When I was eight years old, there was only one place I wanted to go after school on Fridays: Gas City. Yes, a gas station. Not that I enjoyed the place or anything… rather, it was what was inside the station that intrigued me. See, back in the 80s, movie and game rental stores were everywhere. Pizza places had their own rental corner, grocery stores had theirs, and yes, even gas stations. The reason I kept going back to Gas City was because they had one game that no other rental store had: Mega Man. I remembered the exhilaration of staying up all night playing the game, and the sadness of having to return it on Sunday. I was never able to find the game for sale, so renting it was my only means of playing it.
I also distinctly remember having a meltdown once at the Record Town in the mall. My birthday had just passed, and my grandma gave me a check. To a small child, that was all the cash in the world. I was at the mall with my family, and we stopped so my dad could look at cassettes. But behind the clerk’s counter, stacked up to the ceiling, were Nintendo games for sale. I remember just staring at the games until one caught my eye: Mega Man 2. I had to have that game, and with a fresh $20 check in my pocket, my young mind figured that was all I needed. My mom had to break the news to me that I couldn’t just hand the check over to the cashier and get the game. Oh man, did I lose it. Here I was, about to own one of the greatest NES games ever made, only to be shot down by something as meaningless as financial insolvency? That did not sit well. Luckily, my mom took me out to cool off while my dad got it as a Christmas present, so all was not lost.
Point being, I’ve been a diehard Mega Man fan for as long as I can remember. Thus, when I heard that the Blue Bomber’s creator, Keiji Inafune, was making a spiritual successor to the franchise that I adore so much, I felt like a kid again. I could not wait until I was able to get my hands on another game, even if it was just Mega Man-ish. With the exception of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, Capcom has been mind-baffling stingy with releasing proper titles for this game. So even though I wasn’t getting an actual Capcom game, I was happy enough to get something similar. Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 is not the robot I was looking for.
Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Version Played), PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates
Genre: Retro-Inspired Side-Scroller
Release Date: June 21, 2016
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Now that I think about it, it’s actually quite amusing that the controversial development of Mighty No. 9 reflects my childhood Mega Man 2 incident. In both instances, there’s a game that I was so excited to play, and that I would do anything to get my hands on. In both instances, fate (or Keiji Inafune) told me that I couldn’t have the game yet. It was as if I was seeing that copy of Mega Man 2 up on the shelf all over again, just ready for me to grasp. And every time I tried to go for it, it kept getting pushed back.
Wow, that’s deep. OK, back to reality.
Mighty No. 9 is, as stated earlier, a spiritual successor to Mega Man. Created by Inafune’s new development studio Comcept, this game was supposed to be everything that fans wanted – and more. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that earned over four million dollars by October 2013, Mighty No. 9 was poised for success. That was two and a half years ago. Unfortunately, mismanagement at Comcept, and having eyes bigger than their stomachs, caused several delays in the game’s production. Inafune wanted to focus beyond the game itself, with comic books, anime, and a live-action movie being planned – all before the game actually released. After the last delay, many lost faith in the game, and felt like it was destined for failure. Now that I finally have the game, I must say that it isn’t bad, but at the same time, it isn’t what it should have been.
Mighty No. 9 borrows heavily from Mega Man, even right down to the story. Robots, initially built to assist mankind, have gone haywire and are causing chaos all across the city. It’s up to the good scientists to send their robot companion, Beck, out to defeat the evil robots and save the world. It’s supposed to be like Mega Man, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Actually, Mighty No. 9’s story is a bit more fleshed out, with cutscenes after each stage to drive the story. There’s also banter at times during gameplay to add some depth. The story is pretty straightforward, and is exactly what I was looking for in the game.
Anyone familiar with Mega Man should know how Mighty No. 9 plays. It’s a side-scrolling run-and-gun, with a battle against one of eight robot bosses at the end of each level. Defeating the bosses allows you to absorb their abilities, which can then power up Beck’s arsenal. Certain weapons are more effective against certain bosses, which is common knowledge to anyone by now. After you defeat the bosses, you go through a gauntlet of super-tough levels in order to reach the game’s main antagonist. Again, it’s a tried-and-true method, and the concept works perfectly. It’s the execution that leaves a lot to be desired.
Mighty No. 9 feels like a Mega Man game; it really does. Beck’s animation, shooting, and perfectly-timed jumps are all made to feel like the classic franchise, and they work. But at the same time, the game feels largely empty, and devoid of any spark or charm that made the original so memorable. Yet, somehow, it also feels rushed, which makes little sense considering the development time. Surprisingly, the graphics are rather bland. This isn’t what we have come to expect from a game with this kind of funding. Additionally, Beck’s weaponry doesn’t seem to be very useful, with the exception of the boss battles. I used very few of the powerups; the rest remained largely forgotten.
The characters also feel rather flat. Beck plays his role as hero with little enthusiasm, and his female companion Call is the same. The scientists are one-dimensional, and a majority of the bosses are forgettable. There are a few exceptions, though. I was a big fan of Avi the deranged traffic copter and Countershade the mysterious sniper, largely due to their voice actors, but they also seemed to be the most original. The others were clichéd characters, with silly one-liners that you would expect to find in a lame cartoon. The music is by no means legendary, but still enjoyable. However, at times, the music and voice acting volumes were at about the same level, leaving it hard for me to understand what was being said. But I guess that’s why we have subtitles…
That’s not to say the game is all bad, mind you. Mighty No. 9 introduces a new dash mechanic, which I rather enjoyed. Enemies aren’t destroyed when shot; they deactivate. When that happens, Beck can dash into them and absorb their essence. Depending on the shade they turn when shot, Beck either temporarily gains a stronger weapon, faster speed, or increased armor, or he builds up an Energy Tank, which can then be used to refill his health. This introduces a new way to play the game, with greater emphasis on speed and articulation as opposed to blasting away at enemies.
I also enjoyed getting help from the robot bosses I had just defeated. If you defeat a boss and then play the stage that said boss’ powerup is used in, the boss that you just healed will jump in at one point in the stage and help you avoid a difficult enemy or environmental hazard. For example, after defeating Dynatron, she appears in Countershade’s level to disable some electric hazards. It’s a nice touch, and makes playing levels in a specific order a lot easier.
Mighty No. 9 is a bit of a disappointment. Granted, there were several issues that plagued the game’s development. From the constant delays, to the over-promising and under-delivering, to trying to live up to such an iconic character, Beck had a tough ladder to climb. It had all the parts needed, but they weren’t put together properly. While it’s playable, and fun at spots, it feels like a two-thirds full Energy Tank. I don’t regret buying the game at $20, but I feel a $10 price point would be a better fit for the game. I really hope Comcept takes the criticisms from the fans to heart for the next Mighty game, because I honestly see potential in the franchise. Until then, though, the truly great game remains on the shelf, barely out of my reach.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Mighty No. 9 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.