Well over a year on from Comcept’s original launch promise, Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 has finally ascended the throws of development hell for public consumption. These are words that some ardent Kickstarter backers have been waiting to hear for years. With so much patience and many more promises riding on its back, it goes without saying that Mighty No. 9 has always had a lot to live up to.
Though certainly lacking in the overall quality which defined those early Mega Man games, Inafune’s latest project succeeds in providing 8-bit nostalgists a hearty excuse to throttle their worn controllers in a fittingly mighty rage. In spite of some shockingly rough edges, Mighty No. 9 is the niche product that gaming masochists have been clamouring for since mid-2013. Whether said product appeals to many people outside of that niche is an entirely different story.
Mighty No. 9 sees players don the not-so-blue boots of its eponymous robotic protagonist, Beck. In a set up that longtime Inafune fans will be more than familiar with, boy-hero Beck is just one in a sequence of mighty robotic warriors, all of whom are the creation of the brilliant Dr White. Drama immediately sparks, however, when robo-family affiliates one through eight all go rogue – brandishing a new found and murderous contempt for all humanity. And so we begin Inafune’s latest adventure, with no one but Beck (read: Mega Man) left to gallantly put these fearsome AIs back in their rightful, subservient places.
From the off, Mighty No. 9 makes it abundantly clear that a Capcom copyright claim will never be enough to stop Inafune and co. from championing the classic Mega Man mantle. Unfortunately, this does not stop the newly-independent team from missing the mark in some pretty severe ways. For many months now, it has been clear that Mighty No. 9 looks horrendously outdated. Comcept have intimated a shockingly messy lunge into the realm of 3D visual art. Textures are muddy affairs, with sparse backgrounds being a little bit too reminiscent of the NES originals.
Presentation wise, Mighty No. 9 bears all the hallmarks of an unfinished game. The game’s engine will lag infrequently, some levels look wildly better than others, destruction effects are laughably low rent and – on several occasions – the screen will simply fade to black mid-level to magically cut Beck to the next scenario. When it comes to selling this future world, Mighty No. 9 completely flounders. To an embarrassing degree, character animation is almost completely absent from any of Mighty No. 9’s cutscenes. Beck and his cohorts deliver their lines in complete stoicism. It almost has to be seen to be believed – but it’s about as awkward as you could possibly imagine. It would feel like a waste, except for the fact that there is simply nothing compelling about any of Mighty No. 9’s story elements. Characters speak in cheap, cheese-filled cliches, while the story frolics about in the most predictable of ways. This is a story that’s been told since 1987, and it shows wholeheartedly.
All might have been lost, except for the fact that Comcept has struck enough of the mark in the one place where it counts: gameplay. Despite the new look, Mighty No. 9 is still very much an action platformer in the style of old. If you’ve ever so much as dabbled in Mega Man before, you’ll know what to expect: you’ll jump, you’ll shoot and – more likely than not – you’ll die, a hell of a lot. It’s simple, but it satisfies.
Mighty No. 9, however, also comes packaged with one all important shake up: dash absorption. Our protagonist can now finish off every in game opponent via a lighting-quick dash ability. The implementation of this new feature runs satisfyingly deep. Whether it’s platforming, run-and-gunning, or racking up a crazy high score, this new mechanic is essential to just about everything you do. Not only does it feel great to pull off, but graces Beck’s move set with an empowering sense of mobility. This frenetic quality breathes a neat air of newness into Mighty No. 9’s classic proceedings. The dash can even be used to halt bosses mid-attack, provided you get your timing just right. Offering a whole new layer of tactical advantage, getting to grips with this invaluable tool is a large part of the fun of Mighty No. 9.
Proceedings are backed with a stellar soundtrack for players to dash along to. Whether it’s the quietly inspirational chippers of the main theme, or the powerful jives of the Military Base theme, there are plenty of memorable tunes here. Nowhere does that retro-spirit feel alive more than in Mighty No. 9’s exceptional score.
For the most part, Comcept’s control scheme gets the job done. Inputs are tight, offering an adequate platform for tackling Mighty No. 9’s demanding difficulty level. At times, however, mechanics like crouch-dashing can be oddly tricky, while a floaty jump button can occasionally make for some infuriatingly awkward platforming. What this makes for is a control system that, sometimes, is a little too stuck in the past.
For a game whose roots stretch so deep, Mighty No. 9 can feel dishearteningly uninspired at times. Players will quickly find themselves fighting the same enemies over and over again. Worse, not one of Mighty No. 9’s 12 main stages are memorable in any particular way. As you’d expect, you’ll dip through water levels, to fire levels, to air levels, to underground levels and so on – but, visually, all of them manage to blend into the same, muddy whole. Level design isn’t much different. You’ll hop, skip and blast around, but Mighty No. 9 won’t ask you to surmount anything you haven’t already seen in a hundred other action platformers. Even when the game does try to up the ante with some kind of huge, time based hazard, the challenge often feels clumsy, or ill-conceived. One level in particular will have you running down the same tired old-mansion hallway over and over again, blasting the same old villains and careering around the same old obstacles over and over again. At times, play can feel awfully dull – especially if you dash into a cheap hazard and find yourself starting a level all over again.
It doesn’t help that conquering Mighty No. 9’s various stages lacks the progressive oomph that you might expect. As you complete stages, you’ll acquire power ups that grant you new abilities, but the majority of these new toys feel weak and superfluous. For the most part, those looking to get to the end of each stage would do best to stick to Beck’s default blaster cannon. All of this belies the fact that, in spite of all the bells and whistles, there really isn’t much to Mighty No. 9.
But there’s one thing that you can be certain you’ll find in Mighty No. 9, and that’s challenge. In true old school fashion, Mighty No. 9’s enemies are relentless, its checkpoint system is entirely unforgiving and it’s bosses are as hard as nails. With plenty of frustration lying in wait, those who have been chipping away at Inafune’s challenges since the eighties will feel more than at home here. And, for those who really hate themselves, Mighty No. 9 boasts three extra unlockable difficulty levels. Among these is Maniac Mode, or – in other words – get hit once, and it’s game over. For those that want it, it’s clear that there’s enough challenge available here to sap months upon months of your time away. And, with full leader board support galore, you can be certain that surmounting one of these crazy challenges will come fully packaged with heaps upon heaps of glory. A friendly voice-over will even shower you with praise and power-ups every time you pull off a slick play. Add to this solo challenges, boss runs and co-op missions, and you’ll quickly find that Mighty No. 9 tosses you a hundred different ways to prove your might. If you crave a fair challenge, you’ll find that few games demand more from you than Mighty No. 9.
And what would a title that totes itself the “spiritual successor” to Mega Man be without its bosses? Well, the good news is that Mighty No. 9 packs a cadre of formidable foes who, given the opportunity, will tear you apart in an instant. Granted, by dint of Mighty No. 9’s 3D makeover, this cast lacks the clean visual bite of what came before. Some lazy voice work and shoddy writing will make you wish that Comcept left just a little more to the imagination. Gameplay is a different story. Though it is true that not all of Mighty No. 9’s bosses strike home (the dull, repetitive trickery of the tellingly named air villain, Aviator, comes to mind), what we have here is, for the most part, a hearty cast of foils whose spirited attacks will keep you dancing around the stage with sweat lining your palms. What better tribute to the Blue Bomber is there than that?
When you directly compare your game to one of the greatest game series of all time, you have to have a lot of confidence in your product. In many respects, Mighty No. 9 falls unbearably short of this huge benchmark.All it takes is a glance to understand that this is a game strained between the crutches of a tiny budget and overwhelming promise. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Mighty No. 9 then, is that, in spite of all this, it still manages to deliver. Those who know where to look will be able to find lots to love. While, as a whole, the game is scared by a handful of cringe-worthy flaws, core gameplay emerges largely unscathed. Mighty No. 9 is quick, brutal and satisfying in a remarkably painful kind of way. Inafune’s long awaited return to the action platformer market is finally here to satiate the core of what hardcore Mega Man fans have been after for so long.
A Serviceable Retro-Romp
Mighty No. 9 bundles classic gameplay with a fresh enough twist to shine above some severely rough edges.