, while. But a few good games have come out in the last week, and I’ve been hooked on one of them. Having grown up during the heyday of the Atari VCS/2600 and original Nintendo Entertainment System, I have a soft spot for certain classic games from that era; Capcom’s Mega Man is one of them. I still vividly recall borrowing the first and second Mega Man games from friends, playing the third and fourth ones, and then basically fading in (and mostly out) of the series thereafter. Dislike wasn’t to blame. With only a couple of exceptions (the 3-D Mega Mans) the series never became bad, just too familiar.
In part, that’s because Capcom developed and just kept refining a brilliant formula – in my view, the best 2-D platforming dynamic ever invented. Mega Man is a robot out to save the world from evil “boss” robots, who are generally much more powerful than he is. You need to learn precise running, shooting, and jumping skills before you can challenge one of the bosses, and though you can choose the order you fight them in, some are basically impossible to defeat with the pellet gun you’re given. So here’s the twist: every time you defeat a boss, you get a new gun that’s especially effective against another boss. Fire Man’s gun will quickly defeat Ice Man, and vice-versa. Choose the right sequence of fights and you’ll win more easily. This smart formula has worked well in roughly 20 Mega Man games at this point, varying mostly in bosses and weapons.
Now there’s Mega Man Powered Up, which actually isn’t a sequel – instead, it’s a PSP remake of the very first Mega Man game. I’ve been loving it over the last couple of days, and it’s whetting my appetite for Capcom’s next big 2-D title, Extreme Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. (Don’t even get me started on how excited I am for that one.) More details and screenshots are available through Read More below.
I’ve come back to Mega Man only a couple of times over the years, semi-ironically for the most NES-familiar titles (Mega Man 8 for PlayStation, and now this) rather than the myriad Mega Man X, 64/3-D, and EXE titles that have made more substantial changes to the formula, none of which have appealed to me. Powered Up for PSP is quite literally just the original Mega Man game, featuring the bosses I’ve just described, but remade to take advantage of the PSP hardware. I won’t go much into the gameplay beyond to say that the refinements have rendered it every bit as good as the more balanced early games (3-5) in the series, with enough new surprises and replay value to keep it fun for days.
Capcom made two smart moves in the remake, and one that’ll limit the game’s appeal to certain people. First, the company added new bosses to the mix (Oil Man and Time Man), and many more reasons to revisit levels, lengthening what could have been a much-too-short adventure, aided substantially by the PSP’s save feature. Second, there’s a powerful level construction tool that lets you build you own stages with pieces scattered throughout the game’s platforms. You can save your stages and even swap them wirelessly with other PSP owners, a cool idea.
Third, and as you can see from the screenshots, the graphics have been hugely overhauled. The good part is that they’re 3-D polygons, and though presented entirely from a familiar side-scrolling perspective, everything has a dynamic sparkle missing from most flat 2-D games. Occasionally, the camera will zoom in for a dramatic closeup, but otherwise, you notice a bit of added fluidity when characters turn around and animate. Powered Up also takes great advantage of the PSP’s wide LCD screen, filling it from edge to edge with color and detail.
My one and only reservation about this game is the theme of the redrawn art: Capcom went ultra-cartoony this time, using big-headed (“super deformed”) characters and actively kiddie backdrops. I understand the various views on why this could be a good thing – it may appeal to young new players, and otaku gamers. To that end, the dialogue has also been Disney-fied, with lame revisions (the “evil” robots are really “good” robots who were reprogrammed to think you’re evil), speeches on the nobility of merely disabling rather than destroying your brother robots – to make them playable characters – etcetera. But just as with the GameCube edition of Legend of Zelda (Wind Waker), I feel like I’m 10 years old again when I turn this game on, and not entirely in a good way. There are ways to make universally appealing cartoony games, but this one went a bit over the line, a shame only because the G-rated presentation may dissuade some players from gameplay that’s truly superb.
And yes, there is a way to play a more modestly reworked version of the original Mega Man, with its earlier maps and only six boss characters. A shot of that mode, which is intentionally less impressive, is above.
The most notable thing to me about Mega Man Powered Up is an impression that’s sure to spark another fanboy battle here, but it has to be said: when the PSP is good, as it is here, there is just no comparison between its performance and the Nintendo DS’s. As with the upcoming fighting game Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Mega Man somehow seems too good to be portable software – $25 at Fry’s, brand new – and I like that. Remade for this platform, even a 20-year old platform game looks and feels fresh and big, engrossing you with the screen, then surprising you with its pixel-level details. This isn’t normal for a handheld title, especially on the DS, which often uses screen-obstructing control schemes that draw you out of what’s happening. Unfortunately, I haven’t had nearly as many of these experiences with the PSP as I’d hoped… but if Capcom can deliver what I’m expecting from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, you’ll surely see more about it here.