As of 2007, Final Fantasy, Castlevania and Metal Gear are all now 20 years old. Mega Man also abandons his greasy and frustrating teen years this year, now a slightly-less greasy and frustrating 20-years-young mega man. I always liked the little guy even if after 20 years he hasn’t grown up that much. Lord knows I give Square Enix a lot of guff but no one can deny Capcom is the posterchild supreme of repetition. Their few attempts at original franchises either make way for more sequels, or they’re TOO original and critically lauded that consumers are intimidated away to safe bets like, uh, Mega Man sequels and spin-offs.
Mega Man hasn’t had anything exciting to do in a while. The Mega Man Legends series was the last kick in the pants the franchise got and that was whenever Playstation 1 was still cutting-edge. There are rumblings of a possible Mega Man Legends 3, otherwise it’s been Battle Networks, Mega Man X spin-offs and two PSP remakes.
The PSP doesn’t have much. I got one for Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops because I can’t stand not playing a new Metal Gear, no matter what console it’s on. If a console has a Metal Gear, I will get it. Which is why I strip naked, drench myself in lamb’s blood and rumba in front of an altar-rack of copies of Windows Vista, in hopes that Microsoft will pay for MGS4’s exclusivity for the Xbox 360 because I don’t wanna give up my life’s savings for Sony’s Blu-ray infiltration device. Hey, Microsoft has the superior online service anyway, and my bones have been achin’ for a Metal Gear Online experience without cramped hands and nerfed controls. The PSP just isn’t a comfortable machine for high-octane multiplayer action.
But I got the damn thing so I figured I should check out the Mega Man games for it. Mega Man Powered Up, a remake of the classic first game, is the most radical of the two PSP remakes. At its core, it’s the same game from 20 years ago with revamped 2.5-D graphics (3D polygons in a 2D space – think New Super Mario Bros.) and lots of extra features, like online modes and new playable characters.
Anyone familiar with Mega Man knows how the game progresses: Select a stage, run and gun for a short while, defeat a boss, gain his weapon, repeat. The game’s non-linear so you can play through any stage, defeat any boss in any order you want. There is a preferred order though, as bosses are weak against certain weapons gained from other bosses. Different weapons affect different bosses. Fire Man is weak against Ice Man’s weapon, so you should defeat Ice Man first… though that makes little sense. When I toss ice cubes into fire they don’t put the fire out.
With all the new stuff included, Powered Up’s a pretty good bargain. You can gain new characters by downloading them using the game’s simple-to-use online option, and by dispatching bosses with Mega Man’s normal Buster weapon, thus sparing them. It’s cute and a good, humane example to the children of the 21st century. You can also build your own Mega Man levels and post them up online for them to be ranked and shared. Going online is as simple and clean as a few button presses, provided you have WiFi.
In the single player campaign there are three difficulty modes for each stage – Easy, Normal, and Hard. Like Halo and many other games, you select the difficulty before the start of each stage. When you beat it the time it took to finish is recorded so speed-run freaks can replay stages to break earn better times, and you can replay the stage on different difficulties. It’s standard stuff and in theory it offers lots of replay value.
If that sounds fun to you, bless you, because Powered Up’s foremost problem is how fucking hard it is. I’m a seasoned gamer so on my initial playthroughs I always choose Normal, as its the default, optimal setting. Right? No way. Not with this game. This game is fucking hell. Mega Man? Mega fuck you in the ass this game is HARD. And I’m no n00b, after all, I’ve been playing these frakking games for 20 years. What gives?
I can attribute its ass-pounding difficulty to a few things. First, over all those years of playing games and maturing as a, well, some sort of game-playing person, my patience has become thin. I’m not as eager anymore to overcome ridiculous challenges especially when there is more fun to be had with other, fairer games. My time cannot be so flippantly divided anymore. There’s books and movies and friends who need my glorious attention. If something in a platformer doesn’t go my way for the 100th try my temper kicks in and I quit. I’m a quitter by nature. I quit Little League, piano lessons, tennis lessons, the love of another human being, lots of stuff. But I can still swing a bat, I can play To Zanarkand on piano, I got a great forehand, I love… chocolate, and I’m still a gamer. I know what I like, and I know what pisses me off. Mega Man Powered Up pisses me off.
The game’s creator, Mega Man mastermind Keiji Inafune, purposefully crafted Powered Up to be the most difficult Mega Man ever. (The GBA Mega Man Zero series, I hear, is also really difficult.) This must be true because the original game was never this hard. My little brother can finish the original game in minutes – name someone who can’t – yet he gave up on the PSP remake almost immediately. It can’t be because he’s bad at it. He continuously kicks my ass in every competitive game we have and he makes it a point to not only finish games, but to CONQUER them. So, then, is the game TOO hard, or is it… unfair?
Word is Inafune pumped up the remake’s difficulty because he feels gamers have been spoiled by really easy games in recent years. And he might be right, if anyone would know it’s the guy who’s been around the industry for 20 years. But I’ve been playing for just as long and I don’t remember games being this hard back then, except for a few. Really hard games, I feel, have ALWAYS been niche, hiding there for “hardcore” gamers to seek out and conquer. With Powered Up, I assume Inafune was aiming to teach the sorry, softened sods who missed out on the Battletoads, the Contras, and the Treasure games of yore. I refer of course to the weak and willowy Playstation generation. That he put his new, impossible game on the Playstation Portable is proof enough.
In recent years only a few truly difficult games come to mind, namely the Devil May Cry-inspired genre of “extreme” action games God of War, Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi. Similar to Inafune’s aspirations, these games attempt to recall the quarter-munching difficulty of the late 80s. Two of the games, the ninja ones, are remakes/sequels of forgotten 8-bit titles.
Shinobi veers so far off into that time warp it stubbornly clings onto outdated, frustrating game design that was shitty and unfair even in 1987. If you die you start right back at the beginning of the level. At what point does that cease to be difficult and start to be repetitive as fuck? Sure, like the paucity of save points in an RPG dungeon, that makes staying alive that much more of a priority but compound that with a slippery camera, lousy level design, getting stuck in walls, repetitive enemies and maddening bosses and Shinobi becomes impossible to have fun with. I quit at the spider boss, myself. I doubt anyone at Sega really playtested this game, which is something they have a lot of trouble doing apparently.
I couldn’t finish God of War either, due to a deadly combo – this game loves combos – of frustration and boredom. The button-mashing got repetitive and by 10 hours in with no end in sight I felt as though I had experienced all the game had to offer. The combat numbed me and worse, the timing-based puzzles and trapeze act bullshit insulted me. Let’s examine: Kratos can combat all the armies of Greece but he can barely balance on some fucking wood? I fell off so many planks of wood the game eventually took pity on me, and whisked me away to a screen that asked “Want to tone down the combat difficulty?” I dropped my controller in disbelief. Wait. The COMBAT? There wasn’t a single fucking enemy on the screen! I died because I got bored out of my SKULL balancing on a plank of wood for the 37th time! What a crock of shit. Eventually, enough gamers cried foul at this retarded design that designer David Jaffe fessed up he was pressed for time or whatever and he broke his own damn game.
Ninja Gaiden is the perfect marriage of old-school difficulty and new-school form. The game encourages you to improve at it without holding your hand, and most importantly, without punishing you. There were no stupid balancing acts or cheap spiders. The game was daunting, but never cheap and it never felt like a chore. Only once or twice did the camera and the jumping fuck up but for the most part it was a solid, cohesive experience obviously polished to a mirror sheen like the flat of a katana.
Unlike Ninja Gaiden, there’s no reasonable curve of difficulty in Powered Up. Easy mode is child’s play, it’s way too easy. The jumps that are difficult to make in Normal are augmented with extra blocks in Easy mode, so the jumping distance is shortened. It handicaps you, any doubt it’s a handicap is dashed with insulting medical crosses emblazoned across the “helping blocks.” Like God of War’s pandering, it’s a huge slap in the face. I felt like a stupid, wounded duck. Entire enemies are omitted or altered. There’s no middle ground at all, no balance, nothing to glue the two extremes together. I perish to think what Hard mode entails. Like a drooling failure, I beat the game on Easy mode. Of course, I didn’t get the real ending because of it.
Like Shinobi, the slippery controls deserve blame, though in this case I fault the hardware. The PSP’s D-pad is less responsive than a porn star after a hard day’s work. That it’s actually four separate buttons makes matters more difficult, and jamming on them to make sure Mega Man moves right, right, MORE right made for lots of deaths. Lining up jumps became a game in itself. Pixel-perfect jumps are no longer perfect with 3D graphics, despite the 2D plane. At times jumping is sheer guess work and that’s a serious fucking detraction. It’s no help Mega Man doesn’t cast a shadow on the ground to help tell where he’s going to land.
The graphics are bright and crisp and generally pleasing. The character designs, done in the super deformed anime style, are cute though I’m annoyed how gargantuan Mega Man’s head is. Playing, it feels like a huge, fat animal’s attached itself to Mega Man. It feels like a giant target too, making me wish Mega Man is able to duck. This helps point out how antiquated the classic Mega Man style has become. Mega Man can’t duck, he gets killed by random spikes, he can’t dash or cling to walls… he just shoots and jumps.
Powered Up also follows the puke-worthy remake/update trend of adding voice acting to a game that doesn’t fucking need voice acting or dialogue. Nintendo marred the Mario games with retarded voice clips when they were released on GBA. Mario 3 was perfectly fine without Mario going “WOOHOO!” every single time he jumps. That’s murder on the ears, you bastards and it stalls the action in Powered Up. Nobody needs to hear Mega Man or the boss talk before each fight. Mega Man doesn’t need to yell battle cries each time he jumps or shoots. The worst offender is Dr. Wily, whose voice sounds like a deranged clown, like something from the torturous nightmaure, Japanese kid’s cartoon Anpanman.
The music, remixes of the game’s original themes, also wears thin. Considering the PSP’s audio capabilities it’s a shame they went for such a synthesized sound. The once-memorable melodies are lost to layers of grating Casio-style blings and blongs. Cut Man’s theme does not sound cool anymore. Extremely disappointing considering how well the Mega Man soundtracks lend themselves to rockin’ guitars.
So how does the other PSP remake fare? For the most part, Maverick Hunter X escapes Inafune’s gamer-punishing wrath and succeeds as a worthy update of one of the best games ever made. Mega Man X for the SNES is expertly crafted, the perfect evolution of the Mega Man playing style and it’s fast, a real breeze to play, at least on the original SNES gamepad.
The major drawback on the PSP is the distance between the face buttons. They’re spread way too far apart, which makes charging a shot, dashing and jumping at the same time much harder than it should be. Charging and dashing off walls is more of a pain too. Tilting the PSP allows a better hold on the buttons but then this also tilts the screen. This would ruin the game if it was as relentless as Powered Up. Thankfully, the difficulty is about on par with the SNES original, with a few differences. Item placement and armor upgrades are rearranged so veterans have to search for them all over again, and one of the bosses, Storm Eagle, seems faster and has more moves.
The rock music sounds just as good, and the 3D graphics, while not as charming as the original’s, resemble the classic sprites close enough, though the waterfall in Armored Armadillo’s stage doesn’t impress as much in polygons. They even kept in some slowdown, good or bad if you think the slowdown adds or detracts from the experience, or the thought of a modern game with slowdown offends your sensibilities. It allows me to get some extra shots in anyway.
Voice acting and dialogue is present once more though the quality is higher, and for once Mega Man sounds like a MAN, but it’s still unnecessary. Mega Man says the same thing to every boss: “Chill Penguin/Storm Eagle/Sting Chameleon, I can’t believe YOU’RE a Maverick!” Yeah, yeah, let’s fight.
Hopefully the next real Mega Man game will address all these issues but who knows when that will be? Due to poor sales of these games that looks like it won’t be for a while. Mega Man Legends 3 or a Mega Man Powered Up 2 with balanced difficulty, sharp 2D graphics, and a rock soundtrack without electronic bells would be a Mega Man fan’s dream come true. I wonder if these remakes were released on a platform besides the PSP would they be successful? It’s surprising they weren’t ported.
It’s not like Capcom to quit like that. That’s more the type of move I would make.