[Version reviewed: Xbox One]
Running, jumping, shooting, dying; for over a quarter of a century, this style of game has been in the memories of gamers since the first Mega Man game on the NES. Mighty No. 9 continues that legacy and unabashedly follows the template set by the original series, while attempting to add it’s own twist as an evolution of the games of old. Coming from Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man and Inti Creates, who developed several of the more recent titles in the series, Mighty No.9 was expected to be the answer to the pleas of fans waiting for a new game after any hope of Capcom making a new one had practically dropped to zero. After a year’s delay from it’s originally expected release date, the game that we’ve ended up with doesn’t meet the visual expectations many people would have for a high profile current-gen game, but at least the gameplay should appease those who enjoyed the original Mega Man games, especially its trademark run & gun action and its penchant for trial and error based difficulty in it’s levels and enemies.
In Mighty no.9, you play as Beck, boy robot, who basically has the ability to absorb the power of other robots. Using his unique ability, Beck needs to find and defeat 8 of his fellow robot siblings (aka the ‘Mighty Numbers’), after robots across the country have revolted against humans and become hostile. (sound familiar?)
Following a cutscene to set up the scenario and the first level to teach some basic controls, you’re free to chose to tackle the 8 main levels in any order you wish before the final levels and last boss. You can decide what level to try next but the order you defeat the bosses of each level can help to beat other characters, thanks to the abilities you absorb from each of the boss. (the sniper & electric robot’s abilities are particularly effective against the flying robot for example). While MN9 makes a point of closely following the Megaman formula, it also deviates from it in a major way changing how you would normally expect to defeat enemies. Instead of just shooting them until they disappear, you’ll instead shoot them once or a couple times to ‘destabilize’ the enemy, then you can use your dash ability (or ‘AcXelerate ‘ as it’s known in game) to absorb the destabilized enemies’ particles.
Failing to do so will sometimes allow the enemy to recover back to their original state, so you’ll need to get the hang of it pretty quickly. The fact that even the boss battles have this requirement means that you can’t just hang back and shoot them from afar the whole time, but you’ll need to get in close and dash through them when destabilized to make sure the damage you’ve inflicted isn’t recovered. With the game being built around this ability, there’s also a combo system and score bonuses awarded for how quickly you absorb the enemy after destabilizing them, so learning the levels and enemy placements will be beneficial for getting higher combos, better scores, quicker clear times. Later in the game, you’ll also be able to play as Call, Beck’s female counterpart, who has a substantially different play style for her levels which relies more on stealth and defence over offence.
In its eagerness to stick to the style of the old games, Mighty No.9 holds on to a few aspects of classic game design which could have been improved upon for a modern title. You’re expected to make use of trial and error throughout the levels and boss encounters of Mighty No.9 , which is nostalgic and reminiscent of it’s spiritual predecessors but there are times where throwing lives away to figure out how to get past a particularly unforgiving part of a level will become extremely frustrating. The instant-death obstacles are some of the most annoying instances of this, such as the electric turbines on Mighty No.3’s stage, or the spike wall sections you’ll encounter on most levels as there’s little margin for error and it could take several attempts(and deaths) before a correct solution is found. You’re expected to play though the level as many times as it takes until you learn the obstacles ahead and figure out how to get past, but players who didn’t play much of the old Mega Man games, or complete newcomers to the genre may not have the patience to keep trying.
There’s no option to lower the difficulty from the default but you do have several helpful additions to make the journey a bit more palatable for anyone struggling with certain levels. When you reach checkpoints or when you’re revived at a checkpoint, you’ll receive random items from a friendly service robot to aid you along the way, ranging from temporary boosts to speed, power, etc, to health recovery items, extra lives and ‘AcXel Recovers’, which you can hold up to 2 of and use at any time to refill your health bar (extremely useful during boss fights). There’s also the option to change how many lives you start with, so instead of beginning a level with the standard 2 lives, you can set it anywhere you want up to 9 lives, without any impact on your score. This won’t make any difficult platforming sections easier, but’ll give you a few more tries at attempting possible ways to complete it before kicking you to a game over and starting the whole level again.
As you defeat more of the rampaging robots, the plot gradually progresses through a few cutscenes at certain intervals, along with some radio chatter during levels between Beck and the other characters back at the lab. The story of the original Mega Man games was never one of it’s strong points so it’s not a big surprise that the story here isn’t exactly award winning material, but the decision to give more screen time to the story seems unnecessary for a sidescroller about shooting robots. The cheesy dialogue doesn’t really add anything substantial to the game either and it could have easily done without this addition.
The fact that the cutscenes feature full voice acting for the characters while their faces remain static (save for occasional expression alterations) makes them even more jarring to watch, so you won’t miss much by skipping them when possible. The short scene that plays every time you encounter a boss also becomes a nuisance after dying as you have to start the cutscene and wait a couple seconds before you’re able to skip every single time you restart, instead of just allowing you to get straight into the battle.
There’s a decent variety of level types and layouts for the main game stages, usually featuring a few different scenes and backgrounds throughout the level along with different enemy types based on the theme of the stage and its boss, which also influences the level design and certain gimmicks on each one. The ice robot’s stage features underwater areas with floatier jumps & ice covered platforms with reduced traction, the electric robot’s stage has regular blackouts which could hide enemies and pit falls, while the sniper robot’s stage is a big game of hide and seek while you track down the source of the frequent gunshots. The stage finally ends with a battle against one of the Mighty Numbers wrecking havoc in that area, with each boss having a variety of attacks that you’ll need to learn to look and listen out for in order to dodge and counter. Many bosses have a particular phrase or audio queue to indicate which attack is coming next but the fire robot, pyro, is more difficult to figure out as his tells are quite similar unless you look and listen closely. Each level has a unique feel to it, although the actual look and style of the stage and scenery on many are quite bland and forgettable, with some effects like fire, ice and explosions looking like something from a ps2 game.
Most of the fodder robots are also fairly trivial to beat individually, but when they’re in a group and are attacking from multiple directions, beating them all becomes more challenging. At least once in every level there’s a section where you’re locked on one screen while multiple waves of enemies are spawned in for you to defeat, which only seems like a way to artificially prolong the length of each level and gets boring pretty quickly.
Luckily, the controls are very responsive, especially control over Beck while he’s in mid air, so it’s not too difficult to manoeuvre around enemies and defeat them quickly to keep your combo going. Classic platforming elements are littered throughout the game and I never felt like I was missing a jump or falling to my death due to the controls not being quick or accurate enough. The dashing through enemies mechanic also works well as a way to traverse sections of levels quickly once you get used to using it effectively, which feel’s great when you’re able to get a long combo chain going while speeding through a level without breaking your momentum or taking any damage. The frame rate also seemed to stay pretty high throughout most of my time with the game except when dealing with certain parts on the ice level where it would drop slightly and when using explosive attacks on a special type of enemy in the final stage which caused dramatic frame rate drops.
Outside of the main game mode, there’s a surprising amount of extra stuff you can get stuck into afterwards in the game’s ‘EX Mode’. There you can play the challenge missions featuring 30+ levels of time trials based on different objectives, an online 1 v 1 race mode where you can compete against another player on individual levels from the main game, an online 2-player co-op mode and a boss rush mode where you can fight through all of the bosses you’ve encountered through the game. All of these modes have leaderboard support too, though it can be a bit awkward to use to see how your scores compare to everyone else.
Mighty No.9 is not the grand return to form for inafune & co. as everyone was hoping, but there's still something there worth playing for anyone fond of the original Mega Man games or similar 2D sidescrollers. The underwhelming art style, graphical fidelity and occasional frame rate issues along with oddly static cutscenes can't help but make the presentation of the game seem like it was rushed out for release. Regardless, the tight controls and platforming, variety of level structures and challenging boss battles should give most fans of the genre several hours of fun while the unlockable extra difficulties, boss rush and challenge levels will let you test your mettle against more difficult trials and compete against friends and rivals worldwide.