Mega Man Powered Up Preview

We face down evil robots and create new levels in Capcom's PSP redux of the original Mega Man.

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It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 20 years since the original Mega Man hit Nintendo's NES console in the states. The pint-size robot of many talents turned into one of the tent poles of Japanese developer and publisher Capcom's software library back in the early days of the video game industry. Since that time, both Capcom and its multifunctional poster boy have matured along with the industry. For the Mega Man franchise, this has meant a variety of different games on nearly every platform that's been made since that first game. For Capcom, this has meant having the Mega Man series joined by several other long-running franchises, such as Resident Evil and Street Fighter. However, the blue bomber's latest adventure finds him returning to his roots in the winning Mega Man Powered Up, a revamp of the original Mega Man.

We got our first look at Mega Man Powered Up at last year's Tokyo Game Show where it debuted under the moniker of Rockman Rockman (Rockman being Mega Man's name in Japan). At first blush, the game appeared to be a too-cute-for-words makeover of the veteran action-hero title that featured an anime-inspired 3D look. However, the big eyes and colorful graphics were a simple ruse; after we started playing the game, we found that the rock-solid gameplay of the 2D classic was in full effect. The game has come a long way since its TGS debut and is well on its way to becoming a tricked-out gem for the PSP.

You'll find three playable game modes and a slick level editor to suck up your time in Mega Man Powered Up. The core experience revolves around the original NES Mega Man game, which will come in two styles, new and old. The new style is a buffed-up platforming experience based on the original game that features a fresh new look as well as a host of new content and features. Though the game is based on the original NES adventure, you'll find new level layouts for the original six bosses and the blood pressure-raising boss levels. In addition, you'll find two new bosses, Oil Man and Time Man, to contend with.

All those dastardly villains from the first game are back, along with a couple of totally new cohorts.
All those dastardly villains from the first game are back, along with a couple of totally new cohorts.

From a features standpoint, the game's new style comes packing an impressive array of content. The mode will feature cinematics and a proper narrative that details the clash between the benevolent Dr. Light and the villainous Dr. Wily, and how Mega Man got sucked into the whole mess. The most significant addition to the experience, though, is the new ability to play as the boss robots after you've defeated them, which adds a cool new wrinkle to the gameplay. Finally, you'll find collectible items peppered throughout the new-style levels, some easily accessible, with others laid out in nigh-impossible-to-reach spots, that will reward you with more items to use in the level editor when collected.

Meanwhile, Powered Up's old style is an approximation of the original NES game, with a mix of the rocking 8-bit soundtrack and new and old samples and effects. This version doesn't look 8-bit, though--it uses the 3D characters and environments of the new style too. However, in order to simulate the old full-screen view of the NES game, the camera is pulled back considerably to create an old-school 4:3 experience, as opposed to the new style's spiffy 16:9 display.

The third game mode in Mega Man Powered Up is the addictive but likely to be soul crushing Mega Man Challenge mode, a mission-style mode designed to put your skills to the ultimate test. When you select the mode, you're taken to a screen that presents a daunting grid of 100 boxes organized into 10 rows of 10. Nine of the rows will feature its own character theme, Mega Man, and the eight bosses. Each box represents a level with specific clear conditions, such as "collect the retry flag" or "destroy 30 Bladers," that you'll have to play through with that row's character. When you first start the game, Mega Man will be the only accessible row, but as you clear boss stages and gain access to the bosses as playable characters, you'll be able to tackle the rest. The 10th row of boxes is a mysterious array of challenges you'll access by clearing the new-style game.

A mix of new and old styles bridges the gap between modern platforming and yesteryear nostalgia.
A mix of new and old styles bridges the gap between modern platforming and yesteryear nostalgia.

The three modes comprise a solid gameplay experience that we're very pleased with. The gameplay is, for the most part, tight as can be. The challenge laid out before you, especially in the challenge mode, is daunting, but refreshing at the same time. The old-school simplicity of timed jumping, shooting, pattern memorization, and puzzle-solving is still wicked fun. The new-style game is especially notable for its original and enhanced content, which looks to maintain the spirit of the original classic.

If you find yourself hankering for more after you've plowed through the meaty chunk of game posed by the aforementioned three modes, you'll want to try your hand at the game's level editor. The easy-to-use level creator lets you strike out on your own by using a smart collection of pulldown menus and an MS Paint-style interface that will yield a level after just a few minutes of dragging, dropping, pointing, and clicking. The process may sound intimidating, but it's been broken down into a few simple steps. You'll start out by picking from your available item packs; you'll start out with a handful by default but will collect more as you play the new-style game, if you can get to them. The packs will break down into scenery packs, which contain themed items to drop in your level, and enemy packs, which contain different foes to populate your custom level.

If you get tired of all the levels in Powered Up, you can always, you know, make your own.
If you get tired of all the levels in Powered Up, you can always, you know, make your own.

Once you've got your packs in place, you'll go to the "block set" mode, where you'll shape your level. You'll be able to choose items from four different menus. The first menu will let you set items such as walls, floors, and ladders. The second will let you set assorted containers. The third will let you set enemies, and the fourth will let you set the item pickups. Each item will come with a "cost" that's taken out of a meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. When the meter is empty, you won't be able to set any more items in the section of the level that you're working on. As far as how big the sections are, you'll have access to what looks like a massive chunk of space that, like in the game itself, will be broken up into chunks you can trick out, resulting in custom levels that are equal in size to what you'd find in the game. As far as quality goes, that's up to you.

Lastly, you can set assorted rules such as playable character, starting position, the weapons they have at their disposal, and a customizable boss. Once you've set up your level to your liking, you can drop right in and test it out with any of the playable characters you've opened up. If you find everything to your liking, you can save it to your memory card.

Of course, after putting all the time and effort into making your own nerdilicious level, you'll want to show it off, right? As a result, Capcom has planned ahead and is in the process of creating a server where aspiring designers can upload their babies for the world to see via the PSP's infrastructure mode. Once the levels are up, anyone with the game can access the servers and download themselves some brand-spanking-new levels.

Powered Up's visuals have been tightened up some since our last look at the game, which has resulted in more effects and overall polish. The art style packs a lot of appeal, cutesy angle aside, thanks to subtle bits of animation. The only blemish on the package is some slowdown in the new-style game, which we're hoping gets tightened up or eradicated altogether.

How many platformers are this tough and this cute at the same time?
How many platformers are this tough and this cute at the same time?

The audio in the game is catchy mix of audio that's big on pep. The sound effects run the gamut from the original 8-bit effects to the updated explosions and assorted cacophony of audio in the new-style games. The game also features a generous helping of voice for Mega Man and company, which gives the game a dose of personality. As far as the music goes, you'll find yourself rocking out to the classic 8-bit tunes, along with modern tracks that maintain the bouncy spirit of the original game.

We've seen all manner of attempts to revisit classic games over the years, and we have to say Mega Man Powered Up is one of the smartest takes we've seen in years. The solid array of playable game modes and the level editor make for an impressive offering on the PSP. If you're a platforming fan, or are just hungry for some hotness on your PSP, you'll more than likely want to keep an eye out for Mega Man Powered Up when it ships next month. Look for our full review then.

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