It’s tough to talk about Mighty No. 9 without mentioning how poorly received its crowdfunding campaign has become over the course of the game’s development. What started as another inspirational win for a venerated game creator, Keiji Inafune, as he received more than enough funds to make a spiritual successor to Mega Man that fans had been clamoring for, soon descended into a sea of moans as delay after delay beset the production. It’s been a long three years since the project was Kickstarted, and it’s a journey that I haven’t followed very closely, not being a backer. In a way, that should set me in the best possible mindset for the game, as despite knowing about the online drama, I haven’t been predisposed to expect success of failure. I’m in the middle, going in blind.
Unfortunately for Mighty No. 9, much like my expectations, it falls in the middle. It’s neither the disaster some reports may have you believe, nor is it the nostalgia-driven tight action game that fans undoubtedly thought they were backing. It’s so mild and safe, that it’s difficult to form a strong opinion on it at all one way or another.
The set-up is basic, as the game takes place in a utopian future, where violence has been virtually abolished and mankind lives in peace and harmony with robots. Of course, this all changes by the start of the game as the bots go haywire and develop a serious obsession with murdering all humans. The specially created ‘Mighty No. 9’ robot, or ‘Beck’, is unaffected and must fight his brethren, the other Mighty Numbers, and restore peace to the city.
It’s all pretty simple and par for the course in a Mega Man title, just a basic reason to go out and shoot a variety of robotic opponents. However, the original games never lingered on the plot – since there was nothing to linger on to begin with, just the action. Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 takes every opportunity it can to pause the game to interject with a cutscene, or dialogue, or a radio call from a partner to explain something to you. It passes the point of useful tutorials into disruptive pretty quickly, especially since nothing that unfolds is particularly interesting or surprising.
The gameplay itself has a neat little twist on the Mega Man formula. You’re still selecting an area to tackle based on the boss waiting for you at the end, running around platforming areas taking on enemies that require precision aiming and timing. The difference now is that once enemies take enough hits they can be staggered, allowing Beck to dash through them and collect their ‘Xels’. While playing the game like a traditional Mega Man game and taking your time initially seems to be the way to go about things, it quickly becomes apparent you’re rewarded more for speeding through the level, knowing when to fire and when to dash to insta-kill opponents. It makes for an interesting flow to the gameplay, and it’s a mechanic that does feel cool to use.
Unfortunately, the game around it is a little less inspiring. The enemy types you encounter and levels you face them in are mostly variations on concepts you’ve seen before, and hazard placement never seems to be very inspired. You can absorb enemy abilities – not just from bosses like Mega Man, but regular enemies like Kirby. These never really change things up a great deal, and there’s not many occasions you’re required to bust out anything more than your regular gun. It’s a difficult thing to quantify, but rather than the game feeling overly punishing, or rewardingly challenging, it just feels frustrating, and despite being able to change to any stage at any time to switch things up, I found it difficult to have the enthusiasm to play the game at all.
The game’s presentation doesn’t help much either. While the framerate isn’t quite as bad as some of the other reports I’ve read have suggested, the game’s artstyle resembles a mid-generation PS1 game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I quite like the way Mega Man Legends looked on the console. However, it lacks any real style or verve or dynamism that might compel you to see what else the game has in store. The game’s voicework is serviceable, and the actors try to do what they can by going off-script and improvising around bland lines.
When the gameplay fails to hold your interest, and the presentation doesn’t offer any impetus to continue, I find it hard to recommend Mighty No. 9. It is a competent action game on a fundamental level, and the idea of speeding through levels and collecting Xels to absorb enemy abilities is neat. But that’s really the best I can say about it, it’s competent. If you’re wanting to relive nostalgia, Capcom have released a Mega Man Legacy Collection recently. If you’ve already played through the old titles more times than you can count, Mighty No. 9 may conceivably be worth visiting, but even then, only if you’re really after a fix.
-Neat ideas -Fast gameplay -Simple charm
-Can get frustrating -Uninspired design and visuals