Reviewing Mighty No. 9
Professional gaming outlets have been unkind in their reviews of Mighty No. 9, and a tinge of frustration or perhaps even anger can often be found in the writing. Frankly, I neither agree with nor even understand most of their criticisms. After the long wait, after the roller coaster ride of enthusiasm, disappointment, and general confusion, Mighty No. 9 is a pretty good game! It is that unique hybrid of Mega Man and Mega Man X that I have been expecting almost all along, and to top things off, the game is budget-priced. I hope this becomes the first in a new continuing series for Comcept and Inti Creates, because while not perfect, it lays the groundwork for some truly excellent sequels just as Mega Man did in 1987.
Fine, the Presentation Sucks
Let’s just get the inarguable criticisms of Mighty No. 9 out of the way now so that I can move on to all the good parts. For starters, yes, the presentation is definitely lacking in places. The game uses (as of the time of its ultimate publication) an outdated game engine, putting its graphics potential behind that of other current games in the first place. On top of that, finishing details are just missing in a lot of places. The cinematics make use of a lot of static character models whose facial expressions often do not even change, for instance. An underwater segment also makes use of a jarring filter that renders absolutely everything needlessly difficult to see. In a nutshell, nobody is going to watch a video of this game and praise the fidelity of its imagery or the believability of its world.
Sloppiness creeps into other places too. On the in-game-DLC level for the boss “Ray,” the developer forgot to remove text that was intended specifically for Ray’s voice actress that tells her to “ad lib” some sounds. Oops. The voice acting and the accompanying text dialogue frequently diverge in minor ways, suggesting someone was feverishly trying to improve the script down to the wire. Unfortunately, while the voice acting is often perfectly fine in its highly campy way, there is no saving the plot from supreme mediocrity. The few human characters, while carefully crafted to evoke the likes of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily without becoming precise analogues, are just completely dull. There really is nothing lost from skipping any and all story sequences, if so chosen.
Fortunately, few people ever played Mega Man for the story, and even fewer played it for the graphics.
But the Action Works!
Almost everything about Mighty No. 9‘s gameplay feels like someone worked hard to remix the more compelling parts of Mega Man and Mega Man X into something fresh, and this alchemy is largely a success. For instance, in the original Mega Man X, defeating bosses in a certain order would cause beneficial changes in the remaining levels. Mighty No. 9 takes an even more practical approach to this concept; when Beck (the player character) defeats a boss, he heals the boss of a sickness that has taken over his or her mind instead of just outright destroying the boss. What this means is that the reformed character will now actively stake out another level for Beck and assist him at staged portions. In practice, it does little to my knowledge to actually alter the gameplay, but it is pretty cool that Beck really feels like just one important member of an ever-growing team. He does not need to shoulder the guilt of destroying his friends the way Mega Man and X do.
Beyond that, Mighty No. 9 does borrow a lot of ideas outright from its Capcom cousins. Beck absorbs a new power from every main level boss he meets; they are the standard bunch, where some powers seem impractical and others seem awesomely overpowered. He has no charged shot, but standard enemies and bosses alike have no invincibility frames after being hit (like in the original Mega Man), which invited me to joyously button-mash the attack button in a way I had not done in years. Button-mashing is not optional in this game either. Bosses have enormous health bars and sometimes Beck’s regular attack is just the best option. (I say that as a glowing positive, by the way.)
However, Beck comes with a dash ability lifted straight out of Mega Man X, except the mechanic is even better now because Beck can air dash as many times as he wants in a row. This makes him extremely agile, even though there are no double jumps or wall jumps. (But there are ledge grabs.) In fact, dashing has been elevated to become the core mechanic of the game. Shooting enemies eventually renders them vulnerable to be destroyed and absorbed by Beck’s dash. You get a bonus to your score depending how fast you absorb vulnerable enemies, and this bonus can be chained by rapidly moving through the stage and dispatching enemies as elegantly as possible. As a result, Mighty No. 9 has practically been designed for speed runs and leaderboard battles, and I found myself always rushing through stages as quickly as I could.
I still died frequently though. Mighty No. 9 is no joke in the difficulty department, even on Normal, the only setting I would brave. On average, it is probably on par with Mega Man 9 and/or 10 in terms of difficulty, or perhaps slightly more difficult. I have read complaints online of people saying the collision detection is poor and that the game is full of cheap deaths–I completely disagree with these assessments. If you know what you are doing, cheap deaths are few and far between (though there is one comically nightmarish spikes segment in the penultimate level of the game that you would never see in a Mega Man release). I likewise can only recall a few segments where collision detection was a problem, but in most cases, once I figured it out, I never had trouble with it again. Besides, the risk/reward mechanism of dashing directly into enemies is part of the game!
The bottom line is that the level design is there. There were several instances where I could see I was playing a game developed by the people who made Mega Man 9 and Mega Man Zero. Yes, not every stage is genius; there is one odd stage that starts out rather cleverly by having the boss stalk Beck with a sniper rifle, but it devolves into Beck just running down the same corridors time and again until you can initiate the boss fight. Most of the time though, the challenge is fair and the platforming is excellent. The last couple levels really demand that you use all of the skills you have developed.
And the Extras Are Nice
There are several assorted extras tacked on to this game, some of which I did not get to explore because I am too cheap and disinterested to play console games online. These include online co-op challenge and online competitive racing modes. There are also single-player challenges, most of which amount to just time attack challenges, but some of them task you with making really expert use of boss weapons. There is one single-player level where you get to play as Call, who is the equivalent of Mega Man‘s Roll. She plays well, but the level itself is short and uninteresting. Still, it has some novelty.
Lastly and most notably is the option via in-game DLC of playing the game entirely as Ray, who controls almost just like Mega Man X‘s Zero and absorbs enemies automatically by destroying them. The difference is that Ray constantly loses health when she is not killing enemies, which makes playing as her extraordinarily difficult, but presumably rewarding in equal measure if you can master her. (I sure cannot.) When you put all of these factors together, it adds up to quite a lot of replay value for a budget-priced game, especially considering that there are additional unlockable difficulties to the main game.
My one last and nagging beef with Mighty No. 9 is not the graphics or lack of polish though. It is strictly the fact that there are only two real levels left to play after completing the eight main boss levels. It should have been at least three, and it probably would have been if this game featured an end-game fight-them-again boss rush the way all Mega Man games do. I honestly do not miss the boss rush (and the accompanying stress) much, but come on, Comcept/Inti Creates–you could have added one more level!
That oversight aside, Mighty No. 9 is a good start for a new franchise. There are plenty of places for improvement, but in my mind this is a great thing if the base product is still worthwhile (and it is). I think a sequel, if made, stands to be awesomely fun.