It's been a long time coming, but Mighty No. 9 has finally launched and players can now take the titular robot on his first big adventure. But does this spiritual successor to the Mega Man series live up to its lineage?
The trickiest part of reviewing Mighty No. 9 is separating the Kickstarter drama, frustrating delays and promotion debacles from the experience of actually playing the game. Letting those aspects guide your purchasing decision is totally justifiable, but they have no place in a critique of the finished product. In other words, if you were looking for a rant rather than a review of the game, you've come to the wrong place.
So what are we left with? The answer is a game that legendary director Keiji Inafune set out to craft into a proper follow-up to his beloved Mega Man series and, you know what? He wasn't too far off the mark. Mighty No. 9 has quite a few shortcomings but, at its heart, it feels like a natural progression of its storied predecessor that, with a bit more time and care, could have been turned into something great.
Mighty No. 9, also known as Beck, can absorb the abilities of other robots (sound familiar?). That comes in handy when all of the world's metallic citizens start going haywire, including the other models in the Mighty No. lineup. There are eight such bosses to track down and absorb and, just like in the Mega Man games, you can tackle those chapters before the big finale in any order you like. They also offer a nice diversity of weapons that help clear certain areas more easily, and juggling them helps keep things fresh.
The trick here is that every robot has a weakness to the ability of another robot (again, a bit of deja' vu), so you'll have to figure out what order to tackle the chapters in on your own. The game actually gives an extremely obvious hint if you're the observant type, or you can just mix and match until you figure things out the hard way.
While all of the Mighty No. robots look great, the worlds they inhabit and their accompanying soundtracks are nowhere near as memorable. That's not to say the platforming layouts are lackluster, as most of the game's 12 main chapters were pretty fun to race through. They're just kind of generic "future world" settings with little to make them feel unique or fleshed out.
The voice acting is Saturday morning cartoon fare, but it feels like that was the mood the team at Comcept was going for anyway, so it's hard to fault the family-friendly banter. Each of the Mighty No. bots at least have a personality and a handful of dialogue scenes that set them apart, even if the world they live in is flat and stale.
I mentioned the soundtrack briefly because that's all it really deserves, especially in a game that's supposed to be a follow-up to a series that's known for having fantastic music. The good news is that you can switch the soundtrack to "retro" at any time, which makes it infinitely more enjoyable.
Mighty No. 9 also offers a nice variety when it comes to the game's difficulty options. Your standard extra lives are two (which is painfully too few when just starting out), but you can crank that all the way up to nine if you want to have more attempts at a level. There are also helpful items peppered throughout each stage and handed out by a companion bot at checkpoints, all of which can be turned off if you want to make things more difficult. And speaking of difficult, you can unlock additional, tough-as-nails modes after besting the game on its normal setting.
The thing that really sets _Mighty No. 9 _apart from its grandfather, though, is the gameplay. You're still running, jumping and shooting your way through tricky sidescrolling levels, but the introduction of a dash move, Beck's absorption powers and a couple of extra special moves make this play like a different beast.
Hit an enemy enough times and it will become "unstable." In that form, you can dash through them to absorb their energy, occasionally granting you stat bonuses (speed, damage, etc.) or even a capsule that restores some of your health. Holding down the right trigger, you can also leap backwards while firing or to get out of harm's way, a move that proved extremely helpful in a couple of boss fights.
That dash, though, is what makes a big difference. At the beginning of the game, I was using it to either absorb powers or get from one platform to the next. The thing to remember is that Mighty No. 9 was made with the speedrunning community in mind. Comcept doesn't want you to simply figure out the best way to get from point A to point B, they want you to do it with your finger hammering on that dash button at all times.
If you do that properly, you'll earn all sorts of score bonuses as you dash through your enemies, rocketing your way to a higher end-level grade and a more respectable position on the leaderboards. While Mighty No. 9 is indeed inspired by Mega Man, it isn't made to be played in exactly the same way, and I think folks who figure that out will get a lot more enjoyment out of the game. Even some of the game's less interesting level layouts seem to be in service to this type of play, but a lack of consistency makes it hard to tell. It's like the team wanted to make a Mega Man game and something almost wholly new and, rather than settle on one, did a bit of both. That, in the long run, hurts the flow.
Fleshing out this discounted package ($30 physical and $20 digital) is a series of challenge missions that offer an assortment of objectives and restrictions to master, as well as online cooperative challenges that are a decent distraction.
While I was bummed to discover that Mighty No. 9 lacked a bit of personality and heart, I also experienced a handful of moments where the framerate plummeted. They weren't game-ruining but, given how basic everything onscreen is, I have no idea why this game can't keep up with the action.
All of that combined, I actually had a pretty good time running through Mighty No. 9. It isn't winning any beauty contests and the framerate issues are baffling, but there are definitely moments that shine through and give us exactly what we've been waiting for these past three years, so long as you're willing to figure out the game's flow. The mechanics are solid; I just wish the rest of the package received as much care and attention.
This review based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Vita, 3DS, PC
Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates
Publisher: Deep Silver
ESRB: Everyone 10+