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 challenging—and 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 once—over 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.
Developer: Game Freak
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.
Jill herself has the gritty, tooth-clenching readiness of a working-class hero. As Jill, you’re trying to find the evil Skulkers, a team of baddies who’ve kidnapped your father along with a rare red diamond. You’ll also be drilling through a lot of policemen, at which point the game somehow reminds me of The Village People mugging and singing “YMCA.” To save Dad, you’ll get behind the wheel of a clunky but powerful drilling machine. The Drill Dozer has a sharp corkscrew device on the front to bore through the baddies, and pretty much anything or anyone who gets in the way.
As you move through the levels in the quest to find Dad and the diamond, you’ll discover several items that will pimp up the Drill Dozer. There are gears that make it more powerful and special gizmos to let you fly and swim. You’ll have various drill bits and drills, and you’ll collect chips along the way to buy upgrades like a megabit, which pretty much drills through the toughest substance you’ll encounter. Tip: If you see a cracked wall, go ahead and drill. You’ll likely find a treasure inside.
For a handheld game created for a system that isn’t considered cool anymore, Drill Dozer is packed with attitude and emotion, and cut scenes that are full of adventure. With Jill’s pals Gearmo, your grease monkey, and Grutch, a crusty old geezer with lots of wisdom to offer Jill, you’ll have a lot of help—the tough guy kind à la Monster Garage (Could Jill really be Sandra Bullock, longing for a tough guy like Jesse James-like Gearmo to marry?). No matter how much help you’ve gotten from the macho men, you’ll have a heckuva time beating the mysterious Croog, the unhinged megaboss of the Skulker gang.
The Japanese developer, Game Freak, has had huge success with its Pokemon games. Here, they’ve taken pride in putting together a package which includes a small comic book and a cartridge that incorporates rumble feature (which even seems to work when you play the game in the DS’s Gameboy Advance slot). The only thing I don’t like about the game is its incessant, frenetic soundtrack. It’s supposed to pump you up with energy to play. But it’s so loud and speedy, the music distracts and annoys me to occasional migraine status. That’s the price one pays for gaming. Fun + Pain = Rush for Tylenol.