It’s nearly a week since Mighty No. 9 launched, I’ve just finished my first playthrough, and I’m checking my Trophies to see what silly metachallenges the game still has in store for me. Curiously, my PS4 reports that only 5.2% of players who own the game have beaten it on normal difficultly. That’s an astonishingly low number for a game that can be completed in just 4-5 hours the first time through, and I can’t decide whether players are turned off by the game’s sometimes brutal level of challenge, or by the overwhelmingly negative critical reviews, or by the disconnect between what was promised during the game’s crowdfunding campaign and what was ultimately delivered. Likely, it’s some combination of all three.For my part, I find all the noise a bit baffling. Mighty No. 9 is a far cry from what it could have been, but at the end of the day, it’s still a fun, frenetic updates a formula that was already in need of a refresh when the last 8-bit Mega Man game hit the NES over twenty years ago. As so many (admittedly better) games have proven over the years, all it takes is one small tweak to make something old feel new again: in Super Mario World, it was Yoshi; in Super Metroid, the auto-updating map system. For Mighty No. 9, it’s the dash-and-absorb mechanic. Beck, like Mega Man before him, can still blast enemy robots into oblivion, but it’s more efficient to fire fewer shots, pummeling an enemy until it begins to glow in the effervescence of its own “Xels” — think DNA — then dashing into the enemy, destroying it and absorbing its Xels in the process. Sound complicated? It’s not: simply pop off a few shots, dash, and absorb. This simple mechanic reinvigorates the gameplay in two important ways: as a means of traversal, the dash (which can be performed in the air or on the ground) adds a balletic grace to Beck’s movements, giving high level players near-effortless mastery over their surroundings; as a combat tool, dashing to collect “Xel” allows for stat buffs like enhanced speed and attack strength, and allows players to chain kills for huge point boosts. Beyond that, it’s also a natural extension of Mega Man’s legacy ability of absorbing powers from boss robots (which Beck inherits here as well), and has me wondering why Capcom never implemented this mechanic in any of the Blue Bomber’s classic platformers. This new mechanic is immensely satisfying for me, and I’d be lying if I said I’d had this much fun with any of the post-SNES Mega Man games. Not that I fell in love with Mighty No. 9 immediately; in other ways, it’s a decidedly mixed affair. Its Dreamcast-era polygonal presentation is underwhelming compared to what Comcept originally promised (calling those original concept drawings and demos “bullshots” is the understatement of the decade), though it’d be charming enough if it weren’t for its characters’ dead-eyes and non-animated mouths. Boss designs are pretty fun—particularly Brandish (who reminds me of Zero in the Mega Man X games), Cryosphere (who looks like a cartoony Big Daddy from the BioShock series), and Pyrogen (who somehow reminds me of Gizmoduck from DuckTales, which longtime Capcom fans will appreciate)—but they definitely feel familiar and uninspired when it comes to the implementation of their abilities. Perhaps Inafune and team shouldn’t be criticized for drawing from the same old well—how many times have you seen grass world or a lava world in the Mario games?—but I definitely expected to be surprised a bit more often than I was during my playthrough.
Of all Mighty No. 9’s sins, perhaps the worst is its uneven, sometimes downright mean level design. Often these issues are overcome by trying, trying again, but others should have been ironed out during the initial stage design. One comes to mind immediately: a section designed so poorly that a hint actually pops up on screen telling me how to proceed… with a move that I’ve never been taught before, and rarely ever need to use again. Even once I’d figured out how to proceed, I had to position myself basically in the same space as the instant death obstacle I was trying to get around, and I still had to try three or four times before I got it right. It’s a rough patch in the middle of a stage I otherwise had a ton of fun in, and it could have been easily fixed with proper playtesting… or maybe if the designers had listened to feedback from the countless players who’d complained about the area when it was released in a backer demo last year.These issues aside, Mighty No. 9 gets better every time I play it. Part of it is knowing which bosses are weak to which bosses’ weapons; more than that, I’m just having a blast zipping through stages, slicing through enemies like a hot knife through butter, and seeking out optimal routes for maximum scores and those elusive “S” ranks. Yeah, it’s sometimes an eyesore, and it could’ve used another month or two of playtesting to fix design issues that Comcept had to have known about if they were listening to backer feedback. But man, when Mighty No. 9 is on, it’s really on. This might not be the true Mega Man successor you were hoping for, but dash through all the hoopla and hurt feelings and you might just find yourself having a blast.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Mighty No. 9 is based on final PS4 review code provided to us by Deep Silver. The game launched on Tuesday, June 21st, 2016.