Welp, here we are. Three years ago a Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9 popped up and began it’s course to collect its goal of $900,000, and simply shattered it with 3.8 million dollars pledged. Keiji Inafune, the creator of well loved cult status game franchise Mega Man, had left Capcom and set out to make one of the first games labeled as a “spiritual successor,” setting a trend for future Kickstarters that include Mega Man, Banjo Kazooie, and even Castlevania.
Mighty No. 9 just released to the public today after 3 years of development, a handful of teaser trailers, a couple of (missed) release dates and delays, and one easily pirate-able demo meant only for Kickstarter backers. This reporter has been noticing a lot of poor reviews on this game. After I had put a handful of hours into getting acquainted with the new levels and killed off the main eight bosses, I took a break to look over what some folks were saying. After all, its a difficult, and sometimes brutal game, but it is exactly what I felt I was promised and what I expected from a ‘Mega Man‘ game.
What to expect from a Mega Man-esque game.
Mighty No. 9 features a high octane platform jumping robot that has a gun for a hand. Our hero fights through tightly spaced obstacles and enormous antagonistic robots until he reaches a boss; this normally results in a multi-stage fight where you are expected to learn how best to attack or defend in order to defeat them, and earn their signature power so that you may utilize it yourself in future levels. These games are known for their difficulty. It takes a precise hand and quick reflexes in order to even get to the bosses, let alone actually defeat them. Mega Man as a franchise has been slowly but steadily adding to its list of features (for better or worse), through a minimum of sixteen games. The first main series and the later X series were developed in the 90’s, when X stood for ‘EXTREME’ and meant every unnecessarily capitalized letter of it. Mighty No. 9 seemed to look at all these years of refinement and additions, and took a step back to see what worked and what didn’t.
First lets look at our new hero, Beck. Controlling him in the game feels great, plain and simple. Most of his actions take place over the course of three buttons (excluding directional movement) for jumping, shooting, and a dash ability. In old series Mega Man, you pressed down and jump to do a similar slide move, which was hard to use on the fly sometimes. In Mega Man X double tapping a direction or pressing a button solved this for it’s own era. Beck’s dash can change direction mid-air which is useful because until you get a feel for how far you will travel is can be hard to land properly. You can grab most ledges in the game to enable some upward movement as well.Mega Man‘s old ability to copy enemies has taken a new more prevalent twist this time around. Now, after causing enough damage to even a small bot, you ‘destabilize’ them. Using your dash through or near them, you then absorb the enemy and finishing them off. This amounts to points for higher scores, but some enemies also grant small buffs. Red enhances your attack power and usually allows your attacks to penetrate through enemies. Green makes you move faster, which can be handy in heavily trapped rooms where obstacles are everywhere.
The defeat of a boss also ends with their absorption, and it is by this means that you learn their powers. This time around you don’t kill your robo-brothers in arms; you cleanse their AI and save them. With someone turned back to normal, you now get advice on which level you should consider tackling next, which provides insight into which weapon will prove useful in the stage or even do the more damage to the boss. Some might contemplate if this is too much hand holding, but I’d like some of you to remember the later Mega Man games and how weird the bosses got. In Pokémon you can point at the little turtle spitting bubbles and think, “I bet if I electrocuted that watery lil’ guy, he’ll explode.’ Similarly in Mega Man, you use fire powers on the ice bad guy and he usually takes extra damage. Well, later games have already used the more obvious elements of nature as the basis for their bosses, and this batch of big bad evil guys have more abstract origins. What is Tomahawk Man weak against? How do you defeat Ring Man or Pharaoh Man? Without a bit of advice, there would be a lot of guesswork here.
Boss fights are still tough, and focus one multiple stages of action. Where you outright end the life of smaller enemies by destabilizing and dashing through them, bosses have to be destabilized and absorbed many times before you win the day. When destabilized they will regenerate their health slowly up to the most recent point of being weakened, so you need to act quickly. This feature can make the more elusive bosses harder than they are.
This game is indeed hard, even on ‘Normal’ mode. I can say, however, this is how a game should address difficulty every time it wants to be brutal to it’s player base. This is wholly due to deliberate level design. There are only a few different kinds of enemies in the game, and even fewer are unique to specific stages, but they are placed strategically to be a thought out obstacle for you, and not just placed willy-nilly where ever they can cause the most harm. Each stage is usually built with speed in mind, allowing you to dash and jump through scores of obstacles.
There are a few moments that encourage you to take a breath and think about your next move. One-touch death spikes are still here. No matter how much health you have, if it looks like pink electricity, heed my words. Don’t. Touch. Wires, spikes, tunnel boring machines; if it looks zappy and fuchsia, it will kill you so dead. I find it hard to complain about difficulty because this is a Mega Man spiritual successor , stemming from a long line of games known for a degree of nail biting toughness. The hardest part is choosing a boss to fight first, and then doing that without the aid of a special weapon to counter them.Mighty No. 9 does grant you after dying repeatedly (and you will die repeatedly, as you learn the obstacles and enemy placement). Often at respawn, a little helper robot will appear and grant you a little buff to help you move on ahead. If you’re lucky, or even especially unlucky, you’ll get an extra life. Retry the whole stage enough times and they will shower you with extra lives like a slot machine with food poisoning.
The next big question is, how does it look? It looks like a Mega Man game from 2016: a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer. It feels more influenced by the old Astro Boy cartoons in the character designs, and I like it. There is some voice acting that again, sounds like any of the most recent MM games; a high quality recording of not-bad -but-far-from-good lines that would feel more at home in a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s bright and colorful where it needs to be, and certain pickups and enemies are color coded in a way they tells you what you’re up against as you run at it at full speed. The water is murky, the ice is icy, and the cityscape is a lovely dusky time of day. While not standing out as anything vastly new or different, it still looks good and quite polished. Character animations are mostly good, but some enemies movements and some run animations look a bit cartoonish, though this is likely deliberate and not an oversight.
Mighty No. 9 isn’t perfect. Its greatest misstep is its weapon swap. By default (with an Xbox controller), you use the left trigger and left bumper to navigate a vertical menu. This is fine, since one of the shoulder buttons is your dash ability. However, what feels like it should be up (left bumper) is actually down and vice versa (left trigger moves up). After that, you must pressed ‘Y’ to finalize or swap your choice. In the middle of a fast paced boss fight this can be a bit difficult to accomplish.
There is, quite frankly, no real story to engage in, and at the start of a new game there is very minimal exposition. That being said, did anyone ever play the old series Mega Man games for the narrative? This one feels just like it’s spriritual predecessors, and I kind of hoped it was a bit more different. Having said that, it’s hardly something to cry about. Much like an RPG making your hero the chosen one or the key to end all suffering, this is a staple of the of the genre, and one that isn’t really a deal breaker.Beyond that, Beck and Call are the dumbest names in video gaming I can think of right now. Ehn…Rock and Roll weren’t good either though. Mega Man is sort of a dumb name too… Bass and Treble were a thing too. Instead I will use this to further my point-
Mighty No. 9 is the Mega Man game we’ve been waiting for. It is good example of old nostalgic challenges blending with a potpourri of new mechanics, a different but familiar art style, and exactly what we’ve been asking Inafune for. We begged and begged for a good, new Mega Man game. We got Mega Man 9 and 10 which were lack luster. Now the man himself gives us this and I see so many other reviewers having a hard time with this game. I’m not going to say its the best game ever. It is, however, exactly what was advertised on Inafune’s Kickstarters and what we gave him almost four million dollars to make. It’s worth the $20 on Steam. It’s worth a few hours of your time. If you loved it and beat it and want more, there is a fantastic challenge mode meant for showing off those speed running skills. I’m a bit worried current reviewers are looking at the old games this is clearly inspired by through rose tinted glasses and aren’t looking at this for what it is: A new, modern Mega Man and a good first step towards revitalizing out Blue Bomber.
Our review of Mighty No. 9 was written based on our experiences with a self purchased non-Kickstarted PC copy of the game. We experienced no problems with delivery of the title, technical issues or other bugs.