Mega Man Powered Up Review
Mega Man Powered Up isn't simply a remake of the original NES Mega Man; it's a total re-envisioning.
Capcom used the underlying "run, jump, and shoot" design from the NES game as a base to build the PSP game, which features new level layouts, modern high-resolution graphics, and story scenes with spoken dialogue. They also threw in some new modes and bonuses that significantly extend the game's replay value.
Gone are the flat 8-bit backgrounds and sprites that were top of the line in 1987. Replacing those old school graphics are colorful, multilayered (but still 2D) backdrops, and character "sprites" made up of 3D polygons. The juxtaposition of 3D on top of 2D gives the game a high-tech look, which fits right in with the futuristic subject matter, and brings out a degree of depth that's rarely found in traditional side-scrolling games. Animated details in the background also help bring Mega Man's universe to life. There's just something sublimely cool about watching hover-cars fly by in the background or mining machines go about their business as you deal with the baddies in the foreground.
The audio has undergone a similar genesis. Familiar classic Mega Man tunes, formerly done up with 8-bit beeps and doots, have been remixed using modern instruments and beat samples. Explosions, blaster shots, and other sound effects have also been redone to today's standards.
Capcom employed professional voice-actors to speak the dialogue shown before and after boss battles. They do a good job, but, more importantly, the story scenes they lend their voices to offer insight into Mega Man's origins and bring out the personalities of the characters he meets during his adventure. The only semblance of a story in the NES game was a chunk of text printed in the instruction manual! In the PSP game, players finally get to hear Mega Man, Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, and all of the robot masters interact with one another.
Even though the presentation has been given a 21st century makeover, the gameplay has been left alone. That's a good thing, because the classic Mega Man games didn't have to rely on crazy suits of armor or gimmicks to keep players interested. Mega Man can run, jump, shoot his buster cannon, and climb up and down ladders. That's it. There are no energy tanks or parts to collect and the only power-up items are the energy re-fills that enemies leave behind.
Of course, in true Mega Man fashion, you earn the use of the bosses' weapons when you defeat them. Boss-derived weapons can destroy objects and reach into spots that Mega Man's blaster cannot. Additionally, each boss has a weakness to one of the other bosses' weapons, a fact that you can exploit to your advantage.
The simple run-and-gun design works well in the context of the game's level layouts, which send players through a gauntlet of enemy robots and platform-jumping, culminating with a reflex-testing boss battle at stage's end.
There are two ways to play the main game, new style and old style. Old style is simply the classic NES game remade with updated graphics. New style, by contrast, is a full-fledged re-envisioning with new level layouts, multiple difficulty settings, and voiced cinematic sequences. The new style mode also adds two new bosses to the mix, Oil Man and Time Man, bringing the total up from six to eight.
Both the old style and new style games let you play through their levels in any order and return to levels as frequently as you desire. This sort of non-linear progression has been a staple of the Mega Man franchise from day one. It's actually a fairly helpful feature, since it lets you tackle the bosses in the order that best exploits their weaknesses to particular weapons.
The best aspect of the new style game is that it's now possible to play as the bosses. If you defeat a boss using just the default blaster weapon, you'll not only steal their special ability, you'll also bring their body back to Dr. Light's lab, which gives you the option of playing through the game as that boss.
In keeping with the franchise's reputation, old style mode is tough-as-nails and requires twitch reflexes. New style mode, meanwhile, is no walk in the park either, but it does break from tradition by implementing multiple difficulty settings, the easiest of which goes so far as to subtract enemies and cover up some of the nastier spike hazards.
Abilities and bosses unlocked on the easy setting carry over into the normal and hard settings. If that weren't user-friendly enough, players can select a level's difficulty setting each time it's played, without interrupting the continuity of the story or having to start from the beginning. To spell it out, this setup means you can play a level on the easy setting to unlock the boss and acquire its ability, and then go through the level again on normal or hard without limiting your use of Mega Man's boss-derived attacks.
Longtime fans will no doubt cry foul that "scrubs" can now enjoy a Mega Man game at their own pace. That's silly! There's nothing wrong with giving newcomers the chance to work through levels on the easy setting before working up to the harder settings. Besides, some levels are intensely difficult, even on the easy setting, and there's still a reward waiting for anyone that manages to complete all of the stages on the hard setting (in the form of an additional playable character).
Those looking for a much steeper challenge can try their hand at the game's challenge mode. True to its name, the challenge mode presents 100 time trial missions geared toward expert players. Each mission gives you a specific character to play and places certain restrictions on what you can and cannot do, such as "don't use attacks" or "don't take any damage."
Far and away, the best bonus feature on the disc is the construction mode, which lets players create their own custom levels and share them online. The level editor is somewhat user-friendly, has plenty of different background and tile sets, and is robust enough so that players' custom levels can be as lengthy and challenging as any of those included in the main game. A ratings system allows players to judge levels based on difficulty, length, and overall quality, making it very easy to see at-a-glance which levels are worth downloading.
As this is being written, the game has only been on sale for a month and already there are more than 200 custom levels available for download. Some of them are rather interesting too, particularly the Super Mario and Castlevania themed levels. Capcom also plans to make new tile sets and characters available for download on a monthly basis.
Mega Man Powered Up is the way a classic game should be remade. Capcom updated the graphics and audio to today's standards, and also tacked on a number of new features that greatly lengthen the game's staying power, but they pretty much left the original gameplay alone. The end result is a side-scroller fan's dream, a classic Mega Man game that has all of the trappings of modern hardware.