If you shattered Mighty No. 9 into a million pieces and reassembled it with only the good parts, it would be an awesome game. As it is, it isn’t worth your time.
What Is It?
Mighty No. 9 is a spiritual follow-up to Mega Man, directed by that series’ original creator and developed in part by the team responsible for Mega Man 9 and 10 as well as Azure Striker Gunvolt—all fantastic games. Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 doesn’t live up to that standard.
Structurally, it has everything you would expect from a Mega Man game. As a friendly fighting robot named Beck, you fight the initial eight bosses in any order to absorb their abilities then fight through the big bad guy’s base until the final boss. The combat is also exactly the same as a pre-charge-shot Mega Man game, aside from one major addition—the dash.
Unlike the dash introduced in Mega Man X, which was primarily used as a quick speed boost on the ground, the dash in Might No. 9 is an integral part of the game’s mechanics. After a few shots from the blaster, an enemy will be immobilized. Dashing through an enemy in this state will destroy it and absorb some of its power, which takes the form of temporary stat boosts to speed, defense, or attack. It’s a really fun mechanic that adds a layer of depth to the classic Mega Man formula.
However, the fun core of the game is surrounded by such a thick layer of terrible design that it’s almost impossible to find. And even if you can find it, the other poorly designed elements have seeped into it deeply enough to completely ruin the experience.
Why Should I Care?
If Mighty No. 9 were more focused and refined, it could have been awesome. The extra features seem tacked on and unnecessary. It wasn’t surprising to go to the game’s Kickstarter page and see nearly all of the worst aspects of the game listed as stretch goals. They overcommitted, and it shows.
Weakening enemies and dashing through them at a breakneck pace is really fun, but every level has at least one poorly designed spot that grinds everything to a halt. This is especially frustrating because the scoring system had the potential to take a decent base game to the next level of awesome for players willing to master its mechanics. The developers did exactly that with Azure Striker Gunvolt; the fact that they dropped the ball so hard with Mighty No. 9 is incredibly disappointing.
Even if you’re not looking for high scores, the first run of any level can be infuriating. This isn’t too different from the experience you get from the original Mega Man games, to be honest, but the presentation problems in Mighty No. 9 make it far more frustrating to fail.
When you die in Mighty No. 9, your character weakly disintegrates, and the music keeps playing until the screen fades to a blank loading screen. Instead of encouraging you to try again, it makes you want to quit, especially if you’re playing on an Xbox One or Wii U, where the total time between death and retry is about 20 seconds. The PS4 loads almost twice as fast, while the PC version is nearly instant. Even with good load times, however, the feeling of dying is utterly flat, especially compared to the iconic deaths of Mega Man.
When you kill a boss in Mighty No. 9, you’re required to dash into the boss for the final blow, which could conceivably feel awesome, but again, it’s utterly flat. There’s no sound effect, no impact. The game slows down for a moment before cutting to a lame cutscene of Beck shooting sparkles at the boss until it drops to a knee and says a corny line of thanks for freeing it. Then you get a splash screen of Beck in his new transformation, but it gives absolutely no demonstration of what your new ability does. Rather than being excited (or even disappointed) by gaining a new ability, you just have to shrug and move on to the next level.
Nearly everything about the presentation is terrible. Normally, I wouldn’t really care, as long as the core gameplay made up for it. But the failures of the presentation actually make the game even less fun. I had to turn off the voice acting, crank up the background music, crank down the sound effects, yet the sound balance still seemed off. The actions that should be accompanied by an aural punch are weak, and the music isn’t very good. Plus, Beck’s footsteps aren’t considered sound effects, apparently, because dialing down the sound effects had absolutely no effect on the volume of his footsteps.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
A couple of the levels are well-designed and fun once you’ve gotten comfortable with them. In these levels, I could just make out—in the hazy distance—what a good version of Mighty No. 9 would look like. They nailed the controls, for the most part, the bosses are well-designed, and the abilities are fun to use. As it is, though, it feels like the first draft of a project.
For example, the aforementioned scoring system could have been amazing. The primary means of racking up your base score is to quickly absorb consecutive enemies without touching the ground. When enemies are placed well, which is rare, this can be incredibly satisfying. On top of that, if you manage to dash through an enemy within a tight window after immobilizing it, you’ll get 100% absorption. Chains of 100% absorption form a chain counter; even one 90% absorption will break the chain. At the end of the level, various bonuses are added to your base score, such as time, damage taken, and highest chain combo. However, the penalty to your score for dying is so great that a good ranking basically requires a run with no deaths, but the design of most levels is poor enough that trying to expertly dash through the level maintaining air and chain combos is almost impossible to do without dying.
When I first saw footage of the final game, I thought it looked awesome. All of the reviewers who hated it must have just been bitter Kickstarter backers, right? But I had nothing to do with the Kickstarter, and I even borrowed the game from the library in order to minimize the cost, and I still couldn’t forgive the complete lack of polish.
Also, don’t play the Wii U version. The framerate is sub-30 at most times, it has unforgivable frame drops in which controller commands are lost, and the load times are horrendous. If anything about Mighty No. 9 seems appealing to you, go for the PC or PS4 version if you can. But really, you shouldn’t. Maybe spend $5 on a sale if your curiosity is morbid enough.