Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates
Publisher: Deep Silver
Ever since the release of Mighty No. 9, there has been review after review and comment after comment expressing how poorly this game has lived up to the hype and how much it is “not a Mega Man Game”. To some extent I agree with these statements after playing it, but I thought it necessary to play the game and provide a review not based on hype and expectations and evaluate it objectively for what it is. And what is it? As written on the original Kickstarter page: “Mighty No. 9 is an all-new Japanese side-scrolling action game that takes the best aspects of the 8- and 16-bit era classics you know and love, and transforms them with modern tech, fresh mechanics, and fan input into something fresh and amazing!” So let’s delve into the game starting with gameplay, and see what we think at the end.
You play as Beck, the game’s namesake “Mighty No. 9”. As one might guess Mighty No. 1 through 8 serve as the bosses of each level of the game, after a computer virus takes control of nearly all robots in the USA. You must progress through each level shooting and dashing your way through mechanized trash bins, fire spewing furnaces, and other raging robots while avoiding stage hazards such as spikes and falling objects. At the end of the level you fight against the stage boss, one of the Mighty No.’s. After beating the boss you gain their particular power to use in future levels as you see fit.
To help you learn the mechanics of the game, there is a tutorial level that runs you through how to use all of your powers. Similar to Mega Man your basic attack comes in the form of an arm cannon that fires small pellets of energy and you spend a lot of time platforming around the levels. You also have the ability to dash around the screen, or “AcXelerate”. This is useful to quickly speed through the level, glide over gaps, dodge under enemy fire, and make precise landings (though using the downward AcXelerate can often kill you more than help you). Your arm cannon can stun (“destabilize”) enemies at which point they turn a different color and you can then AcXelerate into them to absorb their “Xel”. This translates into a higher score for the level and a partial refill of your energy meter you use when firing your special weapons gained from bosses. There are alternate moves you can perform such as a backwards jump while firing and an evasion jump than provides some invincibility frames.
Getting through the levels can be utterly easy at times and engagingly difficult depending on the level. Some levels are very straight forward and contain mostly just enemies and maybe a couple traps, where others are gauntlets of pain and sorrow. While enemies can spell your doom, since you have a non-regenerating health bar that you can only refill with item pickups, the enemies you fight are not really that dangerous from damage output and are easily dispatched; their true lethality comes from placement and relative proximity to stage hazards. The hazards are the real killer, as contact with a majority of them means instant death and a quick reset to the nearest checkpoint. To make matters worse, the hit boxes for these traps are large than they should be, so what seems like plenty of room between you and the electrified death spikes covering the wall will get you killed. I found myself screaming at my computer screen after dying again, and again, and again to the same spike corridor eventually having to restart the entire mission because I ran out of lives which is set at a default of two lives. Now, you can change this to nine lives to make it less punishing, but you will still be angry when you have to perfectly time a dodge underneath a insta-kill turbine blade when you have only just enough dodge distance to juuuuuuuuust clear the edge…then are required to immediately do it again. Steep learning/skill curve on the platforming aspect is an understatement.
Assuming you have made it through the level, you reach the boss. The fight is about how you would expect for a Mega Man inspired game; you fight in a small room attempting to widdle down the boss’s health until the health bar is depleted. The one catch is that you can only do so much damage to the boss before you are forced to AcXelerate into the boss to absorb some Xel and continue damaging them. If you fail to do this, not only can you not do additional damage to the boss, they will heal back all the damage you did. The boss fights are everywhere when it comes to difficulty. Pyro, the first boss after the tutorial level is easy enough in his first form, clearly calling out his moves giving you time to counter them and get some shots in. However, around midway through his health bar he begins to glow with blue flames and stops calling his moves out and you just have to recognize the animation to discern the move. This would be fine if failure to dodge even a single move at this point didn’t mean…you guessed it…instant death. Mission one is like this, while a later mission where you fight the gun-themed military maniac Battalion is comparatively effortless with obvious tells and super easy to dodge attacks. Yes you can play the missions in any order you wish, but since the power you gain from a previous boss is usually the next bosses weakness, playing in numeric order tends to work the best. Some bosses (and levels for that matter) have aspects that can only be countered with the right power and are really hard to beat without them. And what happens when you finally defeat that boss that you have lost life after life to and restarted the level several times to hone your skills to triumph over? Well, not a whole lot. There is a big build up with a cut scene showing Beck looking to be charging some massive attack…then poof…all done. Bad guy is all better now through the power of friendship. It’s quite anti-climactic.
There are three additional missions after you have collected all the other Mighties. While the other two where you continue to play as Beck are fine, playing as Call in the Prison mission just feels awkward and out of place. Call is the counterpart to Beck, which thereby creates the duo “Beck and Call” which is playful and a nod to “Rock and Roll” form the Mega Man series. Call’s skill set is an abrubt course correction from Beck’s as she cannot finish enemies through AcXelerate (though still has a similar dash which caused several deaths of mine) and relies on stealth and crawling around through the level. If there had been a few more levels with her, it would have been better, but with just one random inclusion it doesn’t fit well with the game.
Upon completion of the game you can play through all of the missions again with every ReXelection power (the boss powers…they love thrusting “xel” into things huh?) unlocked to see how fast you can beat it and unlock additional difficulty modes that change how the enemies behave and make the game much more difficult if you are the masochistic type who likes suffering though crazy difficult games (I am not judging, I too do this). You also have access to Ex Mode (accessible prior to game completion) which is more or less a collection of challenges and a couple additional game modes like Boss Rush and Online Race Battle. The challenge levels have you destroy a number of targets in a specific time or get to the end of the level without dying and can be played Solo or Coop online with a friend playing as Call. Boss Rush is exactly as stated, play through all the bosses in the game and compete for the fastest time. And Online Race Battle (not the best name to be honest) is a mode where you try to get the best score in direct competition with another player in one of the game missions. These additional game modes are entertaining and a welcome addition to the game, especially for sake of additional content as I completed the game (with sooooo many deaths) in just a bit more than five hours.
GRAPHICS and SOUND
I personally enjoyed the anime/cartoon art style given to the characters of Mighty No. 9 and it wasn’t hard to tell that this game was designed by a team composed of veteran Mega Man personel. This was especially noticeable in the boss design, each Mighty No. having that characteristic look of a Mega Man-esque boss. Each level felt like its own entity, and although they contained similar assets at times, were on the whole quite different from each other. The bright and colorful landscapes really brought the levels to life and was aided by dynamic backgrounds that would directly influence the action going in the foreground (like enemies raining fire down from the background) or giving you a heads up in boss fights (showing the next enemy being built for example in the robot factory mission). The stages and associated bosses always matched and it was nice to see them use the boss character within the mission prior to the end fight to tell a bit of story and accent the level. Beck’s costume changes that come with ReXelection were really cool and wonderfully incorporated the features of the boss it came from while still retaining the look and feel of the Beck character. The only graphical gripe I have is that the character’s mouths did not move when dialogue was spoken, not terrible just strange is all. If you are one of those people that like to watch the credits in their entirety, sit down, crack open a drink, and settle in, it’s going to be a while. Hours in fact. Since the Developers included the names of every backer for the Kickstarter, there are well over 70,000 names to run through at standard credits crawl speed and it takes a couple hours to cycle through them all.
The sound effects for Mighty No. 9 were very well done, with care taken to provide not only a wide variety of noises for the environments and enemies, but for the various power-ups as well. Never did a firing sound seem off or out of place, they all fit the respective power nicely. There have been negative comments on the quality of the voice acting in the game going as far to say that it sounds like amateurs from craigslist did the lines. This is very much not the case with the voice acting, especially with highly talented voice actors like Matt Mercer and Steve Blum to name a couple. Sure there are a couple places where the lines seemed a bit off, but this could be more attributed to writing than the actors performance. The music throughout the game was very punchy and possessed a lot of energy that did well to fire me up to continue on and beat the stage. And, each stage had a unique song that meshed with the overall motif of the level design. If you browse through the game options, you can even change the music to 8-Bit mode, which makes the game sound quite retro and is pretty fun to listen to. Oddly enough however this did not extend to the sound effects, which unfortunately makes the 8-bit music feel out of place against the modern blasts, booms, and zooms. If you watch the credits for long enough an unexpected rap/hip-hop song starts to play that is written for and about Mighty No. 9, and its good, really good. As promised, backers who pledged enough money to have their voices featured in the end credits had their voice saying “I am ____, Mighty No. ####, I am Mighty!” over a groovy backbeat. It sounded cool and was a really creative idea.
Look, there are legitimate complaints about the games runtime, its game mechanics, and the price tag relative to content. With those things I agree, but people smearing this game as an abomination to gaming and the Mega Man series (though not stated as a Mega Man game, just inspired by…take that how you will) should just lay off. It seems a lot of people are basing their opinions off of over-hyped unrealistic expectations of the game and that is not fair to the developers. Some simultaneously want an exact copy of Mega Man and a drastic innovation of the series too. Is it a great game, no, but it is a pretty decent one. It has its issues that need addressed and needs some polishing. Just because it is not your own perfect vision of the game, exactly how you would design it, doesn’t make it a terrible game.