Mega Man hit puberty at the tender age of six when he emerged, revamped and retooled, in the excellent Super Nintendo side-scroller Mega Man X. It's true, robots really do grow up faster. But unlike, say, Shadow the Hedgehog, Mega Man X managed to retain everything that made the source material great while adding a little sass. So now, almost 13 years on, Capcom has created a new version of its SNES classic for the PSP. While at first it feels a bit too familiar for its own good, a small but well-chosen complement of new features help Mega Man Maverick Hunter X find its stride and become a worthy game in its own right.
While the series' eternally vigilant maverick hunter, X, looks more mature than the cutesy old Mega Man ever did, the challenges he faces are remarkably similar. Eight renegade robots, the hunted mavericks of the title, lie between him and the big bad guy, Sigma. X has to take 'em down one by one, snatching foes' powers as he runs, jumps and blasts them away. There's also a lot of back-and-forth between conquered stages to uncover well-hidden power-up items, which you'll need if you're going to give Sigma a run for his ill-gained money.
This is all familiar territory for Mega Man fans, especially since Maverick Hunter X is an extremely faithful remake of Mega Man X. MHX makes only minimal changes to the stage layouts, which are nigh-on identical to the originals.
What's fresh are the refurbished, newly polygonal graphics, which give the game a sense of 3D depth that the old 2D sprites never could. The overall effect is nice, if not completely necessary. The music is also redone, though again, it's arguable whether these remixes are an improvement over the excellent SNES tunes.
Indeed, Mega Man X veterans may wonder what the point is. The gameplay is as fast and well-designed as ever, but it's still largely identical to the old game. Why pay $30 more to play the same game? The true answer becomes apparent upon clearing X's adventure, as that's when Vile mode unlocks. As the name implies, you get to take on the role of one of X's nastiest nemeses, which makes for a completely different experience. Vile features an all-new and rather interesting weapons system, and he'll need to make full use of many of his dozens of weapons to contend with each stage's remixed, more difficult new enemy layouts. Vile mode is a fantastic mix of old and new, as if Capcom unearthed a polished but unreleased gem from 1993.
Dedicated mega fans will also enjoy a surprisingly well-done half-hour of animation and a demo of Mega Man: Powered Up, but that's all icing. Mega Man Maverick Hunter X is first and foremost about its gameplay, and it's got plenty to offer ... even if it's not exactly all-new. Veteran players can look forward to the challenges of Vile mode, while newbies will discover a faithful remake of one of the best platformers on the SNES. Yeah, $30 sounds about right.