Let’s take a look at Mighty No. 9, a spiritual successor to the legendary Mega Man series, and see if it lives up to that distinction.
Mighty No. 9 was funded on Kickstarter to the tune of four million dollars. It banked on the desire of fans to have a new Mega Man game. The game is directed by Keiji Inafune, one of the artists who had a hand in the creation of the original game. After some of key figures of development team left Capcom, Inafune was left to carry on the Mega Man legacy, and that he did. Inafune guided the brand for several years, creating several sequels and spinoffs before he, too, left Capcom. Inafune established his own company, Comcept and created a Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter pitch. It was funded successfully several times over. However, the release was delayed several times and the development itself was met with a lot of controversy. Now it’s time to see if it lives up to the Mega Man legacy.
When you first start up Mighty No. 9, there are several things that a player will notice: the writing and the voice acting. They’re not good. The character models stand awkwardly, and their mouths don’t move during dialogue scenes. Overall, the voice acting is decent and isn’t detracting, until Doctor Sanda starts to speak. His lines come out as over the top and jilted.
The cutscenes have this weird, surreal quality to them as the characters just stand there, staring gormlessly into space. Their mouths are wide open but not moving. Every so often they’ll emote, but they don’t draw you into the story. When it comes to an old school platformer style game, the cutscenes shouldn’t matter greatly, but when I notice them this much, that means there’s something off. I felt a part of me wanted to be drawn into the story, but odd delivery of the lines and strange expressions on the character’s faces kept me from doing that.
The levels themselves fared a little better. There are eight main stages, which are playable in any order a la most Mega Man games. After beating the bosses, you gain their power, which is the weakness of another boss. The fun of figuring out the ‘best’ order of stages is still here, as is some solid platforming challenges. The game’s dashing mechanics encourages you to play fast and frantically, which means a lot of stages can be dashed through.
This is fun, but sometimes defeats the purpose of some of the challenges. For example, there’s a stage that take place in a television broadcasting tower. The basic premise to to climb to the top of the tower and face the boss. There’s a lot of opportunities for falling deaths. At one point, there are some platforms floating in the air, connected by other platforms that are moving back and forth. The purpose of the section is for Beck to jump from platform to platform to get across safely. Instead, I easily dashed across the entire section. Afterwords, I felt like I disappointed a level designer somewhere.
Other parts of the levels have plenty of instant death spike traps. These purple glowing areas are challenging to navigate. While sections like these are nothing new to Mega Man games, a few of them seem especially frustrating. There seems to be something a little off about the hitboxes, as it’s extremely easy to die. The sections require pixel perfect timing, and sometimes it doesn’t give you enough time to react to a sudden turn.
These sections rely on dumb luck for the first few times around. Aside from these problems, the levels are fairly well designed and varied, giving you some challenge actually based on skill. The aforementioned Television tower is actually a pretty fun level. Overall, the graphics themselves are serviceable, unless something is on fire. The fire effects do look odd and out of place with the other aesthetics. Sections with a lot of fire erupting everywhere are especially an eye sore.
Mighty No. 9’s frantic electronic music is mostly unremarkable, just fading into the rest of the background noise and NPC dialog. I listened to individual tracks by themselves and found that there is a lot of good music in the game, but it has trouble making itself stand out or becoming memorable.
The main mechanic driving Mighty No. 9’s gameplay is Beck’s dash. After shooting an enemy a few times with the arm buster, the enemy changes color and emits floating pixels. At this point, Beck can dash straight through the foe and absorb it instantly, taking it’s Xels. Absorbing an enemy’s Xels has a different effect depending on what type you defeated. The effects range from a speed boost, to having a more powerful buster shot. The more enemies you defeat in this fashion also improves your ranking at the end of the mission. You’re rewarded more the quicker you absorb them. As soon as they are defeated a percentage is displayed. Getting 100% requires you to absorb them as soon as you weaken them.
This mechanic is very fun and creates a frantic flow, as you are encouraged to dash through the levels as quickly as possible destroying everything in your path, trying to get as many 100%’s as possible. You can even take down several out of control robots at once, giving Beck combo bonuses. When you get a good run going, it’s pretty satisfying to blast through the levels and enjoy the spectacle of it all.
While Mighty No. 9 seems to encourage you to have fun by blasting through the levels, there are some obstacles that appear and completely stop the flow of the game. For example, at the Oil Refinery stage, the game lines up enemies, presumably to let yourself get some combos going. Suddenly, it faces you with an enemy with a wall of fire extruding from it. It stops you dead and forces you to wait for it to slowly move out of the way. Perhaps I wasn’t fast enough, but seemed like an odd enemy placement.
As I said before, beating some of Mighty No. 9’s levels required a good amount of trial and error mixed with dumb luck. Some falling environmental objects in the same level will kill Beck instantly. It doesn’t happen a lot, and they’re easy to dodge after you know when it will happen, but there’s little initial warning. The level design could be more intuitive.
At the end of each stage, you’re faced with a boss robot. The robots attack you with about three different attack patterns. Success lies in memorizing the boss’s tells, dodging appropriately and attacking when you can. Halfway through each of their lifebars, the enemies power up and some gain some instant kill attacks. However, their attack patterns don’t change too much. It’s possible to get a perfect win on some of the bosses after a couple of tries. After defeating them, Beck gains their power which he can use at will during the stages.
The powers themselves are of varying use. Some levels, the final ones in particular, are made easier with the weapons. For example, the Television tower boss’s power will allow Beck to fall slowly by using a plane’s propeller to slow his downward momentum.
In one level, you’ll be required to use Call, Beck’s robot sister. She isn’t a powerful attacker at all, but her level is mostly focused on stealth. The enemies have glowing cones that represent their field of vision. The main conceit of her stage is to avoid being seen by the guard robots and collect security key cards. Call can also hover in the air and crawl on her hands and knees. While the idea of this type of stage is interesting, especially in a Mega Man game, it grind’s the game’s pacing to a painful halt. After being trained by the previous stages to shoot and dash through objects, becoming a projectile of destruction, it’s hard to slow down and concentrate on maneuvering around enemies.
Call’s level is also problematically designed. In Beck’s stages, around the mid point, he is required to clear several waves of enemies before he can continue. This makes sense to his skill set, and these sections are actually entertaining. However, after the in-game tips inform you that playing with Call will require more careful planing, focused on stealth, the game still puts Call through a section where she has to fight off a few waves of enemies. She seems to stun enemies faster, but her buster shot is very weak and even tiny enemies take several shots before they go down.
There seems to be trouble with the pacing and flow with the entire game. Not counting the bonus stages in EX mode, Call has only one in-game level and it seems like she either needed more, or none at all. The stealth game play coupled with having to find items to progress felt very out of place with the rest of the game. Her level made sense in the context of the story, but not in the gameplay.
Overall, Mighty No. 9 is entertaining and is reminiscent of the Mega Man franchise. The difficulty is pretty standard throughout, but the pacing seems to be off. It felt like the developers needed more time to fine tune the level designs. At times, the game has the potential to reach greatness, but falls short and I think that’s what hurts it the most. At best, it’s a mid tier Mega Man game. At worst, it’s a pale imitation, and the game constantly sine waves between both. I never felt like giving up on the game, but I wasn’t excited to continue with it either. It’s a mediocre effort, that I hope lays the groundwork for a more satisfying sequel.
Mighty No. 9’s story is typical Mega Man fare. The other eight robots (Mighty No. 1-8) designed by Beck’s creator go rogue for unknown reasons. It’s up to Beck to find out why. The interesting twist on the formula is that Beck brings his former brothers and sisters back to their senses rather than just destroying them and taking their powers. There seems to be an attempt to forge a relationship between Beck and the boss robots, as they appear in later levels to help him out in minor ways.
Call even remarks on their unique personalities, saying how inefficient it is for worker robots to even have them. Call realizes that she has no discernible personality at all, questioning the purpose of it all. Call is a stand in for the stereotypical robot and is unaffected by whatever is causing the robots to go crazy and remains obedient. Call is purposefully uninteresting. The game seems to hint at a deeper meaning buried within that dynamic, but does nothing with it. After her character moment happens the game moves on.
It also seems like there is an attempt to create a world with meaningful storytelling, but something got lost along the way. In the military base stage, the doctor mentions that it’s odd that there are working battle robots on the base, even though the government has issued a disarmament; this is interesting, but also isn’t explored. Like the gameplay, there are momentary glimpses of brilliance we are never truly shown. With that said, I believe that the characters were likable enough, and would like to see more of them.
Aside from the main game mode, there is EX Mode. This mode is filled with fun little challenges. One challenge will charge Beck with completing a level without using his attack or dash. Other challenges have him destroying a number of targets in a set time. There’s also a co-op race mode and a mode where you can race against an online opponent to the end of the stage. The main game play mode doesn’t warrant much replayablity, so this is where you’ll get your post game content from. The challenge modes are fun, but seem like an afterthought. I didn’t really feel motivated to beat them all, or even challenge the leader boards. Unless you want to master the stages, and run through the challenge modes getting the best times, there’s not a whole lot of potential for replayablity. EX Mode seems like a hallow and token add on.
Mighty No. 9 could have been a lot better, but it’s not terrible. There’s a good core of a game, but too many corners were cut in the final product. I recommend this game if you want to briefly relive Mega Man’s legacy, but there are other, better ways to do that. Mighty No. 9 sets a very solid foundation that leaves me wondering about what could have been. Perhaps a proper sequel can remedy the imperfections.