Mighty No. 9 PC Review
Mighty No. 9 is the video game equivalent of the classic “we’re going to Disney land” trope, only to wind up disappointed at the dentist’s office. After over 60,000 backers donated almost 4 million dollars and numerous noteworthy delays culminated in just about 3 years of development work, Mighty No. 9 has been met with a resounding ‘meh’. It promised to be the new Mega Man game fans have been begging for for years but unfortunately falls short of the finish line. Bad dialogue and storyline aside the entire game simply comes off as bland and even frustrating. The characters have no personality outside of their single characteristic prototypical ‘blueprint’. There’s the edgy sword guy, the cool sniper dude, the cooky ice girl, and the angry fire man etc etc. The villains in the Mega Man franchise never even had to speak to show their personality – it was all in the design of their levels, powers, and weaknesses. Giving them a terrible script and awkward voice acting only acts to diminish that.
Combat wise there’s a lot of running, jumping, and shooting, as expected, but an extra amount of dashing this time around due to the ‘absorption’ mechanic. Basically, when an enemy is destroyed they enter a state where they no longer attack but can still hurt you if touched. At this point Beck, the protagonist, must dash through (or nearby) the enemy to absorb their ‘Xel’ energy. The faster it’s absorbed after damaging the villain, the bigger the bonus Beck receives. They can be combo-ed together by absorbing many at once, for a higher score and occasionally some kind of temporary upgrade to speed or damage and so on. I actually rather liked this gimmick in general as it speeds up the pace of combat, except when it comes to bosses. When a boss has lost a quarter of its life bar, only to simultaneously enter absorption mode and start an invincible area of effect attack meaning they re-gain all of the life that the player has managed to whittle down it becomes simply maddening.
On the subject of bosses, there’s also the classic Mega Man boss flow chart appeal, in that defeating each boss allows Beck to transform and use a new attack, which in turn is super effective against another single boss. Although, here the weaknesses of each boss are given to the player if the correct boss transformation has already been unlocked and if the ‘advice’ button is hit on the level select. To be fair this does stop the trial and error that was clearly abundant in the Mega Man franchise, so it was certainly a positive for me. To further help Beck there are bots that distribute power-ups and sometimes extra lives strewn about each stage and always just before a boss fight. It can be fantastic when you need to keep practising against a boss and the one-ups keep rolling in but I honestly still have no idea if they were random or if I had to meet certain score requirements, so make sure to cross your fingers and hope to get lucky when facing those tougher cookies.
One of the biggest let downs of Mighty No. 9 is the abundance of design problems relating to teaching the player and challenging them fairly. There’s a fantastic video here (NSFW), by the popular youtuber; Egoraptor. In the video he speaks about how older Mega Man games were intelligently designed to teach the player not just how to play the game from the get-go but how enemy patterns and upcoming platforming challenges were shown in advance so when the player got hit or died it always felt like a direct result of their skill level and not a cheap shot from the game. Mighty No. 9 goes directly against both of these concepts by spoon-feeding basic controls (even though it never teaches the player how to change powers) and constantly throwing out unseeable off-screen attacks or unpredictable enemy/platforming patterns.
This might not have been so bad if every attack didn’t drain the life bar so much, especially in regards to boss fights, resulting in having to re-play each level around 2-4 times (at which point they have entirely outstayed their welcome) in order to be able to learn each boss’s attacks well enough to avoid them, where possible. Where possible indeed, as a good example of an infuriating attack are the rockets that a particular boss fires, which then rain down from the sky at decent speed, forcing the player to dash dodge back and forth weaving through them, madly. The problem is that there are no markings on the ground to show where the rockets will land and they seem to fall randomly often trapping the player in and basically taking free hits. It’s rare that damage ever feels justified throughout the game and each hit counts, aggravating the player instead of motivating them with challenge.
As far as content goes, there is a fair amount of fun to be had. Besides the basic campaign of 11 stages, there’s a DLC stage unlocking a new playable character and multiple challenge modes including an online race; an odd extra, but nice to have. Although, I believe that’s where the problem lies. The development team had to meet the stretch goals for the Kickstarter backers by including unnecessary extras, such as the Call stage and challenges, instead of focusing on the deeper, subtle game design elements. Whilst Mighty No. 9 certainly looks like it could be a Mega Man-ish game from the outside, it never truly fills that gap. With the lack of tight controls, an honest challenge and the addition of a generic plot and characters we’re left with a totally average action platforming game that promised the world.