Author’s note: The version reviewed here is the PS3 version. I know, I’m a dinosaur.
Here it is. After all the delays, controversies and misguided marketing attempts, Keiji Inafune‘s spiritual successor to Mega Man, Mighty No. 9, is out in the world. As someone who often proclaims that the Mega Man series is his favorite video game franchise, I was awaiting this with an almost annoying level of excitement. I backed the Kickstarter and read every email update that was sent to my inbox. In the past few weeks, I replayed my three favorite Mega Man games (Mega Man 2, Mega Man 5, and Mega Man 9) to help temper my anticipation. I gave the game the benefit of the doubt when it came to the bad press and early criticisms. As long as it was a decent Mega Man clone, I’d be happy.
Are there good elements? Of course.
The basic framework of a Mega Man game is in place and those simple elements will always coax a warm response out of me. The Robot Masters… er, the Mighties all have fun and creative designs that work well with their eventual boss battles. My favorite aspect of the game is the idea that you are rescuing these characters from a malevolent virus that has made them go rogue. At the end of a boss fight, they aren’t destroyed but restored as your allies and they will even appear in other levels to help you out during certain sections. This endeared the Mighties to me as more than just inventive obstacles to conquer. I also have to commend the idea behind Mighty No. 8‘s stage in which the robot sniper is constantly shooting at you, forcing you to find him in the level.
Sadly, that’s almost all the praise I can give the game, besides appreciating some very cute Easter eggs, such as the billboards in Mighty No. 7‘s stage that showcase Arin Hanson‘s Grump face and the truly excellent rock band The Protomen (seriously, go listen to them even if you don’t like or know anything about Mega Man). Everything else is either mediocre, mishandled, or downright broken.
The biggest culprit is the controls. Mega Man and its sequels have some of the tightest, smoothest controls in all of platform gaming. By comparison, Beck’s movement feels extremely weighted and sluggish, making a jump feel far more laborious than it should. This issue wouldn’t be so debilitating if the necessary mechanic of dashing to absorb weakened enemies was better executed. It’s difficult to judge how much distance you will cover when dashing and it often leads to you taking more damage.
It doesn’t help that the dashing/Xel absorption idea is a big step backward when it comes to how health is implemented. Absorbing enemies will slowly fill an energy tank substitute that you can use to replenish your health. There are a few scattered health items throughout the levels, but this is your primary method of recovering health. It would be a little more tolerable if your energy tank didn’t empty after you lose a life. That’s the worst kind of frustrating.
I’ve seen people taking shots at the game’s graphics and art style. Honestly, that wasn’t a huge negative in my assessment. Granted, they aren’t astounding, but they aren’t offensive either. There is a squishy quality to the characters that make them feel more like plush toys than mechanical creations, so if that’s a sticking point for some I won’t begrudge them their opinion. I will admit that it’s a shame that the in-game designs don’t accurately reflect the poppy concept art and 2D drawings we saw during the Kickstarter campaign.
The game’s level design is also disappointing. There’s not a whole lot of imagination at play with these atypical stages, and that’s especially deflating considering that the Mega Man series has always been able to come up with inventive ways to keep stages fresh. Whether it be a clever mechanic such as Gravity Man‘s stage from Mega Man 5 or something gleefully bizarre like Astro Man‘s level in Mega Man 8, those games always managed to keep players on their toes. The by-the-numbers nature of Mighty No. 9′‘s stages only compounds the feeling of inferiority that permeates the game.
Probably the most disappointing factor in Mighty No. 9 is the music. The Mega Man series is renowned for its iconic soundtracks, but the bland tunes in Mighty No. 9 fade into the background. It’s doubly disheartening as Manami Matsumae, the composer for the original Mega Man, contributed her musical talents to the game. The soundtrack to this game is more akin to the unmemorable works of Mega Man X7 than the series’ high points like Mega Man 2. I do strongly recommend switching the 8-bit music mode on in the audio options, which greatly improves the tracks.
But, even with all these criticisms, I was willing to give the game a pass. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of the first Mega Man. I believe a lot of that game’s problems got ironed out in the sequel, and I pray the same happens with Mighty No. 9. However, there is one complaint that I can’t muster any compassion or a balanced viewpoint towards, and that’s the amount of lag I experienced. In particular, Mighty No. 6‘s stage had a number of choppy sequences that led to multiple accidental deaths.
For a game as stripped down as Mighty No. 9 — I’m not trying to demean the work put into the game, but this isn’t something as technically complex as Uncharted 4 — the poor framerate is inexcusable. Hopefully, this will be fixed in an update, but as it stands it makes a few areas of the game nigh unplayable.
Still, I’m not about to call Mighty No. 9 a disaster. There is a foundation to build upon here, but it’s got a lot of cracks that need to be filled. I’m not sure if the deviations from some of the classic Mega Man staples were an attempt to help distance this property from the Blue Bomber, but those changes are almost all for the worse. Add to that the lack of very few standout components and Mighty No. 9 is stuck under Mega Man’s lengthy shadow.