I absolutely love the Mega Man series. It has been a favorite of mine since I was a little kid. While I didn’t stick with many of the later entries, I have many fond memories of playing several of the games in the original, X, and Legends sub-series, and consider a good deal of them to be among my all-time favorite games. When I first heard in 2013 that Mega Man artist/producer Keiji Inafune, after his infamous departure from working at Capcom, was going to create his own spiritual successor to Mega Man, I jumped on it and enthusiastically backed his Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9.
For those not in the know, Mega Man was one of Capcom’s most-beloved franchises during the ’80s and ’90s. Debuting on the Nintendo Entertainment System in late 1987, the original Mega Man was a 2D action-platformer, which stood out amongst its competition for its tight play control, charmingly colorful graphics, and high level of difficulty. Its immediate sequel, Mega Man 2, was a huge success, and from then on, it became an iconic series for Capcom, receiving a total of six separate entries on the NES alone.
After tons of sequels and spinoffs over the coming decades, however, Capcom eventually lost faith in the potential for the Mega Man series to see continued success. Some time after Keiji Inafune left the company in 2010, they unceremoniously canceled the then-in-development titles Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3, to the great disappointment of fans. It was with this feeling of hurt and resentment, and perhaps wanting to “stick it” to Capcom, that Mighty No. 9‘s Kickstarter ended up feeding the fervor which helped it to greatly exceed its stated funding goal.
This, however, is where yet more problems began to rear their ugly head. Plagued by mismanagement, feature creep, misleading statements to backers, and spreading themselves too thin by working on about ten separate versions of the game simultaneously… Inafune’s new company, Comcept, finally released Mighty No. 9 in June 2016, after several previous last-minute delays.
So, now that it is finally out, at long last… was it all worth it in the end? Does Mighty No. 9 live up to its promise of being the Mega Man-quality title that Capcom themselves were not willing to make anymore? Or, does it fall short of what it set out to be?
I received a Steam key of Mighty No. 9 at launch, along with keys for the Ray Expansion and Retro Hero cosmetic DLC. Curiously, the Steam version includes both 32 and 64-bit executable files to run the game with, but the 32-bit exe is what Steam automatically opens up. Considering I’m running Windows 7 64-bit, having the game default to 32-bit was a problem.
In order to be able to launch the 64-bit exe via Steam, I had to go into the game’s Binaries folder (within Steam>steamapps>common>Mighty No. 9>Binaries), delete all of the files in the Win32 folder contained within, then copy & paste their equivalents from the Win64 folder over to the empty Win32 folder. After doing that, Steam became able to launch the 64-bit exe natively. Doing this fix to get the game running in 64-bit mode through Steam seems to prevent achievements from unlocking, however. I don’t understand why the game didn’t release with a launcher upon start-up, to allow the player to choose either the 32 or 64-bit exes to launch the game with, as to their preference.
Upon initially starting the game, none of my controllers were recognized. My Retrode 2 was plugged in at the time, which threw off the game. Unplugging it fixed the issue, and let the game correctly recognize my 360 controller. This is inconvenient, although admittedly it’s a simple fix.
As I began playing the game, I found that the music in-game was oddly quiet. I didn’t really think about it until I had reached the final boss, and thought to myself about how I couldn’t remember a single track from the game, beyond the title screen theme and the level select theme. Then, I realized that I couldn’t even hear them above the voice acting and sound effects.
To fix this audio issue, I had to go to the audio settings and lower the SFX and voice settings more than halfway, while leaving the BGM setting at maximum, and raised my speaker volume high enough to where it felt risky to turn it up so high. After that, I could finally hear background music while playing the game. It was surreal.
It’s really a shame, because Mighty No. 9’s music is amazingly catchy, and deserves to be heard while playing the game (no surprise there, thanks to the involvement of veteran Mega Man composers like Manami Matsumae and Ippo Yamada). I wish it were possible to turn the music up louder without such a convoluted process as that.
…We’re not off to a great start here, folks.
Technical issues like these abound in Mighty No. 9. It’s not an uncommon sight for your character to get caught on the side of a block and stay afloat in midair, or to accidentally break the level’s intended sequence of events and have to go back to the level-select menu to try again. It reeks of a game that was rushed during development and lacked the necessary playtesting and QA to create a fully-functional product. One wonders just how the game could possibly have come out in such a sloppy state.
That said, if you are able to get past all of the technical and presentational problems, and actually start playing the game proper… it’s surprisingly pretty fun. It feels a lot like classic Mega Man, or perhaps more like Mega Man X, thanks to the dash ability. There’s no charge shot however, so having to rapidly press the fire button at enemies feels the same way it did in Mega Man 1–3, as well as 9 and 10. You have both a dash and an air-dash from the first level onward, which on a 360 controller are activated by pressing the right bumper button. They work well, and are easier to activate by default than the slide in the original Mega Man games was.
If done right, you can dash right past obstacles and through enemies as you weaken them. This lets you absorb them, both for points to add to your score, as well as sometimes to pick up temporary boosts to your attack power or speed. These time-sensitive boosts can make or break your run through a level, depending on how effectively you utilize them.
Combined, this all creates an emphasis on rushing through levels as quickly as possible. I personally like this, as the game feels like it knows what it wants to be – a fast-paced side-scroller, with the goal of showcasing levels that are engaging and imminently replayable to try and perfect your times or high scores within, rather than attempting to add replayability by placing random collectible items to find in each area. That could work for some games, but it was the right call to not go that route with Mighty No. 9.
Mega Man‘s weapon-steal ability has always been one of his most defining traits as a video game hero. Mighty No. 9 builds off of that, in that instead of simply changing color and having a different sort of shot per each weapon acquired, he’ll literally swap out his own physical parts with those of the bosses he has defeated. He might obtain the treads of one boss, or the propeller blades of another boss, and replace his legs or his arm with them. This modular approach to special weapon design allows for a wider variety of possible special attacks to be earned as one plays through the game.
The sad thing is, it really did feel like Inafune genuinely wanted to improve the standard Mega Man formula and build on it in ways that he might not have been allowed to do with the actual Mega Man series, had he remained at Capcom. It’s not even like everything surrounding the core gameplay is without merit. Various individual aspects of Mighty No. 9 can be good – maybe even great. The art design has a nice, clean look, and the graphics in-game serve to accentuate speeding through the stages quickly, moreso than they are appealing to look at when divorced from the gameplay.
While you spend the majority of the game playing through stage after stage, there are often cutscenes during and in between levels, which deliver story exposition. Unfortunately, the story is unremarkable. It’s basically a rehash of various themes concerning robotic autonomy, straight from the Mega Man X games, with a little bit of the more optimistic tone of the original series. I get the feeling it’s intended for a younger audience than I’m a part of, however.
The English voice acting, featuring the talent of actors such as Yuri Lowenthal and Steve Blum, is generally of good quality, though sometimes the direction seems off, with characters occasionally speaking in a much calmer or quieter tone than would seem to fit the exaggerated facial expression their character model is making. There’s no lip syncing either. I personally wouldn’t have expected perfect lip syncing from this game, considering the budget and that there’s more than one possible language for the voice acting to be set to, but I would have at least liked to see the characters’ mouths flap open and closed as they spoke, so I wouldn’t just be looking at still faces. The Legends games several decades ago were able to accomplish at least that.
The 3D graphics have seen criticism for their simplistic, occasionally unpolished look. There have been one or two points where I got confused by objects in the background, like in the highway stage, but overall I think the game’s visual design in 3D is reasonable. It’s not exactly a looker in most still screenshots, and certain visual effects like explosions are jarringly crude, but the graphics are simple and generally easy to make out, in a way that works for the benefit of making gameplay that’s (mostly) smooth in execution.
There is some nice attention to detail in places; some enemies that you defeat will aid you in at least one other stage in the game, helping to wipe out particularly tough obstacles in a level while engaging in supportive banter with the main character, Beck. It reminds me a little of how certain levels in Mega Man X would change as you defeated Maverick bosses in that game, such as how Flame Mammoth’s stage would freeze over after beating Chill Penguin, or whatnot… except every one of the main stages in this game has that sort of interconnected reactivity. It’s a nice concept, and it helps the presentation of the story to make you feel like you’re actually working together with your allies as a team, instead of taking on every enemy single-handedly.
Some of the level design I think is great. Of particular note are the Mine and Radio Tower stages, which feature some unexpected obstacles that require players to stay on their toes. I also really liked the Power Plant stage for the most part, though it does unfortunately stand out as the only stage in the game to feature a hint that automatically pops up, detailing how to get by a specific obstacle. It’s as if the designers didn’t trust players to be able to figure it out on their own, given that it shows before one even has time to really react to the obstacle. I feel that if they were that concerned that people might not be able to figure out said obstacle, they could have simply redesigned it in a more intuitive way, rather than having an immersion-breaking text window pop up over the action.
Perhaps the least interesting level in the game, is the Capitol Building level, occupied by the boss Countershade. It’s remarkably tedious to go through. I feel like it has a cool concept behind it (trying to flush out and fight Countershade through a non-linear stage), but in practice, your playtime in that level will consist mostly of running back and forth through repetitive hallways, before Countershade finally grants you access to his boss chamber. Worse yet, there are no checkpoints up until reaching his boss chamber, so if you die right before you would have otherwise gained access to it, you need to start the whole process over. Ridiculous.
As you play through the game, Mighty No. 9 offers unlockable bonus modes to try out, under the EX Mode tab of the main menu. EX Mode contains various extra modes such as a boss rush (unlocked after beating the game), and various individual challenges (both solo and co-op challenges available) to take on, with your best time being uploaded to an online leaderboard. These are pretty neat to have, and help add replay value, assuming one enjoys the game enough to want to check it out.
To sum things up, Mighty No. 9 may not be a modern-day classic, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun playing this, in spite of all its issues. As a Mega Man fan, I did enjoy getting to play a new game with a similar sort of gameplay, which had a solid design backing it… in certain ways. I honestly don’t know if I can recommend this to anyone however, considering the technical issues that are still present in the game as of this writing.
Since there are a bunch of platforms that the game is out on, each with their own individual issues that affect only that specific version, chances are it will take Comcept a lot of time and effort to roll out patches for any single version of the game. As of this writing, the 3DS and Vita versions of Mighty No. 9 haven’t even been publicly unveiled, so I’m not holding out hope for a patch for the existing versions anytime soon. If you are dying for new Mega Man-style action, you’ll find it here, though I urge you to try to temper your expectations going in.
(As stated before, I got both the Retro Hero and Ray Expansion DLC, from backing the game. The Retro Hero DLC changes the main character Beck’s appearance on Maniac difficulty to make him look “8-bit” in theory, though he ends up looking more like a Minecraft character than anything. It’s a cute addition, but non-backers aren’t missing out on much.
The Ray expansion adds a new stage, which is sufficiently challenging, and allows you to unlock Ray as a playable character upon beating it. Ray has incredibly powerful and fast melee attacks, but has the drawback of constantly having her health drain away, which makes dashing through each stage and absorbing every enemy you can an even more important goal, just to survive. The stages themselves remain the same, but with such a different approach to combat, it might be worth picking up, if you finish the main game and find yourself wanting to have more Mighty No. 9 to play.)