Mighty No. 9 was first pitched to the world in 2013 on Kickstarter, raising four million dollars at the end of its 30 day funding period. Nearly three years later Mighty No. 9 has traversed a rough and winding road and has finally come out….so how did Keiji Inafune’s newest take on the Mega Man styled run and gun platformer shape up? Let’s dash on in and find out!
NOTE: Review is based on the Wii U Version
Minor Spoilers Below
The game’s campaign is centered around our titular lead Mighty No. 9 (also known as Beck) as he travels around America to help stop a robotic rebellion that one day sprang forth. Over the course of the game, Beck will need to work with his creator Dr. White, Dr. Sanda and his creation Call to try to repair Beck’s fellow Mighty Numbers while investigating the cause of the robots malfunctions.
The game is broken up into 12 stages, 1 intro stage which then leads to the classic Mega Man formula where you can choose any member of the Mighty Numbers to combat, before finally leading to a 3 stage ending sequence. Each Mighty Number has their own personality and relationship with Beck, which is best highlighted in the boss fights that players will have to go through. After each Mighty Number battle, Beck helps fix the error that plagues each of the bosses, saving them and returning them back to normal. It’s reminiscent of what Capcom had done previously in Mega Man Powered Up where players weren’t trying to destroy, but to save. When Beck saves them, he gains part of their Xel’s (essentially Xel’s are what makes up robots of this universe), gaining a trademark power for each one. Additionally however, each boss will then proceed to help Beck in a stage where their power has the advantage over the boss. They’ll remove obstacles and providing little moments of interaction between them and Beck, it goes a long way from separating them as just obstacles and giving them actual character.
Beck himself is a pacifist, not wanting to fight but doing so because it’s what he feels is right. It provides a rather simple narrative, and most characters are rather one note. However it fits in with the overall plot progression and never feels convoluted. The one exception to this is Dr. White, who has interesting motivations and ethics that are highlighted as the players progress in the game through cutscenes that occasionally happen to break up the action. The action is carried forward not by a villain (in truth, the game lacks a major antagonist) but instead by circumstance. The one major problem I have with the story is that without a traditional “Dr. Wily”, it makes the end of the game feel rather flat. I was left with little investment to want to defeat the Final Boss and solve the issue.
Besides Beck himself, an included Backer DLC and Retail version bonus (which you can also buy separate) is the ability to play as Mighty No. 0, Ray, after completing a bonus stage with Beck. Ray’s story is kept separate for the most part from what’s going on in the main campaign, as she progresses to figure out who she is while her body slowly degrades and die. The campaign mostly involves monologues from Ray herself, as unlike Beck she has no interactions with any of the characters besides what happens at the end of her campaign. It provided me with little reason to even care about Ray in general as she herself is limited character in scope much like the majority of the cast.
At the end of the day though, the plot itself doesn’t really feel fresh, as it just retreads on ideas used in Mega Man 1 as well as concepts like the Sigma Virus from the Mega Man X series making the experience feel stale, especially for fans of the Mega Man series in general.
The gameplay however is where the game truly makes itself feel fresh. Beck shares little in common with how one would control Mega Man, sharing only a standard gun attack and the ability to slide in small gaps. New to the table is Beck’s AcXelerate dash, which is a technique that he can use multiple times to dash on the air or ground to quickly cover ground, while also being able to absorb enemies using it. In this game, Beck doesn’t just destroy an enemy (though the option is still there) but instead shoots them to the point where they destabilize and turn a certain color. At that point players can dash into them to absorb their Xel’s and gain a small power up in the process (such as Red giving Beck bullets that pierce enemies and are stronger or Green making Beck move faster). It’s very fast pace and feels great to get a large combo going.
Combo’s themselves depend on how you fast you absorb an enemy, right away giving you 100% power, which slowly goes down over time, adding to your overall stage score. For high ranks, you need fast reflexes to chain as many 100%’s as you can. Absorbing enemies also helps restore weapon energy, based on the percentage you absorb. Beck also has a few other techniques he can do, but if you’re just playing through the game chances are you may never know about them, as they’re placed in a hint menu and many are not required to progress in any stage.
This leads me to my biggest gripe with how the game plays: it’s level design. Many stages are filled with obstacles that the game just throws at you, very rarely ever trying to teach you about them first. Worse is the fact that many are one hit kill obstacles, that are far too abundant throughout the games 12 stages. Many even get placed in ways that you have almost no time to react before you’re already dead, where it can often take a life before you even understand what you did wrong. The game also borrows the spike physics of Mega Man 1 where even if you have invincibility like from being hit by an enemy contact will instantly kill you. This creates a sense of frustration that often feels like you didn’t make a mistake but died anyway.
Boss fights on the other hand are generally fairly easy, almost every fight being telegraphed and simple to deal with, even with the default blaster. Even though they are easy, many fights can drag simply due to bosses staying out of range doing nothing or having invincible attacks. Fights for the most part do feel varied well enough and rarely will it feel cheap or unfair with a few exceptions (such as a one hit kill grab from Mighty No. 1 Pyrogen). Boss Xels can also be absorbed using the dash, which will knock off a part of their health bar and push them further to different phases and eventual defeat. The weapons of this game don’t overly trivialize boss encounters though as you’d see in the Mega Man series. Bosses will take more damage or be easier to hit, but it’ll never stun lock them or eat through them before you can see the meat of the encounter.
The weapons themselves are a highlight, each being able to deal with specific situations and none feeling totally worthless. Pyrogen for example can cover a huge area around Beck. Dynatron’s is a perfect mini boss killer. Brandish gives Beck a fast Melee attacks that can cut projectiles and hit enemies that would normally be below his buster fire. Together it’s a kit that works very well, with nothing feeling to overpowered or underpowered. One of the stages also gives you control of Call who unfortunately is a bit of a grating experience. This is because Call is slower and built more for sneaking and evading enemies than the fast paced combat Beck brings.
As mentioned, players can also use Ray after unlocking her, who leads to a very polarizing experience. She’s an absolute blast to play, being a super powerful melee character with her dash ability. This allows her to do damage, making her an unstoppable whirling dervish of destruction. However, she is in essence the ultimate glass cannon, as her story gimmick of slowly dying also transfers to her gameplay–over time her health growing lower and lower as red health that can only be healed by absorbing something. Getting hit however will do not only the damage the attack would do, but also ALL red health accumulated, which can lead to numerous situations where she can die because of a very small mistake, especially in boss fights, where numerous bosses can stall her red health where one touch can equal death, a penalty that feels far too harsh for a character who has to be up close to begin with. Luckily, she’s also able to get boss powers, each one different from what Beck himself gets, which better fits the Kit she’s equipped with and makes her campaign worth playing if you can get by the challenge.
Players can also play in different difficulty levels, some adding new attacks to boss fights. Hardcore players can also tackle Maniac mode which makes it so one touch equals death at all times., Even with that the game doesn’t offer enough to want to replay for better scores in my eyes. Other features include short challenge stages where players complete tasks in a limited time or limited actions (even including co-op where one player can use Beck and the other Call). Additionally an online race mode that pits two players against each other to finish first, being nice minor content to extend the playtime a bit.
Probably the source of the biggest controversy for this game is in its presentation. The game offers bland lifeless graphics that seem in out of place in the Gamecube era, let alone the current gen 2016 market. Colors are dull, effects can range from ok to just down right awful, character expressions go through almost never change even in cutscenes…not even having lip movement to go along with the voice acting. It’d be one thing if the graphics were just bad though but it also fails from a technical point. Constant frame rate chugging and choppy skips which can really hamper the gameplay and even get you killed often. Long load times also plague the Wii U version lasting close to 20 seconds for any transition. It makes the game feel like far more of a chore than it really is, and deaths all the more punishing.
Audio wise the game holds up stronger– the voice acting being for the most part good (though some characters can sound very staggered or down right annoying) and the option to listen in Japanese can help alleviate some of those issues. The music of the game all sounds fairly good, though no song I ever found being caught in my head. Nothing being as memorable as some of the songs the Mega Man series has offered over the years, being forgettable.
Mighty No. 9 will likely go down as one of the most tragic Kickstarter projects for many gamers, never fully realizing the ambition that it showed back when it was first revealed. Even with all it’s technical issues though, the game is fun, controls well, and can lead to great moments of satisfaction. There is a good game here underneath the debris of its negative PR and other issues that for 20 dollars I would recommend. The future of Mighty No. 9 is certainly in a state of doubtful turmoil, but none of its risks ever felt like an error. Establishing a fresh gameplay take on the formula, and the concepts on display here could make a great series for years to come.