When I was a wee lad, I owned an original Gameboy. A big ugly grey brick of a thing, with a dubiously viewable screen and an even more dubious battery life – I fondly remember straining to view that thing for the short amount of time that it would run. But perhaps even more so, I fondly remember playing the classic Mega Man II.
Mighty No. 9 is the would-be successor to the sadly abandoned Mega Man series, the truest victim of Capcom’s whimsical approach to their main IPs. Without going in to too much detail, basically the long-time creative director and original creator of the Mega Man character struck out on his own, and approached the public with a Kickstarter pitching a new IP that would encapsulate the gameplay elements that Mega Man was known for, but in an updated format that wouldn’t be held back by Capcom’s odd approach to game releases. Enter ‘Beck’ – A.K.A ‘Mighty No. 9’.
One slick looking robot hero dude.
Suffice to say, the Kickstarter garnered the attention of many a jilted Mega Man fan, and it flourished – raising a cool 3.8 million dollars. To the delight of people everywhere, the game smashed its goal and collected a respectable number of stretch goals to really amp up the excitement people had – and so development proper began.
A healthy amount of crowdfunded dosh.
Herein ends the education. Mighty No. 9 is now a living product, released and reviewed. Now it’s my turn to give it a spin, and the outlook isn’t good.
I deliberately avoided reviews so as not to skew my own interest in the game. As an old school Mega Man fan, I instead wished to see if the gameplay held up against decades of traditional elements being iterated and improved upon, and go from there. Unfortunately, the case is clear here that there must have been some magic under the roof of Capcom headquarters, and it was left behind when Keiji Inafune packed his bags.
The first thing that hit me when I booted the game up on PS4 was just how…infinitely disappointing the entire thing was. I don’t want to sound like I am being lazy and just using a blanket statement like “All of the things were bad” – but truthfully each aspect of the game found some unique way to disappoint me. Perhaps this isn’t entirely true, as the The gameplay itself and, the actual act of moving, shooting and manoeuvring Beck, initially felt quick, snappy and modern. It was everything else that fell apart.
A solid formula like ‘Side-Scrolling Shooter’ should be an easy win
Most cut scenes are entirely redundant and tedious
The level design (particularly the artistic side of it) varies madly from tightly designed and engaging sections – to sloppy and downright lazy feeling segments, with bland geometry and texture work really pulling you out of the immersion as you can’t help but see just how muddy and ugly some things are. One particular segment had me moving quickly through the level as giant silos toppled and fell towards the screen, threatening to crush me. This entire area should have drawn me in and raised my pulse as I navigated through it, but instead I just couldn’t help but notice how unbelievably bad the silos looked as they fell, right up until they exploded. The entire game suffers from this odd sense of trying to appear retro while incorporating some really modern elements that really go against the grain.
Mega Man was a series that was punishing at times, and still managed to release modern entries in the series that still incorporated all of it’s classic styled gameplay without making it feel dated – Mega Man 10 was released in 2010, the same year that Red Dead Redemption was blowing people away, and it still managed to capture and entertain gamers without aggravating them.
Somehow this was lost in translation during the development of Might No. 9. It’s hard to describe – Perhaps decades of being punished by the chipper sprite of Mega Man has conditioned us like some kind of Pavlovian response – Where truly aggravating things seem less so as long as he is involved. I can safely say that I managed to play the “That’s bullshit” card at least a few times – Particularly in situations that incorporate instant death elements. In a 2D game environment, you can understand that touching the sprite of something that is guaranteed to kill you will …well, kill you. Yet in this 3D game set on a 2D plane, you can entirely avoid the killing object and still die – Because for some reason the games design incorporates a hitbox larger than the thing you are avoiding. Couple this with odd design choices – Like placing large text boxes at the bottom of the screen when a character talks, to subtitle the (incredibly redundant) incoming message. This is fine on it’s own – but when you are in a section of gameplay that involves controlled falls to avoid death traps – That section of screen real estate becomes hot property, and you start to care a great deal less about your moaning allies.
I love a good poop joke, but this game crushed all the happiness I needed to truly savor this one.
The truly crushing thing that weighed down on me for the entire gameplay experience was the inescapable knowledge of who was involved with making the game, and how much money they had access to. Keiji Inafune was a key member of Mega Man’s past, and 3.8 million dollars is nothing to sneeze at – yet the end product feels like neither of these things were utilised. If I picked this game up for a few bucks in a Steam Sale, presented by some indie studio, I can safely say that I would be exceptionally surprised, and even impressed. The game is solid enough in its execution, that you could forgive some of its failings for coming from, say, a small or inexperienced team. If you then took the time to educate me, and tell me that not only was the CREATOR of Mega Man involved, but he had a fat stack of nearly four million dollars to make the game, I would be dumbfounded.
Instead I am just bitterly disappointed, and desperately trying to figure out where the money went. A large part of me suspects that the huge amount of voice acting that seems to have gone into the game might be an obvious contender for blame. Every line of dialogue, necessary or not, is VA’d. Even audio introductions to certain options and menu items are present for God knows what reason. This is an extensive amount of audio to be recorded and mixed for the game – and some of the people involved are no slouches. Steve Blum and Fred Tatasciore are both present–voice acting titans in my opinion–but their delivery is flat and uninspired. It’s well known that a voice actor is only as good as the direction they receive, and I can’t help but feel that they received next to none for this game. Couple this with the token female assistant character, ‘Call’, who features the most dreadful voice acting I have heard in any form of digital media for years, and you’ve got a recipe for ear-bleeding mediocrity.
The story of ‘Call’ was an interesting one. She was added to the game as part of a community-driven competition – encouraging people to submit a design for the character. She was quite obviously inspired by the long-time staple of the Mega Man series, ‘Roll’, so it came as no surprise that Mighty No. 9 would also incorporate such a character. The community took great pride in designing rich and interesting female character designs, with the final one accepted via vote and incorporated into the game.
The winning ‘Call’ design. No beef here, it’s great.
After witnessing the tremendous amount of pride that was present for all who were involved with the implementation of Call, imagine my surprise when I discover that she is little more than a monotone ‘Hint and Help’ line within the game. She announces details that seem incredibly useless – such as describing hazards in a stage, or at times promising you that the radio system will cut out as you head underground (the latter never truly happened and I have never felt more betrayed). It turns out that she can be played in her own unique level, using a smaller moveset than Beck – and only in that particular level. Again the game finds new and unique ways to pique my interest and then immediately dash it.
‘Call’ in her natural habitat, barking garbage from a chair.
The typical Mega Man ‘Robot Master’ formula is entirely present in Mighty No. 9, with each boss awarding you with a new weapon that will work to benefit you against one of the other bosses. What I found unique and actually quite interesting in this case was how the weapon would quite often find itself useful in certain sections of the level leading up to the boss, removing terrain or defeating unique enemies in easier ways – something that was present in the old Mega Man games, but better incorporated here.
Of course this praise is short lived, as the game rewards you with using multiple weapons by forcing you to share the resource that fuels them. This means that as soon as you approach some form of next-level gameplay implementation of these items you hit a wall as you quickly realise that sustaining this gameplay style isn’t going to fly.
The robot master upgrades are intuitive and interesting – and limited.
This leads into my rant about power-ups in the game. The real ‘hook’ of Mighty No 9 that makes it unique to Mega Man is the use of Beck’s dash ability to absorb enemies ‘Xel’ energy. Doing so will give you power ups, a higher score and bragging rights. However, the power ups seem to be entirely random – ranging from movement speed, to attack power, to armour. Because of this I have on many occasion picked up a speed boost at an inopportune time and misjudged a jump to go soaring to my death as I swore at the so-called ‘power-up’ that was supposed to help. Sure, this sounds like a rookie idiot mistake – but at this point I am convinced the game has it in for me. The other downside of the Xel absorption mechanic is that you must first weaken an enemy to absorb them. Easy enough in principle, however in most cases the enemy will continue to attack you when in this weakened state, meaning the game will then be inviting you to attempt to dash through an active enemy. In most cases this is entirely possible, but there are enemies that are not to be approached for fear of death (even in this ‘weakened’ state), and the only alternative to an instant ‘charge’ kill is shooting another dozen bullets into them to truly kill them, as they are health sponges beyond the weakened state. This entire design philosophy really hobbles the fast-paced gameplay that seems to be intended for Beck’s charge attack, and is a huge let down.
Nothing can redeem the crushing disappointment I feel for this game. Disappointment a word that I have repeated throughout this review – and the truth of the matter is it fits perfectly. A scenario where a passionate game designer breaks free from a publishing house that is not utilising him to then be presented with such an amazing outpour of support for a familiar premise that promises a fresh take on an established formula –only for the entire thing to fall flat– is definitely a disheartening turn of events. To Keiji Inafune’s merit, he has taken whole responsibility for the negative reaction his game has received – a truly bold move and an admirable one. On its own, I cannot recommend Mighty No 9 to dedicated Mega Man lovers of old, short of it being picked up for an absolutely astoundingly low price – and even people new to the genre are likely to find themselves confused and frustrated. I can only genuinely hope beyond hope that Comcept use this as the perfect learning aid to create games in future that improve on all the issues present with Mighty No 9, and create something truly fantastic.
Reviewed on PS4