Half the battle of making a game is in how you sell it to the general public. Kenji Inafune’s Kickstarter project Mighty No.9 has managed to implement the good and bad ways to do this. Inafune is partly responsible for the long-running Mega Man series, and when he took to Kickstarter to announce he wanted to make a spiritual successor to the 2D platform shooters that feature the little blue android, fans couldn’t throw their money at him fast enough. Mighty No. 9 was then seen as part of a revolution for getting spiritual approximations of old IP back to the roots without the creative stifling of a big publisher.
Games like Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained also followed this trend. Unfortunately for Inafune, things went horribly south in a variety of ways that served to destroy the goodwill built up by the initial promise. The short version is that a mix of delays, requests for investment on a second game, question marks about the presentation, and a final trailer that was nothing short of hideous. Herein lies the problem with this Revolution, if what is delivered is anything less than perfect representation of the initial promise, rightly or wrongly, you’re going to have an angry mob calling you out for it.
The best way to silence that baying mob would be to show that the promise has indeed been delivered, that Mighty No 9 not only stands in the company of Mega Man, but maybe even betters it. Can Inafune’s team do that in spite of a troubled history?
Mighty No.9 begins in a very familiar fashion of course. A mysterious virus has made all robots go a bit cuckoo, all that is except for you, Beck, also known as Mighty No.9, the ninth of an entire set of Mightys. At the behest of his creator, Dr Ligh…White, Beck must stop the rampant chaos caused in this outbreak by destroying all the robots of the world and bringing the rest of the Mightys to their senses by shooting at them a lot until you can ‘cleanse’ them of their sickness. If Mighty No.9 captures anything about the Mega Man series, then it’s the daft plots. You don’t really need much motivation beyond that to be fair.
Obviously, Mega Man has a lot of influence on the setup of Mighty No.9. The presentation is both absolutely on point thematically and absurdly dated to boot. There’s nothing wrong with in-game character movement, as it functions exactly how you’d expect a retro-inspired 2D platformer to and adds a little modern smoothness to it as well. That’s unfortunately Mighty No.9’s only saving grace in presentation terms.
Much was made of the explosions looking like pizza slices, and they are truly incredibly naff-looking explosions. The stilted character conversations and overly-cheesy voice acting is similarly awkward and backwards in one way, but it still has an odd charm to it, like a PS One-era 2D platformer. It releases those nostalgia pheromones for fans who bought into the idea of this being a game out of time, but for everyone else, it just serves to make the game look and feel poorer than it actually is. I don’t doubt the thinking behind it was sound, but it just doesn’t work in the game’s favour. On the plus side, you can change the soundtrack into chiptune and that’s marvelous stuff to put in your ears.
Also harking back to its history is the structure. The structure of every core 2D Mega Man title is a series of levels, playable in any order, with a themed boss character at the the end of each to defeat and gain a power from. Last year, I played through each of the first six Mega Man games and I can tell you that this formula doesn’t get old. Part of the thrill of a first time playthrough in these types of games is in discovering which route to completion best suits you. Plus, when one level isn’t working for you, being able to jump into another does a pretty decent job in stemming the flow of frustration.
Beck also follows type, a helmeted android with an upgradeable gun arm. The one extra trick he does have in his roster is the Dash Attack, which is multi-purpose. Not only does it destroy and absorb enemy robots after you stun them with your arm cannon, it also acts as a jump boost to avoid ground hazards and reach ledges just beyond your normal jump’s parameters. If you time everything right, you can also use it to chain combos together as you stun and absorb the enemy, giving you little shouts of encouragement to cheer you on. Mighty No.9 feels at its most fluid when you’re doing this, but it’ll take a fair bit of practice to keep the flow going without it resulting in Beck’s inevitable destruction.
The game’s controls are fairly simple on paper, but much of your time is spent learning what you can and can’t get away with. The bad part of that? The game isn’t very consistent with inputs and results. There are times that it seems as if the controls and the game world are at war, often second-guessing each other and resulting in needless cheap deaths that have no place in the realm of fair play. Analogue stick movement is a disadvantage for Mighty No. 9, as there’s no proper gradient of response to gauge how far you’ll go in the way a D-pad does. That inconsistency follows into some of the boss fights as well, as at least two of them appear to just pick their moves at random rather than give you an obvious tell or pattern to give you a fighting chance from the off.
It’s like Inafune is overcompensating for that legendary difficulty of the Mega Man games at times. His team has moments that seem to almost distill that classic series perfectly, mainly in some of the platforming, but more often than not there’s a sense of Mighty No.9 being no more than an echo, a memory of what made Mega Man great to begin with. The inclusion of challenges does pad out this package in a somewhat meaningful way, giving you smaller bursts of gameplay that work well to break the monotony of the regular game, but the core fault still remains. This isn’t quite up to the prestige of its heritage.
Take the association out of the picture and you have a fairly decent platformer with some presentation and mechanical issues. As a descendant of Mega Man though? It harms the experience immensely knowing it hasn’t managed to recapture that old magic, and in some aspects falls painfully short of the quality you’d expect.
This will always be the risk with a game funded by the public, especially when it has connections to a beloved series. Anything less than what was promised will just incite disdain for the creator and cause a backlash that could be hard to come back from. Mighty No.9 is never a terrible game. Inafune obviously still does have some spark of what once was, but it does show up all-too-fleetingly in the game’s stages. The biggest crime Mighty No.9 commits is not being as exciting or as interesting as it should be.