Mighty No. 9 has had a very strange three year journey from Kickstarter campaign to release, one that I don’t intend to cover here. I find it hard, now that I’ve begun to write about it, to separate the very public development process from the game I finally got to play. However, I do feel it is my job in this situation, to review the game in front of me and not the publicity surrounding it.
Mighty No. 9 is an action-platformer from Comcept, the studio founded by Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune. It’s basically a spiritual successor to Mega Man, but it feels more like someone traced over the blue bomber, added a bunch of stuff on top, and then forgot the original drawing underneath. You do all the basic platforming and shooting you’d expect from a Mega Man title except you can also dash through enemies to temporarily absorb their power to alter your shots. There’s also usually a mini-boss of some kind about halfway through the level, as well as a big boss at the end. Again, just like in Mega Man, each boss gives you a new weapon to use and is weak to a different boss’ weapon, kind of like an 8 way rock-paper-scissors match.
One nice thing they add to the formula is that once you beat a boss, not only is their weapon good against another boss, but they’ll also show up during the stage to help you get through it. This is either by taking out previously unreachable enemies or stopping a stage hazard in a particular section. It’s a cool new element they bring to the Mega Man formula and it’s interesting to see how their personalities change from boss to friendly NPC.
The story is somewhere in there, I’m sure. Your name is Beck, you have a sister named Call, and that’s as far as I paid attention. I honestly couldn’t tell you a single thing more about it because the story is so dull and generic. It’s your basic Mega Man story. A doctor creates a bunch of robots, something goes wrong, eight of them go bad, and hero robot must defeat them to save the day. To be fair, I never paid attention to the story in any of the Mega Man games either, except for bits of the X games, so it’s not really a knock against Mighty No. 9 here. I just don’t play these games for their narratives.
What I do play them for is: tight controls, challenging boss fights, and interesting level design, but Mighty No. 9 has NONE of that. The game just feels bad. Jumping feels somehow sluggish; like Beck floats through the air for a little too long. The unnatural feel makes you never really get a handle for his jump arc, which happens almost immediately in the Mega Man series. Just moving Beck around feels off as well. I never got the feeling that I was totally in control of the character. It sometimes felt like I convinced him to do something close to what I wanted and other times he was fighting against my control. Your dash does feel great when you’re given an area designed to dash through, but touching any enemy or hazard both knocks you out of your dash as well as knocks you back, making dashing an extremely hazardous thing to do. Basically, you end up only ever using the dash to finish off an enemy or for small platforming sections designed for it.
The controls wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the level design wasn’t just as awful. The Mega Man series always had tricky platforming and wasn’t always fair, but at least for the early games I don’t think you could call any of the level designs truly bad. In Mighty No. 9, I don’t think I could name one memorable stage in the game, at least not memorable in a good way. Most of the levels felt like really bad Mario Maker levels, complete with hidden obstacles and death traps that you’ll never spot your first time going through. You have to die, go back to the checkpoint, and hope you make it through the next time. The only stage that I remember well is the one for the boss Cryosphere. That stage is both a terrible water stage and a frustrating ice stage all in one. Remember those controls that I said never really felt right? Throw in slippery platforming and I just about snapped my controller in half before I turned off the game.
That seems to be a running theme for my time with this game actually. I lost track of how many times I either got frustrated at how poorly designed the levels were or how boring the game itself was and turned it off. The first time I quit the game, I didn’t even start actually playing. I was trying to set up my controls and found no such option in the main menu. I found a way to map buttons on the keyboard to buttons on an Xbox controller, but zero explanation of what any of those buttons actually did. So, I shut the game off, waited about 10 minutes to not let my anger affect my opinion of the game, grabbed a controller and hopped back in. I later found out you can remap the controls the way you’d want to, but not until you actually load in to one of your save files. Nothing takes a game from bad to offensively bad quite as quickly as frustrating or terrible menu design.
Visually, the game is a mess and the graphics look very dated. They aren’t necessarily bad, I suppose, but it looks more like an old XBLA game than a game released in 2016 running on the Unreal 3 Engine. In fact, the game looks very visually similar to the 2009 XBLA game ‘Splosion Man. Everything from the graphics to the way the camera switches around during levels seems almost exactly like ‘Splosion Man. The only difference is ‘Splosion Man came out 7 years ago on an engine not nearly as powerful and with nowhere near the budget or talent behind it.
I’m not upset that the visuals and designs have changed so much from the early concept art we were first shown. That’s how game development works. Often times the final product is nothing like the original concept art. The end result here, however, is dull and forgettable. None of the character designs are particularly awful or anything, they’re all just so bland.
Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to like this game and I really wanted to. I’m a huge Mega Man fan and Keiji Inafune seems like a really cool guy. I’m sure he didn’t want to make a game that everyone was gonna’ hate. I’m sure the whole development team tried really hard to make a great game, but the fact is, they failed. You gain absolutely nothing from playing Mighty No. 9. It’s a mess to look at, controls extremely poorly, and isn’t fun to play. I feel bad for Inafune but I hope he can learn from this game and use that in whatever he and the rest of the team at Comcept decide to do next.
My final score for Mighty No. 9 is a Duke Nukem Forever out of 10.
Pros: Previous bosses show up during other stages to help in interesting ways.
Cons: Horrible level design, forgettable characters, bad controls, bland visuals, anger-inducing menu design
Gaming for most of my life, writing for about half. Finally decided to smash the two together to create a wonderfully gory portrait of a gaming journalist. My opinions are usually long-winded, often misinformed, but I'd like to think at least well written.