Mighty No. 9
From the heights of its Kickstarter launch, to its lowest point before launch with an ill-advised trailer – Mighty No. 9 has seen an incredible amount of pre-release drama. When Keiji Inafune set out to make a successor to Mega Man, everyone who grew up with the Blue Bomber lost their minds with glee. His most recent Mega Man-related work included games that didn’t include the core characters – so making something that couldn’t use Mega Man for legal reasons, but could use its core gameplay elements really shouldn’t hurt things at all.
With Capcom not doing much with the jump ‘n shoot genre outside of officially releasing a fangame in Mega Man X Street Fighter, the Kickstarter was a huge success. Mobile games like Jump ‘n Shoot Attack gave fans a Mega Man-looking game, but not something that truly played like Mega Man – and independent releases like Mr. Green and Retro Boy didn’t have the polish that Rock fans wanted. Inafune could surely be counted on to deliver that, right? Well, for the most part – yes.
Blue Jump ‘N Shoot Man has changed – instead of a boy named Rock with a sister named Roll, you’re a robot boy named Beck with a sister named Call. It’s a pretty easy correlation for each and you both blast things from far away. Rock used a slide later on, while Beck dashes. This doesn’t just act as a slide, but also works after you’ve dazed opponents to finish them off also garner more style points. More points equal a higher grade and better play is rewarded with more power-ups. The chaining mechanic is thrilling and something that will allow you to get from point A to B much easier.
Sometimes, it will even mean the difference between life and death – like in the highway stage. This is the home of Brandish, a red and white-clad sword-slasher. He’ll slice up cars that you need to use to move on with the stage, and dashing effectively is the only thing that will save you from an unkind meeting with the pavement. Skilled play doesn’t just feel good, it’s also something that can lead to you earning health boosts or even a health reserve – and you’ll want at least one of those for most boss battles.
Much like the blue bomber’s classic games, you can earn the powers of defeated enemies – and much like Mega Man: Powered Up, the pre- and post-fight cutscenes add a lot to the presentation. Beck will tell his former friends to stop, they’ll say evil things and a battle ensues. After the fight, the reformed enemies will apologize and even work to aid Beck when he explores other stages. This will usually make a stage easier – so if you wind up having trouble with one level, then beat a boss and see what happens. Beating Batallion unlocks his aid for the mining area, where he will blow things up and clear a path for you. His weapon is also the most efficient one to blast through the large chunks of debris in the forced-strolling sections.
One aspect of the presentation that doesn’t work is just how much dialogue is thrown in from the mentor-type characters. Here, you have Dr. Sanda and Dr. White filling similar roles as Dr. Light – only with large dialogue boxes popping up on a fairly regular basis. If they just came up once, and you had to hear about Sanda being afraid of the dark only once, then they would be okay. As it is, you’ll see and hear them every single time you replay a stage – and it can get old quickly. Plus, the boxes are so large that they obscure gameplay and it’s all just distracting. Precision action-platformers require concentration and that is hard to come by with all the interruptions. Occasionally though, this approach will add to the game – like in the sky stage with Avi providing sarcastic commentary over the level. It actually works to make the stage more fun, and adds a touch of charm to the actual boss battle too since it carries over to that section as well.
Visually, Mighty No. 9 is certainly a mixed bag. The art style looks similar to the one used in Powered Up – only instead of a chibi art style, characters have more cartoonish proportions but are mostly rooted in reality. It’s fairly pleasing, but is fairly barren in terms of color. Most stages feature only a few colors, with the water works and sky stages standing out. The former stage also stands out in a bad way due to an early section where you go through murky green water and have a genuinely hard time telling where Beck is – let alone where enemies are in relation to Beck, due to how saturated the screen is. The fairly generic art style doesn’t really evoke anything in particular, and it’s a shame for a game that is meant as a spiritual successor to a franchise that did just that in every incarnation.
The Mega Man classic, X, Zero, and Legends games all stood out – while this looks like a slightly high-budget mobile game. In terms of console power, the Vita, PS3, and PS4 versions all look reasonably similar on the surface. The PS4 version runs the smoothest, while the PS3 suffers from frequent framerate issues. The Vita’s isn’t all that bad – and the colors do pop on the system’s OLED screen. Animations look a bit odd on every platform. Beck can do something Rock never could – hang on ledges, and it looks bizarre with how jittery his animation cycle is while doing so. The graphical shortcomings are disappointing – especially when Mighty Gunvolt gave players an 8-bit Mega Man fix quite some time ago and it wound up feeling more like the blue bomber than this does.
Fortunately, Mighty No. 9’s soundtrack is a joy to listen to – and a chiptune version of the soundtrack is included and works nicely too. It’s a bit of a disconnect to hear chiptunes with a game that doesn’t use sprite art, but it remains something you’ll want to hear. I found myself preferring the more modern music though, as it had more instrumentation in it and had a richer sound. The sound effects are excellent, with satisfying blaster and charge sounds. The voice work is more of a miss than a hit. Cryo and Avi stand out with excellent work that builds up the characters, but everyone else just sounds like a generic character on any kids show you’ve ever seen.
The story of Mighty No. 9 from announcement to release has been a turbulent one, but the final product is a technically good game. It has some rough edges and definitely needs some fine-tuning, but it checks most of the boxes I expect as a Mega Man fan and plays far better than most other games inspired by Mega Man. On consoles, there really isn’t anything that tops it while PC players may want to stick with 20XX – even if this does have better overall level design than that. Mighty No. 9 isn’t perfect, but it is something that anyone who grew up loving any kind of Mega Man game should check out.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a digital copy of Mighty No. 9 for the PlayStation 4 provided by Deep Silver.