Mighty No. 9’s development has seen a journey marred with plenty of controversy. The hugely successful Kickstarter was followed by numerous delays which weren’t helped when Comcept ran a second Kickstarter despite this game not being finished, leading to accusations of mismanagement. A God-awful trailer voice over trying to sell the game didn’t exactly help things either.
With the odds stacked against it though, Mighty No. 9 manages to be a well-meaning ode to Kenji Inafune’s beloved creation, Mega Man, but seems to struggle to establish its own identity.
If you have played any Mega Man game from the past few decades, you’ll know the structure. There’s eight levels, each of which features one of the “Mighty Numbers” (Robot Masters), who have abilities that Beck can absorb after defeating them, culminating in at least two hard stages that use all the abilities in some fashion to progress. It’s a standard template that resonates with Mega Man fans and will do so here.
It even sounds like a Mega Man game when it comes down to the sound, as long as you set the music to Retro in the options menu. It’s not that the music is bad with modern touches, but rather that the music packs more of a punch using the chiptune variants.
The visuals on the other hand look distinctly odd. I’m not going to be so cruel to suggest that they’re PS2 standard, but they don’t look like a giant leap above the likes of MegaMan X8. Cartoony visuals can look charming, but there are details that need to be in there to make things not feel cheap, such as moving mouths when characters talk. Mighty No. 9 sadly has a few such oversights in the visual details during cutscenes and it’s quite jarring, to say the least.
As for the actual game, it’s standard Mega Man affair when it comes to the controls. Beck can blast away at enemies with his arm cannon, but when enough damage is dealt, he can dash into them to absorb their essence. Depending on the colour of the pixels that surround enemies in a stunned state, you’ll then either have the ability to do more damage with shots, run faster, jump higher, or save energy for health recovery items. Dashing also replenishes used energy from the weapons of the other Mighty Numbers.
It certainly livens up dashing, but it’s not too different to control Beck otherwise. It’s not as exciting to pull off dashes to combo enemy takedowns compared to blasting enemies with a charged blast from the latter NES Mega Man games. As a result, those hoping for something intuitive with Mighty No. 9 may be disappointed that the only new mechanic isn’t all that satisfying to use.
Of course, the main focus of these kinds of games is the level design. It’s mostly the standard Mega Man affair, but a nice twist is that if you’ve obtained the ability that a level’s Might Number is weak to from a previous boss, they’ll occasionally interfere with certain hard-to-navigate hazards. This is a neat idea, as the tone seems to be to save enemies rather than destroy them.
While the majority of the levels feel like you’re playing a Mega Man game, there are small moments that are just infuriating. One level has a set of two rotatory saw blades with a small gap underneath, but it’s only after you’ve been killed by them for the first time that the game tells you how to get past them by dashing, and that still doesn’t solve the problem of where to start the dash and how long for. Worse still, this type of obstacle never shows up again, leaving it all feeling a bit contrived as a result. A bot does help with pickups if you die too much, but thankfully this is optional.
Another problem is that the visuals are occasionally shown at an angle that makes knowing where you’re going to land a little difficult. Normally this isn’t a problem as you can compensate for this, but there are occasions where one wrong movement with the slightly floaty dash controls can spell disaster. There’s also quite a bit of slowdown when there’s a lot of activity on screen, however a day one patch should fix those issues.
Much like the original Mega Man games that Mighty No. 9 is based on, there were several times during the game where I wanted to throw my controller at a wall. This wasn’t necessarily because the game is difficult, though it does have its moments, but more that I was missing jumps thanks to the dash being anything but precise. This is especially true in the final two levels where instant deaths are a legitimate threat to a successful run.
As you progress through the game, modes are unlocked such as challenge modes in both single player and coop, races, and eventually a boss rush. Though I wasn’t able to find anyone to play with online prior to release, the single player challenges ranged from tests of mobility through to making the best use of the Mighty Number’s abilities. These, however, are side attractions that add little to the experience.
If you Kickstarted this game, you’ll likely be fairly satisfied with how Mighty No. 9 turned out. However, it’s far from ground breaking in terms of its visual style, has some rather rage inducing sections of the level design, and the dash is imprecise. That said, the majority of the game is fairly fun to play and it certainly captures the spirit of Kenji Inafune’s Mega Man franchise, it just lacks a certain amount of polish.
Version tested: PlayStation 4