Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X is a dream come true for the hardened X fan; well, possibly. There are some who feel its placement on the Sony PSP as opposed to the Nintendo DS is a stab to the series' roots. I'll bring that up later, though. If you are a big time X fan, or just a general Mega Man fan, or even someone who just enjoys good action games, Maverick Hunter X is most definitely for you. Maverick Hunter X is a remake of the Super Nintendo classic Mega Man X; a series closely tied in terms of game-play to the original Mega Man but completely redefined in terms of attitude. The story goes about the same. In the year 21XX, the scientist Dr. Cain uncovers the remains of the deceased Dr. Light's lab. Inside he finds X, a revolutionary robot that can think, feel and act on its own. Using X as a base, Dr. Cain creates a breed of robots called Reploids to help further mankind. However, as Reploids proliferate, some turn to crime and begin to go against their human owners, also known as going Maverick. To combat this, a task force of Maverick Hunters is created to combat the Maverick Reploids. This all works out alright, until the powerful leader of the force's 17th unit, Sigma, goes Maverick himself. Taking other units with him, he declares a war on mankind. Now it's up to X to stop him.
In terms of game mechanics, virtually nothing is changed from the traditional X. You still run, jump, shoot, wall climb and dash (once you get the upgrade for it) your way through 13 stages. The eight primary stages conclude with a boss fight against a Maverick ex-Hunter, and upon victory you receive a new weapon from him. Standard Mega Man fare. Hidden in the eight main stages are also power-up items and upgrade capsules which help increase your skill and power. Getting some power-ups and weapons is helpful or even vital toward getting other power-ups.
For played gamers, the controls ought to feel just as tight and responsive as before. X still moves at about the same speed, as well do his attacks and most other enemies. The movements of some enemies has been altered a little, which can create some surprised for experienced players. There were only two real flaws I found in playing the game. The first is that my charged shots occasionally let go on their own while I was still holding the square button, but I suspect this may be due to my PSP unit as opposed to the game itself. The other issue is back-scrolling. By this I mean the way enemies will reappear after you defeat them if you run back to their location again. This seems to happen very easily in the game, and just inching away and going back will cause enemies to reappear. It also affects energy items. If a defeated enemy drops a power-up that happens to go off the screen, even just a little bit, don't bother going for it because that sucker is probably gone.
The stages themselves are also mostly identical to the game's SNES predecessor. If you've played through classic X enough you can probably run through the stages by memory fairly well on the PSP. Hidden power-ups are also more or less in the same place. The only difference is the upgrade capsules. While their locations and the ways to reach them have only changed very little, the specific upgrades the capsules bring have been swapped around. This might be a little irritating to long-time X players that want to get the dash upgrade right away. I myself had to curse through three stages without being able to dash. Regardless, it does refresh the need to explore a little in the game, which is overall a good thing.
I should also state that not all the stages are very identical. While the main stages are for the most part copied directly, the first three Sigma stages are extremely different. I was a bit surprised in the first stage that, after passing the initial opening, I was going underwater instead of jumping up floating platforms (though that portion does come in a later stage). Although some parts of stages will seem familiar, the three stages in all are without a doubt highly rearranged, and with some surprising obstacles to boot.
While the game-play of Maverick Hunter X is about the same as before, graphics and audio are where the game's redesign really kicks in. As you've surely seen, all of the game graphics have been redone in vibrant 3D, though it still keeps a side-scrolling point of view. All of the stages are sharp and colorful, and show a great deal of depth. There are also a number of neat details, like the cars on the freeway in the background of the opening stage, and the ominous clouds gliding along in the first Sigma stage. All of the boss characters and stage enemies have also been redesigned in appearance at least a little, making them look a little more mechanical and futuristic, or in some cases just flat-out cool. Without revealing much, I will say that the game's final boss looks much more impressive and fearsome than it did before.
Object movement is very fluid and lively, yet still easy on the eyes. I'm not sure about other games, but I've yet to get a headache from playing Maverick Hunter X. There is occasionally some slowdown when a lot of enemies are on the screen or you're using an attack that's striking a large enemy many times a second. Truthfully it's the same kind of slowdown you'd expect in playing the SNES version, and in a way it feels oddly natural. I'm left to wonder if Capcom generated this minor slow down intentionally or if it really is just the PSP hardware.
The game's sound is an area of major revamping as well. The majority of the music is taken from the classic game and rearranged, and there are small handful of new themes added as well. Overall, all of the rearranged music sounds great. The main melodies are about spot on, but the general sound is much more bouncy and electronic, a lot like the music from Mega Man X7 (which should go without saying, since two of the three BGM artists worked on X7). The music is quite varied from the gentle synths in Chill Penguin's stage to the electric guitar lead in Spark Mandrill's stage to the all-out techno jam of Boomer Kuwanger's stage. Sound effects are also up to par and very fitting. Some of the sound effects, such as X getting hurt, are very similar to the SNES version.
The game also features a wide degree of voice acting, including dialog scenes with all the major boss characters. These are done very nicely and give an added degree of personality to each character. Of course, this is all based on the Japanese language edition. What little I've heard with the English speaking version sounds pretty good too.
Finally, there's an addition of traditional 2D animated cut scenes, which fans of the X series have loved since their use in X4. There aren't many, aside from the Capcom logo and opening movie, there are really only two cut scenes for the game's beginning and ending. Of course, there's also another major movie in the game, but that will be discussed a little later.
Be a Villain:
Probably the biggest additional feature in Maverick Hunter X is the ability to play as Vile, one of the game's antagonists, once you've completed the game as X once. Vile has access to twelve of the game's thirteen stages with a "what-if" type alternate storyline. Going out on his own, the overly-vicious Vile doesn't seem to want to side with either the Maverick Hunters or Sigma's rebellion against humanity. Instead he boasts he will be the one to change the future. Unfortunately, things get a bit tough when you make enemies out of everyone, but we'll let Vile figure that out on his own.
Control-wise, Vile differs a bit from X. He has most of the same basic abilities, and although he can run faster than X he can't dash, making him a little less versatile in movement. However, Vile makes up for this deficit with firepower. Aside from jumping, all of the right pad buttons are for attacking. Square initiates a hand attack, triangle a shoulder attack, and circle a leg attack. In the beginning of the game, you start with a short-range vulcan burst for the hand. This can be held down for rapid fire. The shoulder cannon fires a more powerful, single blast. By nature the shot moves at an upward angle. You can hold up to make it shoot at a higher angle, or down to make it shoot straight forward. Finally, the leg attack ensues Vile firing a bomb from his knee. It will bounce a short distance before exploding.
Playing as Vile may seem a bit challenging at first, but if you hang in there the rewards of victory will really pay off. Like X, you get additional weapons from beating boss characters. However, not only do you get weapons directly from the boss characters (and sometimes not just one), but you get them from beating sets of two boss characters as well. So you'll get Distance Needler from defeating Chill Penguin, and Metal Crescent from defeating Boomer Kuwanger, but you'll also get Parasite Sword for having defeated them both. All in all this creates 45 weapons you can win by beating the eight bosses, not to mention a couple permanent upgrade items for your armor and running speed. The weapon types vary too. For hand weapons you get vulcan, missile and punch type attacks, for shoulder weapons you get blast, boomerang and laser type attacks, and for leg weapons you get bomb, energy ball and burner type attacks.
You can choose which weapons you want to equip before each stage starts. However, you can't just choose whatever you want. Each weapon has a set "cost," and the combined costs of your three weapons cannot exceed Vile's cost limit. This limit starts at 6, and gets raised to 32 by the time you beat the eight main boss characters. So, let's say you want to use Popcorn Demon, Long Shot Gizmo and Sword Bouquet in a stage (and no, I'm not making those names up). That would make a total cost of 28, and if 28 exceeds your current cost limit, then you can't use that combination.
All of Vile's weapons use weapon energy from the same power meter. This meter will refill on its own relatively quickly when you're not attacking, but if it gets too low you won't be able to use more energy-demanding attacks. You can also pick up weapon energy capsules which will speed along the recovery of your weapon energy. Vile's attacks are also quite varied in effectiveness depending on certain enemies. What may destroy larger, more powerful enemies in a few hits may also take a few hits to beat smaller, weaker enemies, as opposed to just one.
The stages are also a bit different for Vile. While the layouts are the same, the types of enemies and their locations of appearance are changed drastically, and usually in a way that makes the stage a bit more difficult. The locations of Heart Tanks and Sub Tanks are also in completely different places which are generally harder and more of a hassle to find. It's best to get them as fast as you can, though, because without any power-ups Vile is pretty weak.
Another major difference is Vile's Ride Armor. Ride Armors will appear in stages much more frequently than when you play as X. They can still punch and dash, but they also have a machine gun vulcan attack which is used be pressing triangle. However, Vile's Ride Armor also has a 32 second time limit of use, represented by a constantly decreasing power meter. Getting hit by enemies also takes chunks out of your allotted time, and if you jump out of a Ride Armor before the time limit ends it will automatically self-destruct. Since Vile can't dash, Ride Armors are necessary to pick up certain power-ups.
A bit of the music in Vile's game mode is changed to music that has more of a heavy rock sound. However, out of nine of the twelve stages, the background theme music is the same exact song. So hopefully you like rock music a bit or the audio in Vile's game might get a little repetitive. It would have been nice if Capcom opted the effort to do rock arranges of the normal stage themes. Vile also has his own two animated cut scenes to facilitate the story.
Aside from the inclusion of Vile's game mode, there is also a little extra thrown in by Capcom. The other most notable bonus, which is also received after beating the game once as X, is an animated short called "The Day of Sigma." It's about as a typical half hour television show, without the commercials. This fantastically animated short depicts a deal of the game's pre-story, mostly surrounding Sigma's strike against humanity and the inception of his rebellion. It's pretty action-packed, and if left unaltered in the western release, it could possibly garner Maverick Hunter X an ESRB rating of at least E 10+, although it's really no more violent than anything in Mega Man X4.
Another neat bonus is a playable demo of the upcoming PSP title Mega Man: Powered Up, a remake of the original classic Mega Man game (which I also look forward to reviewing). The demo lets you play Cut Man's stage in both its new, remade edition and its classic edition. By using the PSP's game sharing feature, you can also play Fire Man's remade stage, although reportedly it does not have sound. The demo is available to play right from the start of the game.
Aside from these things, though, there isn't much more. Both X's game mode and Vile's game mode can be played on normal and difficult play levels. In difficult, X and Vile generally take more damage from enemies, and bosses can perform new attacks. Regardless, beating the game as X once pretty much unlocks everything. If you beat the game in normal mode, you get nothing else for beating it again in hard mode, or by beating the game as Vile. One nice additional feature is that the game lets you replay the opening stage and the first three Sigma stages as many times as you like. Also, once you've cleared the game as either X or Vile you can re-fight the bosses again when you replay stages. The major boss characters will even have new dialog before the fight, which is a nice touch.
The polish from the original Mega Man X is present as well. You can still affect the layout of some stages by beating other stages, certain enemies will still laugh at you when they hurt you (and you can hear them now, too), and the infamous "fifth capsule" is also still present in the game. And Dr. Light is still dressed that way.
Maverick Hunter X is a magnificently made game, and a great homage to the Mega Man X series. It's beautiful 3D rendered graphics, high quality sound and tight action game-play are great for new players to the series, and yet many elements are handled in traditional means, which just enough altered to give something for long time X players to do without alienating them.
But is it worth getting a PSP? Assuming you don't already have one that is. That all depends really. Though Maverick Hunter X is a great game, I can't honestly say it's great enough to warrant shelling out the cash for a PSP system. At least not to anyone who isn't employed. Should the game have been made for the DS instead? Well, while that probably would be more fair to long time Mega Man fans, I'd actually have to say no. I say this because the DS is more revolutionary in game-play terms, while the PSP focuses on presentation. Now, in my opinion, the original Mega Man x was, bar none, nearly perfect as far as game-play goes. I really can't see how it could be improved any to a great degree, especially via a touch screen or a microphone. X got game-play down from the start. Therefore it benefits a lot more from the improved graphics and sound, and as far as that realm is concerned, the PSP is the better choice. So, to those facing the burden of needing a PSP, I really wish you luck. But of the two handhelds, the PSP is better suited for the kind of game Maverick Hunter X is.
Note: This review was made on the basis of a Japanese import game. Some features may differ from the western release.