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Even if you’ve never played a Mega Man game in your life, you’ve probably heard all about the trials and tribulations of Mighty No. 9. Pitched by Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune as a spiritual successor to the classic series, Mighty No. 9 was the recipient of a lot of fan cash (over $4 million) and good will. And then came the delays, lame excuses, and weirdly offensive marketing.
By the time Mighty No. 9 finally limped across the finish line earlier this week, gamers and professional writers alike smelled blood. The memes and reviews have been merciless, but does Mighty No. 9 truly deserve its place on the scrap heap? Did Keiji Inafune just forget how to make a Mega Man game? Let’s find out…
Mighty No. 9 (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 & Wii U)
If you’re ever played a Mega Man title, you already know Mighty No. 9‘s story. There’s an evil scientist making robots do bad things, but thankfully a nice scientist made a good blue robot who can destroy the bad robots. Hooray! The names have been changed to keep the lawyers at bay — Mega Man is now Beck, Dr. Wily is now Dr. Blackwell, but aside from that there aren’t many major changes. And that’s just fine! Nobody plays Mega Man (or Mega Man imitators) for the story.
Mighty No. 9 is no technical showcase, but the game looks okay from a distance. Enemies and bosses are cleanly designed, each stage looks unique, and the game utilizes its splashes of color well. Things look considerably less passable when the camera zooms in on something. Beck and his fellow robots are inexpressive refuges from a PS2 game, with cut scenes, in particular, looking more like amateur hour. Characters don’t move their mouths when they talk, or any other body parts for that matter, as they simply stand around while text spools out on the bottom of the screen.
Ugly robots need the most love.
Voice acting is strictly of the “we got some people from the office to talk into a mic” variety, but at least the music is pretty solid. Not classic “Mega Man good” by any means, but it’s a fine accompaniment to the jumping and shooting. Basically, Mighty No. 9 looks and sounds like a low-budget indie game, which shouldn’t be the case considering the game is rolling in Kickstarter cash. Plenty of indie games have done more with a lot less.
Innovation isn’t exactly Mighty No. 9‘s raison d’etre. The game promised good old-fashioned Mega Man run-and-gun action, and that’s mostly what it delivers, albeit with some small tweaks. Rather than simply shooting enemies, you now stun them with your blaster, then absorb their energy by dashing at them. Enemy energy is color coded, and if you collect enough of a certain hue, you’ll gain a temporary power-up (green gives you extra speed, yellow powers up your shots, etc.) Aside from assimilating enemies, Beck’s dash can also be used to soar over chasms, squeeze through tight spaces and string together combos — really, it’s core to the whole Mighty No. 9 experience. Dashing makes Mighty No. 9 significantly faster than old-school Mega Man, and gives players an extra skill to master, but dash moves have been a staple of Japanese platform games since the 16-bit days. Mighty No. 9 isn’t quite Mega Man as you know it, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking.
Mighty No. 9 sticks to the basic Mega Man structure. Tackle the first eight stages in any order, beat the Robot Masters (now known as Mighty Numbers) and steal their unique weapons. It’s a classic setup but, to be honest, it’s also kind of broken. Mega Man games have always had nasty reverse difficulty curves — whatever level you tackle first has to be beaten with your basic blaster, while you can bludgeon your way through later stages with your collection of powerful boss weapons. Mighty No. 9 does nothing to fix the structure, and a lot of players will hit a brick wall of difficulty right away. This is made worse by an antiquated lives system, that forces you to play stages all over again if you reach Game Over. Mercifully, you can adjust how many lives you get, and I highly suggest you give yourself the maximum to begin with.
Beck’s dash powers are certainly helpful during rush hour.
Thankfully, you’ll have a fair amount of fun repeatedly grinding your way through Mighty No. 9. The level design is classic Mega Man, with each stage having a theme and a variety of unique enemies with sometimes-tricky patterns to memorize. The stages are creative, and go beyond the basic platformer tropes — sure, there are the standard underwater and mine stages, but others challenge you to piggyback on vehicles speeding down a crowded freeway, or track a sniper in a stately capitol building.
Keiji Inafune has also retained his knack for fun boss design. The Mighty Numbers are stylish, distinct and generally feel like something a 10-year-old boy might doodle on his notebook in math class, which is exactly what they ought to be. They’re also tough as nails. All the bosses have hefty life-bars, numerous attack patterns, and at least two different forms. Prepare to die a lot, particularly early on. (Hot Tip: I suggest you take on Mighty No. 5 or No. 7 first.)
Do not try to take on this lady first.
Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 staggers somewhat in the home stretch. After eight fun stages, Mighty No. 9 throws four more at you in linear order. These levels are on the bland side, and sometimes push the challenge level into unfair territory. Of course, this final gauntlet is also a Mega Man staple, but not all traditions need to be preserved. Perhaps Keiji Inafune and company should have changed more than Mighty No. 9‘s name.
Mighty No. 9 may be a mere 12 stages long, but the game’s punishing difficulty means the average, non-insane player should take a solid 10 to 15 hours to reach the end. In addition to the basic campaign, the game also serves up multiple difficulty settings, a meaty selection of challenges and a few scattered online modes. Really, you’re getting quite a lot of $20.
Okay, so, as I’ve documented, fans were certainly served a hefty heap of bullsh*t leading up to the release of Mighty No. 9. Some of the that bullsh*t persists, as some Kickstarter backers aren’t getting their game/DLC codes, and there are reports the title runs poorly on some platforms (specifically the Wii U). You also miss out on an extra DLC character and level if you don’t buy the game physically (although the DLC can be purchased separately by folks who choose to go digitally).
THAT SAID, putting the development drama aside, Mighty No. 9 is a substantial game, at a nice price, which isn’t unduly laden down with microtransactions or excessive DLC. Also, I can’t speak to what players on other platforms are experiencing, but the game was stable and ran smoothly on the PS4. I understand if Kickstarter backers feel frustrated or burned, but the average person who grabs Mighty No. 9 off the GameStop rack of PSN on a whim really won’t have much to complain about.
Sometimes it’s fun to join in on a dog pile, and Mighty No. 9 certainly left itself wide open to criticism, but honestly, the game isn’t nearly as bad as you may have heard. No, it doesn’t push the Mega Man formula to glorious new heights, but since when was it supposed to? Mighty No. 9 is a conventional continuation of the Mega Man legacy that seeks to pick up where Capcom left off. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re expecting an innovative experience that tries to compete with the latest slate of gimmicky indie platform games, you’re bound to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an old-school adventure that’s unmistakably Mega Man (warts and all), Mighty No. 9 is a solid blast from the past.
Verdict: Worth A Chance
This review was based on a digital PS4 copy of Mighty No. 9 purchased by the reviewer.