As the long-running Mega Man series was set to enjoy its twentieth anniversary, Capcom appeared to be gearing itself up for the event with not one, but two remakes of classic Mega Man games, both of which were released exclusively on the PSP. The first one – Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X – is a remake of Mega Man X, which appeared on the SNES back in 1993. For those of you not in the know, 1987 saw the debut of Mega Man as a small kid-like robot in a world of small kid-like robot bad guys and friends alike. With Mega Man X, Capcom ‘animé-ised’ the Mega Man series to create an older, more accurately proportioned and ultimately more serious character named X, presumably to cater for a wider audience while still staying true to the Mega Man mythos and classic gameplay.
The plot boils down to classic barebones Mega Man fare. Dr Light – creator of the original Mega Man robot – is dead. However, before his death he created a newer version of Mega Man, named X. An evil robot named Sigma has turned maverick, assembled a group of rebel robots and plans to take over the world, and it’s up to the Maverick Hunters, led by X, to stop him.
Maverick Hunter X adheres to the gameplay mechanics laid down by Capcom way back in 1987, mixing old-school platforming and shooting action as you play through an easy-by-comparison-to-the-rest-of-the-game level and defeat a similarly simple boss – in this case, X’s rival, Vile. From then on you’re presented with eight stages, which you’re allowed to tackle in any order you see fit, each of which ends with a confrontation against a hilariously named robot.
When we say their names are funny, we're really not messing around. Seriously. Each robot possesses powers either directly or loosely associated with the animal they’re based on and/or the environments within which they dwell. You’re going to find yourself battling against robotic foes such as Chill Penguin, Flame Mammoth, Armoured Armadillo, Spark Mandrill, Storm Eagle, Launch Octopus, Sting Chameleon and — by far the best — Boomerang Kuwanger.
Regardless of how side-splittingly ludicrous their names may be, these guys are not easy to defeat, and you’ll have to pull out every trick you can to send them packing. There is a strategic element involved; namely, the order in which you choose to take them on. Every boss robot you defeat gives up a specific weapon that you can use as you please, provided you have ammo for it. In turn, each boss has a weakness to certain weapons, some of which are brutally obvious, some of which aren’t. Therefore, gaining specific weapons before you take on some of the guardians can give you a much-needed edge in the fight. Additionally, the completion of certain levels can trigger events in others, making them far, far easier to navigate through. After you’ve beaten the eight boss robots, you’ll get to take on some even tougher missions and enemies, before going up against Sigma himself.
Extra weapons aren’t the only tools you can get your robotic hands on. Hidden throughout the eight starting missions are various body upgrades: head, body, arm and foot. Head parts allow you to smash certain blocks with your bonce, body segments reduce the damage you take from enemy attacks, arm alterations allow you to charge your weapons to unleash far more powerful shots, while new feet allow you to carry out a dash move, handy for dodging certain attacks and jumping further. Also hidden in various places are life-up containers to increase your maximum life energy gauge by a small amount. Sub-tank containers are there to be discovered and filled with life energy, provided your current meter is full, and can be used to refill your energy gauge should it get low. These come in handy, especially in the Sigma’s Palace missions, so you’ll want to grab them post-haste. Not that they’re easy to find. Most of the sub-tanks, life-ups and body upgrades are hidden in the depths of the levels, requiring other acquired abilities and/or weapons to reach them.
Maverick Hunter X, though by no means making full use of the PSP’s capabilities on a technical level, looks and sounds just as brilliantly as it plays thanks to fantastic character design and liberal use of vivid colours. The environments, weapon effects, enemies and backgrounds have all been beefed up considerably from their original SNES forms, and the music has been beautifully remixed while remaining every bit as toe-tappingly catchy as it was the first time around. Additionally, the game’s simple and formulaic story benefits from some adequately acted (if a little cheesy) in-game voiceovers, as well as some lovely animé intro and outro cutscenes.
The stellar presentation is backed up by a handful of unlockable extras. By completing X’s story mode, you're not only able to play through the entire story mode as Vile – who plays considerably and pleasingly different to X, essentially opening up a mode that could have easily warranted its own release as a separate game – but you also unlock a 24-minute animé movie called The Day of Sigma, which unfolds the chain of events leading to Sigma going loco and so on. It’s gorgeous, brilliantly animated, superbly voiced and any hardcore Mega Man X or animé fans will likely watch it over and over. Rounding off the package are a hard difficulty setting and a demo of Mega Man: Powered Up – Capcom’s other PSP remake of a classic Mega Man game – which you can upload to other PSP owners via ad-hoc.
However, Maverick Hunter X isn’t without its faults, regardless of how minor and scarce they may be. Firstly, the frame rate does slow down considerably if a lot is happening on-screen. It doesn’t ruin the game by any means, but considering that it's not particularly complex or pushing the PSP graphically, it can get a tad annoying. Secondly, extra challenges might have been worthwhile, akin to those that Capcom crammed into Mega Man: Powered Up; further tasks that are simple to figure out but a berk to complete, to sink your teeth into, should you finally get tired of the two main stories. This qualm is really more a matter of perspective, granted, but with the knowledge of the sheer value for money that Powered Up represents, it's disappointing that Capcom neglected to include a similar amount of content in Maverick Hunter X.
A great deal of gamers are dead against remakes of videogames, harbouring the attitude of, “I already played it, so why should I pay to play it again?” While this is certainly a valid point, Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X epitomises what's so endearing about the Mega Man series and – despite the slightly underwhelming quantity of extras – Capcom has delivered a solid, more than satisfactory remastering of what was inarguably the SNES' best Mega Man outing.