After much drama and 14 months of delays, Mighty No. 9 has finally released.
When Mega Man series creator Keiji Inafune and developers Comcept and Inti Creates revealed their Kickstarter campaign, fans around the world simultaneously threw their wallets at their computer screens. The Kickstarter campaign was so successful that it quadrupled Inafune’s requested value. More money means a better game, right? Not necessarily. You’re probably wondering how this stacks up with the Mega Man franchise; allow me to inform you that Mighty No. 9 is inferior to Mega Man in every way. Even in terms of being a 2D platformer, it lacks any style and substance to be a quality game.
The game throws you right into the beginning of the conflict: robots have mysteriously began to riot, interfering with the longstanding peace in America. Beck, a robot known as the titular Mighty No. 9, remains unaffected by whatever controls the other robots. His creator, the afro-haired Professor White, tasks Beck with saving the other robots and determining the cause of the problem. The game presents players with eight stages and a few more appearing after completing the initial eight. Each stage consists of running and gunning through raves of enemies – which feel more like nuisances than genuine threats, mind you – and jumping between platforms until you reach the end boss. Some brief passages allow for fast-paced combos and sprinting from one enemy to the next. These sections are fun, fast, and fluid.
I must admit that the dash mechanic is actually very enjoyable and quick to learn. Essentially, Beck can shoot an enemy until they begin to glow. Beck can then dash through the enemy to absorb their Xels (“cells”), giving him a temporary boost to damage, armour and speed. Keep destroying enemies and absorbing them quickly and you maintain your boosts. It’s an interesting way to both reward the player and motivate them to keep moving quickly. Shooting multiple enemies and dashing through them all at the same time actually feels quite satisfying. It didn’t take me very long to get comfortable with racking up combos and absorbing groups of enemies at a time. Seeing as the dash mechanic is also incorporated into boss fights, you’ll be using it nearly all the time.
It is then puzzling that, on some occasions, the level design interferes with the game’s emphasis on speed. In the Highway stage, go too quickly and you find yourself trapped, waiting for the next vehicle to appear on-screen. Another frustrating aspect of the level design is the game’s liberal use of instant-kill environmental hazards. They appear frequently and in ways that trigger cheap and frustrating deaths. In one situation, I passed through a doorway as a conversation box appeared on the lower part of the screen. I dropped into a pit of spikes that the text box hid, instantly killing me. This does not occur often, but plenty of equally annoying hazards hinder your progress nonetheless. Ladders rest enough away from a wall so that you overshoot them and fall, and there are other similarly glaring issues. Satisfaction from completing challenging levels is ruined when deaths are due to sloppy design.
Unfortunately, poor level design is compounded by the fact that the visuals are remarkably bland. Both the background and foreground lack any meaningful detail to elevate them beyond looking generic. On top of that, you’ll find the same recycled enemies and objects appearing in every level. Animations are also disappointing; for example, in the Oil Platform stage, pillars fall toward you from the background during a speedy chase sequence. The pillars crash into the foreground with an underwhelming lack of impact that left me wanting so much more. That same lack of refinement shows itself in explosions and other visual effects throughout the game. Cutscenes portray character models idly swaying back and forth, talking without any mouth movement. On top of everything, despite the game’s poor visuals, I still encountered frame rate stuttering in the Water Works Bureau stage.
In classic Mega Man fashion, Beck acquires the abilities of the bosses that he defeats. The sword transformation acquired from defeating Brandish deserves an honourable mention as the close-combat slashing makes for a great backup weapon when enemies get too close. However, rarely did I feel the need to deviate from Beck’s default buster weapon. Worth mentioning that the Xel absorption mechanic can be exploited using Cryosphere’s ice gun. Using it increases the amount of time for Beck to absorb enemies at 100% absorption. Cryosphere’s weapon also has less energy consumption than most other Mighty weapons, potentially breaking the game’s absorption mechanic.
In addition to the environments, the majority of characters in Mighty No. 9 are disappointingly soulless. This is, in part, due to the terrible English voice acting. Jason Spisak’s voice performance as Professor White is certainly passable, and there is even a moment where his character shows some interesting depth and hints at a greater underlying plot. Beyond him, most characters are forgettable or just annoying. In mostly prefer English voiceovers, but I found myself switching to the Japanese voice track after a few hours of awful repetitive one-liners. Voices aside, the boss characters you encounter are also disappointingly boring. The fire boss likes to burn things, the ice boss obsesses over terrible ice puns, so on and so forth. Those are only a few of the eight Mighty bosses, but you get the idea.
The main campaign ranges anywhere from three to six hours; challenge missions (solo and online co-op) and an online race battle mode add a small amount of replay value. You can complete most of the challenges in around a minute each, but they are welcome distractions. Race battles have you competing against another player by rushing through one of the main stages. I played against a few opponents and the winner was always decided by who lived longest. I find it hard to believe that players will want to spend much more time playing through the same unoriginal levels from the campaign. DLC allows you to play through the main game as Ray, a melee fighter that slowly loses health when she isn’t absorbing other robots. She’s an interesting change from Beck, but once again, you’re just playing through those same boring stages.
Mighty No. 9 had an incredible amount of potential. The pedigree of talent behind the project justifies fans’ expectations for a platformer that is full of personality and high-quality action. This game has neither of those things; sure, it works, but the game feels completely lifeless. Characters lack the charm and depth that they need to be memorable, and the story is underdeveloped and plain. Platformers require complex and stylish level design to succeed, and Mighty No. 9 fails on both fronts. If you’re looking for a 2D platformer that carries with it the charm and intricate level design of the classics, save yourself some disappointment and go play Shovel Knight instead.