By Stephanie Zacharek
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It's all about the history. That's gotta be the reason that Capcom released MEGA MAN MAVERICK HUNTER X for Sony's PSP handheld device. It's a redo of a timeless, 16-bit Mega Man X game made originally for the old Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It keeps the old game, but adds new graphics and unlockables along the way. The thing is, I don't know of any other industry that does this sort of thing. Sure, movies on DVD are given added scenes or ending. But that's not the same. Mailer's certainly not going to re-write The Naked and The Dead. The closest parallel I can make is an analogy to pop music, not digitally enhanced old stuff, but those duets CDs, everything from Sinatra to Notorious B.I.G.
What's Mega Man? The cartoon-looking sci-fi robot has been around since 1987. Created by Keiji Inafune just after he designed the seminal "Street Fighter," Mega Man was originally a lab assistant robot called Rock. (His sister was called Roll.) But he was transformed into a fighting robot by his boss, Dr. Light, in order to save the world from marauding robot armies. Later, Dr. Light created Mega Man X, an advanced robot who's intelligent, powerful, and wily.
In Maverick Hunter, X tries to save the world from Reploids, robots who are very much like him. To put it simply, they've become criminals and X is the cop. Now, when I heard this was a side-scrolling game, I had my doubts. I'm happy to play a game like Drill Dozer for the Gameboy Advance, but on the souped up PSP, I want a game that's state of the art.
The thing is, Maverick Hunter is as state of the art as a side scroller can get. From the moment the UMD disk boots up, you're privy to some nice-looking anime which sets the story: Robots and humans work together in the future. But some robots have become criminals because there's irregularity "in their central processing core." In other words, some of these robots have gone nuts. Mega Man X is like a super cop: think one-man SWAT team on steroids drinking Red Bull.
Once you get beyond the anime, the graphics become a mix of classic 2D characters combined with lush 3D backgrounds. These backgrounds can be stunning at times. The city environments, full of traffic and chaos, look like a computer game update of the classic 1927 silent film by Fritz Lang, Metropolis.
Even as I played the first level, I found the game challengingand that was in normal mode. Once I got to the boss fights, the challenge was occasionally maddening, perfect for the game geek inside that vows, "I will win at any cost." After finishing the first stage, you can choose from eight different environments in which to fight robots, and, ultimately, the big, nasty bosses. Along the way, you'll acquire lots of weapons and abilities, like fast feet with which to dash around quickly. You'll also have to figure out which weapon kills which boss.
You'll be playing levels over and over to eliminate bosses like Chill Penguin (who fires shotgun ice) and Vile (the cuckoo robot with the problem in his central processing core. In fact, once you complete the game, you'll have the opportunity to play the game again, this time as Vile). You also be able to watch all the cut scenes in the game at onceover a half hour of anime. And you'll be able to play a demo of the next Mega Man for the PSP, Mega Man: Powered Up.
Maverick Hunter proves that classic games can still be compelling games. They're part of essential gaming history and they should be embraced and enjoyed just as the latest Resident Evil 4 is treasured and talked about. Maybe I sound like some haughty professor here, but it's true . . . right down to the last repeated cracks of gunfire.Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.
It's not technologically cool or advanced. Its 2D, side-scrolling graphics are old school. But DRILL DOZER, Nintendo's game for the equally old school Gameboy Advance, is a very fine offering which has so many bells and whistles, it almost feels like a console game.
Like it or not, older games are enjoying a comeback. Turner Broadcasting's GameTap (which I don't think will succeed) allows you to download everything from Mortal Kombat to Asteroids for a flat monthly fee. Midway, Atari, and Capcom often repackage their classic games and sell them cheaply. These were originally created for the old systems but now are jiggered to play on anything from the PSP to the Xbox. Yet these are games you've probably played in the past.
Drill Dozer is kind of like the Transamerica of games. You're young Jill, no transgendered Felicity Huffman as Bree, for sure. But Jill's outfitted with a huge, penis-like drill that, on the game box, is erect and ready for action. It's the kind of sharp object Oprah probably wanted to use on James Frey and Nan Talese on their TV showdown last week.
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