Seriously, I don't have any words. After having Star Suck Command and the remake of Rondo of Blood crush my will to live a couple of years back, playing Maverick Hunter X was like that scene in Repossessed where Father Luke revives a heartattack-afflicted Father Mayaye with a difibrillator jacked up to the "HOLY SHIT" power setting so that he could continue battle with Satan.
Mega Man X is sort of like the Star Trek: The Next Generation of the Mega Man series. The original was very cartoonish and light-hearted with a fairly simple concept and fairly simple in its execution. There's a mad scientist, he builds robots to take over the world, so the good scientist builds a robot to fight back. A simple premise.
Mega Man X took this to the next level. The series is set many many years after the original series, and begins with a man named Dr. Cain who finds the remains of Dr. Light's lab, and inside they find a capsule with a "reploid" in it. This robot is the pinnacle of Light's robotics research, in that it is capable of acting of its own free will, in essence, behaving as a human being would. This is a very dangerous thing, however, as his creation, X, could abuse his free will and wreack havoc upon mankind. So Light sealed him away in a capsule to do tests on X until the time arrived that it would be safe to release him into the world.
I'm a big fan of science and science-fiction. The underlying themes behind such movies as Blade Runner and Robocop, and such shows like Ghost in the Shell SAC, where the question, What is Human?, is often posited, and it's a question I find very fascinating. Where do we draw the line of what it is to be human? Do we have strict guidelines or are they more abstract?
Anyway, the plot is that after he is discovered, X's designs are used as a foundation from which an entire race of reploids are built to coexist with society. Unfortunately, this goes awry when some of them start going "maverick" and wreacking havoc on everyone and everything. Eventually a group of reploids called Maverick Hunters are formed to combat this threat, but the best of them, Sigma, goes maverick himself, and threatens to destroy the entire human race. And now X is forced to fight his own in order to stop them.
Mega Man X made an effort to actually convey these more complex and abstract questions. This time, instead of fighting a mad scientist, you were fighting your own kind, not mere robots, but reploids, not far removed from thinking, breathing humans. Mind you, this wasn't really explained at great length in the game, and most of the plot came from the instruction manual. But at the time, as a child with an overactive imagination, this was plenty enough to let my mind soar with the possibilities and the possible directions that Capcom could take with the series.
Possibilities that were squandered time and time again by Capcom in total ineptitude as the series moved on to the Playstation and PS2. Hideo Kojima and many others showed that games could have very engaging plotlines married with very fun gameplay (when done well), but Capcom never seemed to pick up on this, or simply didn't care. In a way I think they still make games that are still more game than movie, whereas it is usually reversed these days. Although to be honest, my disdain with the series over time has more to do with the fact that they stopped being fun and became more annoying to play.
Mega Man X had everything going for it to be a completely enthralling universe and they really did nothing with it, except do what they did with the original Mega Man Series: milk it for everything it was worth until they could think of something fresh and new in the series to milk and squeeze for every last cent, leaving their prior franchise a gooey mess like Frank Cotton just got done sucking every last bit of nutrients out of somebody's corpse.
This point was painfully driven home when they finally made an RPG out of the MMX series, Command Mission, which, while possessing decent voice actors, had some incredibly god-awful dialogue and while the gameplay was pretty good, the story was nothing to write home about, which was sad. The rest of the games that followed the SNES iterations (X-X3) FUBAR'd the continuing plotline even further while at the same time making the games less fun to play by making the enemies and levels extremely hard, and even downright cheap.
Needless to say, I was disillusioned with Mega Man X, or hell, Mega Man in general, by the time I had heard that Maverick Hunter X was going to be coming out for the PSP. "Dear God," I said to myself, "can't you guys just leave well enough alone. You've killed your damn franchise and now you want to sodomize the remains?"
Which is why I never even considered buying it when it came out, even after I had gotten a PSP. But then, one night, I was bored, and randomly found a clip of music from Maverick Hunter X. Now, in case you didn't know, the music from Mega Man X (even X2 and X3) is incredibly awesome, rivalled only by Super Turrican and Super Metroid. Now, what Capcom did was that they used modern equipment to essentially remake the music, but not change it, you could say it's arranged or remixed, but it's exactly the same, only it's being reproduced in much higher quality.
Hearing one of the best songs in the game, no, in the entire SNES gaming era, remixed in absolute perfection was enough to make me buy Maverick Hunter X.
When I played it, I was absolutely shocked: Maverick Hunter X is everything I could ask for in a remake of one of the best Super Nintendo games ever made. Who am I kidding, one of the BEST video games ever made, period.
First off, the game is VERY VERY pretty. The artwork, areas, and characters are very faithful to the original but at the same time have their little tweaks that are unique to MHX. The level design is faithful to the original with a few minor deviations to keep vets of the original on their toes. The enemies are well animated and just as the original game, their unique quirks and character animations are retained. There is now spoken dialogue and it's pretty decent, though at it's worst is still no where near as bad as the voice overs in Mega Man 8 (which never EVER happened, just like Episode 1 and Indiana Jones 4 never happened).
Mega Man X himself is well-animated, as are his special attacks that he gains from defeating mavericks. Something I like is that as you beat the mavericks their special weapons appear next to your health gauge to make it easier to see which ones to transition over to on the fly, instead of just mashing on L or R to speed through to find them.
The controls are as tight as ever, and fully customizable (something I'll give kudos to Capcom for since they seem to have the good sense to do this with all their MM games). Although, unlike the PSx/2/Game Boy/DS iterations of the Mega Man, the PSP seems to better lend itself to the original game's control scheme than the aformentioned platforms, so you may not be doing much switching at all.
The levels are still absolutely huge, and which order you beat bosses can have an impact on the next level you go to (beating Chill Penguin first will freeze over the iron smelting level where Flame Mammoth is). The basic premise is the same, however: beat bad guys, get their special weapon, and then use it against the foe it's weak against, and then just repeat until you beat the game. Though, unlike the NES Mega Man games, X can find special capsules hidden in the levels that endow him with armor that gives him special abilities like being able to dash, charge up his special attacks, headbutt through breakable ceilings, and take less damage from enemies. Heart tanks hidden in each level can be found to increase his maximum health, and reuseable sub-tanks can also be found and used to refill X's health in a pinch. And, naturally, being an X game, he has the power to climb walls, which takes the level of exploration and interaction of the levels to a whole other dimension that at the time it came out was unheard of.
The music is absolutely stunning. That's one area that the Playstation shined in comparison to the N64 was music, and it's something that I feel Capcom didn't take full advantage of with any of their PSone era Mega Man X games. But on the PSP, they finally seemed to get their heads out of their asses and the result is nothing short of incredible. I would even dare say that each song on this game is superior to its original SNES counterpart in every way. Needless to say, the music, like everything else in the game, is perfect, and sounds just as awesome as it did when I first played the game years ago.
Finally, Maverick Hunter X has some nifty features. First, off, the game comes with a demo of the remake of the very first Mega Man game for the NES, Mega Man: Powered Up, or as I like to call it "Mega Man: Jesus Christ I Just Contracted Diabetes!", due to how overpoweringly cute it is (though it is still pretty good). Furthermore, when you beat the game, you unlock the Day of Sigma, a surprisingly well-done 30 minute animated movie depicting the events that lead up to the beginning of the game. Needless to say, I was shocked at how good it was.
Finally, you unlock a new gameplay mode, in which you play through the game again as Vile, one of the game's villans. This is what I would consider the Maverick Hunter X's hard mode, in that it's a bit tougher to play as Vile because he can't dash and he plays a bit different than X. The music is redone as well and each stage just plays the same tune over again, which was kinda lame, though the bosses say different things to him, which was nice. Overall, Vile Mode feels kinda tacked on, but it's still pretty enjoyable.
Little things to add: The load times are minimal, it's nice being able to save instead of having to write down passwords now, the game's pretty, dear god the music is great, Jesus what else can I say?
There's one last thing I have to mention, and the reason why I went on about how Capcom routinely showed little interest in putting any serious effort into any of the X series' story elements in the past. This time, they actually did. The movie is a nice little look into the world of Mega Man X, and helps give a better view into their world and the people that inhabit it, and their motivations. This was something I appreciated greatly, and I must say, that during the credit sequence, instead of watching him scroll by running, instead we see this beautifully animated video of him riding his hoverbike while we can hear Dr. Light's voice in the background, telling the world of his hopes and fears for X as he struggles to find himself in a world that may not be ready for him, and in the end, what he says moves me to tears everytime I hear it, because at that point, it's no longer a game to me, it's not music, it's not eye candy.
It's pure prophetic bliss. (Yes, I'm fanboying out, stop laughing dammit!)