Over the course of a single month and two separate remakes on the PlayStation Portable, Mega Man has gone from extreme to extremely adorable. Whereas Maverick Hunter X, released last month, was a remake of the original Mega Man X for the SNES using updated 3D visuals and some revamped cutscenes and character designs, Mega Man Powered Up goes back even further into the Mega Man lore--all the way back to the beginning, in fact. Powered Up is a remake of the very first Mega Man for the NES, using a similar method of upgrading. But where Maverick Hunter X was mostly content to just redo the original game with an additional playable character and some shuffled power-up locations, Powered Up goes the extra mile, making all of its various bosses unlockable, playable characters, revamping many of the core level designs, and adding a whole mess of crazy challenge minigames, as well as a full-fledged level editor. Beneath all the gloss though, this is still the original Mega Man you might have played nearly 20 years ago. But through it all, the gameplay still holds up, even in this day and age.
If you've never played the original Mega Man, why are you even reading this review? Dig up your old NES, find a used copy at a flea market somewhere, and discover that you've been living a foul lifestyle all this time, never having experienced one of the true classics of the action platformer genre (and arguably one of the hardest games of the NES era). Mega Man was equal parts love and hate. It invented the style of gameplay that has been a staple of the Mega Man series over the last couple of decades, but it also was the kind of punishing hard that might lead a lesser man to take his own life. Powered Up, for all intents and purposes, is very much Mega Man. All the same bosses are on hand, and if you pick the "old style" game, the level designs are basically identical to the 1987 version. However, the addition of game saves makes the whole process much more tolerable. Not having to blow through the entire game in a single sitting is a real relief.
The saves apply to the "new style" game, too. New style widens the screen to full PSP proportions, and adds a number of new things to the formula. For one, there's an actual story, of sorts. The game opens with a cutscene of Dr. Wily beginning his vile robot kidnapping rampage in an attempt to take over the world. This is all adorably voice acted, and plays out in an all-new opening level that acts as something of a trainer for the uninitiated. It's a quick level, and once you're done, you can jump right back into the game as you remember it--sort of. In this mode, the level designs aren't quite what you remember. They've been extended in some cases, and all of them contain new, hidden areas that are seemingly inaccessible to the Blue Bomber himself. That's because they are inaccessible to him. You see, as you play, you can actually unlock all of the game's eight bosses as playable characters. All you have to do is beat a boss without using any of the special boss weapons, and that boss will become playable.
Playing as the different bosses is kind of a strange thing. Though they all jump and move pretty much like Mega Man does, none of them have access to weapons other than their own. However, each does have his own special skill. Guts Man, for instance, can bust through certain ceilings and floors to access hidden areas, whereas Cut Man can bounce off of walls while jumping. These abilities are what allow you to access the aforementioned special areas that Mega Man can't get to. Unfortunately, playing as a boss does have its downside. Combat is just kind of a pain, since certain weapons just aren't conducive to defeating certain enemies quickly, and it makes a few boss fights far more irritating than they need to be. Still, if it's the difference between having them playable and not having them playable, the variety they provide makes them more than worth it.
If you've been paying close attention, you might've noticed that just a bit ago, we mentioned eight boss characters. The original Mega Man included only six, so who are the other two? For the purposes of this game, Capcom tossed in two brand-new boss characters: Oil Man and Time Man. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what their abilities are? That's right. Oil Man shoots oil. And Time Man slows down time. OK, so in no way are either of these bosses especially original, but in the context of the first Mega Man story, before Capcom went bananas with the boss-naming conventions, neither character seems out of place.
Unfortunately, neither of their weapons are what you would exactly call exciting. With Oil Man's weapon, you can shoot globs of oil to either trip up enemies or ride like some kind of goopy skateboard. Time Man's weapon lets you slow down time...and that's it. In all honesty, there wasn't exactly a dire need to add these bosses to the game, but they don't detract from the experience, either. And while neither boss is exactly tough, their levels are both challenging and unique enough to factor in positively to the flow of the game.
The last, and perhaps best, addition to the new style mode is the inclusion of multiple difficulty settings. If you're the easily flustered type and Guts Man's moving platform-happy stage is giving you guff, you can always bump the game down to easy to get some help moving through. If you're the masochistic type, hard mode adds another layer of pain to the experience. For the most part the three difficulties are different enough to make them each worth playing through, and you can choose a specific difficulty for each individual stage as you go through the game.
So, with all that said, you might be wondering exactly why you should spend your money on a revamped version of an ancient NES game that still doesn't take more than a couple of hours to beat on your first play. If the allure of playing through all the levels over and over again with the different bosses doesn't quite cut it for you, perhaps the excellent challenge mode will. Consisting of 100 unique challenges, the challenge mode presents a wide variety of different scenarios, 10 each for Mega Man and each of the boss characters, and another 10 series of boss fights.
What you do in these challenges varies. It could be something as simple as having to navigate Mega Man around a series of jumps to get to the flag at the end, to Cut Man having to eliminate 30 of a specific enemy, all while trying to avoid destroying the flooring that happens to crumble on contact with his weapon. Save for a few easy ones tossed at you, the majority of these challenges are very tough, but not in a confusing way. It doesn't take very long for you to figure out what you need to do in each one, but actually doing it takes plenty of practice and skill. All told, it's a lengthy and fun mode that should keep you busy for a good long while.
If you need even more than that to keep you busy, how about a level editor? For the first time ever, you can now create your own kooky Mega Man levels using the game's editor. The concept of this probably sounds either terribly exciting or terribly daunting, depending on how severe your love for Mega Man is. And in either case, that feeling is probably exaggerated, but still somewhat accurate. Powered Up's level editor is not overly complicated by any stretch of the imagination, but it does take some learning to use effectively. The first thing you'll need to do is collect some packs from around the game's levels. There are scenery packs and enemy packs, and they're hidden all throughout the game.
Once you've collected a bunch of them, you'll have a nice variety of things to use to start creating your level. The actual interface for level creation doesn't require much more than simple dragging and dropping via an arrow icon that appears on the gridlike editing screen. Just select what you want to place, and place it. Simple as that. Figuring out how to effectively design a level that someone might actually want to play is kind of another story. It will take at least an hour's worth of fiddling to get a proper handle on what belongs where, but once you have, you're bound to have some fun designing the Mega Man level of your dreams--especially since you can show off your creations online by uploading them to a public server. You can also download other people's wacky creations, which is just plain awesome.
One of the most significant changes to Powered Up as a remake is the graphical overhaul the game has received, and it's likely to drive some people crazy. If you're the kind of person who despises anything remotely kid-oriented, then Powered Up won't be your cup of tea, because this game takes the original art style of Mega Man and cutes it up to the nth degree. All the characters have big anime baby heads that make even Guts Man look huggable. Basically, the whole game looks like an early-morning cartoon designed to rope in young children. But unless you are the kind of hateful person who thinks cute equates to devilry, you should appreciate it for what it is, just because the game has such a clean, polished look to it. Powered Up is just so bright and colorful looking, and it runs very smoothly as well, with the same sort of "3D characters working on a 2D plane" engine that Maverick Hunter X used. The frame rate will drop on rare occasions, but that's about the worst thing you can say for it.
The audio is similarly precious in nature. All the voice acting is done similarly cartoony, and all the main characters get voices. Elec Man has kind of a snooty, show-off tone to his voice, whereas Guts Man is appropriately gruff and somewhat brain dead. Again, it's all very cartoonish voice work, but it's done well. If you play the game old style, the original 8-bit music tracks are included for authenticity's sake, but the new style game includes fully remixed versions of those same songs that are actually really good. You really can't lose either way.
Powered Up may be yet another remake of an old Mega Man game for the PSP, but it also happens to be the best one, both in terms of the original game it's based on, and the amount of extra content it provides. There's more than enough valid reason to go back and play through Powered Up's levels multiple times, and with the addition of the challenge mode, level editor, and online downloads of user-created levels, it's hard to imagine any Mega Man fan getting bored with this one any time soon. And while the exceedingly adorable graphics might make some gag, it's done with the right balance of technical prowess and attractive aesthetics to make it cute, not cloying. Whether you're a recent convert or a longtime Mega Man aficionado, Powered Up is most definitely worth checking out.