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Platform(s): PSN (Wii Ware, XBLA)
Website: Mega Man 9
It’s not entirely clear why Capcom decided to make Mega Man 9 the ultimate in fan service titles. After all Bionic Commando: Rearmed was just as faithful a nostalgia trip despite being a hi-res 2D gaming showpiece. What is crystal clear is that Mega Man 9 is a true title in the series, complete with pixelated graphics and hard as hell precision gameplay. The only evidence of MM9’s modern pedigree is the added extras like download content, ranking system for time trial, and challenges. This may be number 9 in the classic series, but it gives Mega Man 2 (the best Blue Bomber game of them all) a serious run for its money.
I have to admit something here: I may have a personal bias when it comes to this game. I’m of the age where the Mega Man series on NES was a strong presence in my gaming development. So it was a bit strange to load up the game for the first time and get literal chills as the title screen came up. I smiled like child amidst a game of peek-a-boo as the pixilated opening “cutscene” played out, complete with the random continuing text you just don’t see any more.
And then you start playing. There’s been a lot of talk about Mega Man 9 being a hard game. But why doesn’t anyone talk about why that is? I’ve played a lot of difficult games in recent years that ramped up enemies, or handicapped my character, or simply had mediocre camera systems. What sets MM9 apart from just about every game out there is that it’s difficulty is based on a specific set of situations that the player must figure out to be successful. Jumping in Mega Man is beyond what happens in say Uncharted. Modern titles have to push an aesthetic appeal to make them entertaining as a medium, not just a video game. If you were to command Nathan Drake to jump toward a ledge and he just missed and fell to his death you’d be pissed. Instead he grabs on with his hands and pulls himself up. That’s fun, but not because you succeeded in anything other than a general way.
Jumping in Mega Man 9 relies on your ability to perform a pixel perfect act. Fighting enemies is a similar situation. It’s what makes the game so much fun. You have to learn how to play each level and boss. No matter how much experience you have, and I have a ton, with the NES games in the series you still have to relearn everything as you start a stage. The bonus is that eventually you’ll be running through the entire game in 45 minutes. MM9 will likely take you hours upon hours to complete the first time, but the actual game is only as long as an episode of Lost.
The balance of the gameplay is what fans were hoping Capcom could get right. Yeah, 8-bit sprites are fun. The silly master robots make us smile as we remember our youth. But if the game itself doesn’t adhere to the traditional gameplay of the series then this is nothing more than an attempt to get our money for a façade.
MM9 gets it right in just about every way. I was disappointed with the advanced weapons you get from each master robot. There was little variety, and what there was I found only useful against the boss who was hurt most by the weapons. The arm cannon was often my go to weapon even against the masters. On the other hand the stages are all perfectly designed to challenge and frustrate. Just know that when you’re having a hard time with a level it’s because of your own shortcomings. After it kicked my ass with its incredibly difficult jump sections and tendency to throw three different enemies at a time at me I fell in love with Jewel Man’s stage. I spent thirty minutes getting to the Meatwad mini-boss with maybe 5 pixels of energy left. I died a lot, and I cursed even more. At one point I threw my PS3 controller at the chair, went outside and had a beer and smoke, then came back in determined to beat the level. My next try, as you’ve probably guessed, turned out with me going to make a slightly tricky jump and falling into some spikes. I did get past that section a few tries later only to discover some of the most difficult jumping elements in any Mega Man game.
This is a game that you’ll want to master. There are 50 challenges, most of them insanely difficult, and I’ll never forget the first one I received. Playing through Galaxy Man’s stage I opened his door and saw “Speed Metal” come up. Now I knew that I’d gotten through the level pretty quickly, but I was surprised to learn that I never stopped once. Of course I am now compelled to see how fast I can get through each level, which really sucks because I have a lot of other games I’d like to play in the next month. But it really would be nice to shave 20 seconds off my Galaxy Man stage time.
Mega Man 9 is exactly what we asked Capcom for. Not only did they deliver a perfect NES era title, but we get tasty extras like DLC and challenges. For $10 you can’t really beat the gameplay experience of once again donning the blue helmet and blasting through to Dr. Wily’s weird vehicle contraption.