The stages, not surprisingly, present you with all sorts of obstacles that try to break that flow, from giant drills of doom to falling buildings. There’s plenty of unique challenges and settings, from a highway to a electrical plant – surely, we’ve seen these in multiple Mega Man games before, and while Mighty No. 9 does recycle these aesthetic conceits, the level design itself remains top notch. It complements the game’s core mechanics in many way, allowing for using diverse techniques, and that’s all you can ask when a game like this forces you to play in the fastest way possible.
It goes without saying that, for the first time, I bothered to use boss weapons outside of a boss’s weakness to something in particular to keep my speed going. Most of them are actually surprisingly useful, with the blade (Mega Man Zero throwback, really), ice weapon, and time-based missiles being the best of the lot. Each one can turn a very difficult combo-section into an absolute breeze, or make quick work of a boss if necessary. The only such problem I had with them is the incredibly clunky interface to change weapons – you uses the left and right bumper buttons on an Xbox 360 controller, and can switch back to the normal attack set on the fly with Y, but it never felt like I had my full arsenal at my command. There’s probably a better way to integrate these moves into Beck’s normal set (like the way Mega Man X4-6 mapped Zero’s special attacks to various directional inputs), but Mighty No. 9 would probably suffer in the speed department if they did this, so it’s probably for the best.
However, if you fail to play in this speedily particular fashion, the game will seem like a frustrating mess. That’s because Mighty No. 9 will subtly encourage the player to mess around with different techniques to keep the flow going as long as possible by placing enemies in awkward combinations which – gasp! – force you to think on the fly. Figuring out the optimal route through a level, without running of lives before the end, is immensely enjoyable. If you want an old school NES game that forces level memorization, then Mighty No. 9 certainly fits as the “spiritual successor” to Mega Man – just in a slightly different way! If you don’t adjust to this particular style of play, and play the game as it demands to be played, you’ll hate it.
The bosses, not surprisingly, become exemplar of this design philosophy. With their elaborate patterns and diverse movesets, each one gives off particular tells to inform you of their next move. If you don’t recognize it early, expect to die. Pyrogen, just for example, gives a lot of players trouble because his second phase (yes, bosses have “phases” in this game) removes the vocal tells of the first part of the fight. That requires you to examine the movements of Pyrogen before he starts charging, and that tips A LOT of players off balance. Again, memorization and patterns form the heart of this experience, and the way that Inti Creates throws veteran Mega Man players (like me!) curve balls speaks to their relative mastery of action-platforming games. Add the fact that progressing bosses through stages requires dashing through them (before they regenerate health!) and boss fights become incredibly tense affairs that require your skill to conquer in any reasonable amount of time.
At heart, then, Mighty No. 9 just appears like a refinement of old concepts done in a new way – and I’m not complaining! There are a few things that dampen the experience, however, and the “2.5D” art style and design remain one of my pet peeves. Simply put, hit detection in these kinds of games almost always demonstrate a “hit or miss” quality to them – what looks like a fine path may lead to your death, and vice versa. Honestly, I can’t really fault Mighty No. 9 for this, since every game like this will retain the same problem in some measure, but it deserves note if you feel the same way. I consider this enough of a problem to knock the game down a full star grade, because it does lead to its own share of frustrations. That said, you can get around it with enough playtime, but I still hate it nonetheless.
The other thing is that Mighty No. 9 exists for a very specific, niche audience, and yet wasn’t marketed that way at all. I can understand the frustration there, but give the game a chance (beyond KICKSTARTER BACKER WHO HATES EVERYTHING), and there’s a very enjoyable core game here. Add in the myriad challenges and co-op functionality brings a surprisingly robust package, especially if you want to strive for higher scores! I got exactly what I wanted – a competent, Inti Creates Mega Man game with a unique twist – and that’s exactly what I got.
Honestly, sometimes video gamers need to just calm down and enjoy a game for what it is, not based on their preconceived notions of what it should be. I don’t claim to be a good game designer by any means – merely a critic – but Mighty No. 9 strikes me as a well-crafted, lovingly-designed creation of a new series that is Mega Man, but not quite. People placed their hope in some far-flung, impossibly hyped-up reality, only for the game itself to fall flat. Perhaps that’s just due to the weight of expectation on the game, rather than the game itself?
Only a few things can really satisfy us, and a video game (whether we Kickstarted it or not) certainly won’t play directly to our heightened expectations. Only God can life us from the doldrums of defeat even in the darkest places. I’m just not sure what Mighty No. 9 meant to so many people that they would react in such a way, but they are clearly looking for help, validation, and love in all the wrong places.
My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will you assail a man,
That you may murder him, all of you,
Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?
4 They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;
They delight in falsehood;
They bless with their mouth,
But inwardly they curse. Selah.
5 My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.