|Platforms||PC, PS4, XBO (reviewed), Wii U, PS3|
|Release Date||June 24, 2016|
Mighty No.9 is a 2D action platformer that was billed as a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series, by a development team led by Mega Man developer Keiji Inafune. The game stars Beck, the ninth unit in a set of combat robots called Mighty Numbers. After a virus is unleashed upon the world that sends all the robots crazy, including the other eight Mighty Numbers, Beck must fight the rogue ‘bots and figure out who is behind the attack.
Mighty No. 9 is, at this point, probably one of the most infamous Kickstarter campaigns in the history of the platform. I’ve talked about it extensively in the past, and I will probably talk more about it in the future. However I wanted to be upfront – this is a review of Mighty No. 9 the video game, not Mighty No. 9 the Kickstarter campaign. I will be setting aside everything that went on surrounding the development of the game and simply focusing on the game itself.
Mighty No. 9 is a frustratingly difficult game. You’d imagine that’d be the case going in – after all it’s not like Mega Man was a walk in the park. And even without following the games development it’s blatantly obvious that this is trying to be another Mega Man. This game has everything you’d come to expect from a Mega Man game – platforming, shooting, tough boss fights that yield new weapons and abilities – the works. The trouble is that this difficulty is pushed over the edge into blatantly aggravating by some baffling design decisions.
The most obvious is the way Mighty No. 9 simply does not respect your time. For no real reason that I could ascertain, the game comes with a lives system. You get three tries at beating a level and, if you die three times, you must start at the beginning and do it all over again. It’s an incredibly punishing mechanic in a game that was already designed to be challenging, causing you to replay entire levels over and over again if you make the smallest of slip-ups at any point of the game. It doesn’t help that dashing through enemies, which you need to do to finish them off, is haphazard at best. I took so much damage from doing what the game tells me to do – colliding with enemies I’m supposed to be dashing into.
And slip-ups you will make. Getting to boss fights is more dangerous than actually partaking in them, for the most part. For starters enemies and environmental dangers are routinely placed in devious locations, so that the first time you encounter them you will take damage (or be insta-killed). Enemies will bullrush you from offscreen, slamming into you faster than you hope to have a chance to press A and jump out of the way. More often than not they’ll knock you into a spike trap (which will kill you) or an environmental hazard that will hurt you significantly, but not affect enemies in any appreciable way.
When you’re not being constantly blindsided by enemies, it’s actually quite fun to fight them. Levels that focus themselves more on jumping, shooting and dodging the various bad guys are the ones that tend to stand out as memorable. It’s when fighting these enemies and figuring out their attack patterns that you’ll find small pockets of fun in Mighty No. 9. It’s also quite an aggressive game, with Beck needing to soften enemies up by shooting them before dashing through them to finish them off. Though that fun evaporates when you’re making your way back through the level for the tenth time, it’s certainly there on the first couple of runs.
Even the boss fights themselves can be quite enjoyable. Figuring out the attack patterns and fighting around them can be fun. Not all of the boss fights are fun, don’t get me wrong, I’m still scarred from my encounters with Mighty No. 1. And they all heavily lean on the dash mechanic – you need to dash into them after you’ve done a certain amount of damage, but if you’re not quick enough they regenerate all their health. Which is a bloody awful mechanic that needs to die in a fire. And the lives system eventually cripples any of the fun you might be having anyway. Any mistake is heavily punished in Mighty No. 9. It’s incredibly difficulty to learn the rhythms of a boss fight when you’re expected to slog through entire levels to get to them every few deaths. Even Dark Souls has bonfires nearby for God’s sake.
There comes a point in every level where it devolves into a slog, regardless of how much fun you were having when you first started. And that usually happens pretty quickly, thanks to the enforced repetition. While the levels are reasonably well designed (if incredibly bland), the controls can be a nightmare. It’s not there’s anything necessarily wrong with them, but they feel too imprecise for some of the platforming challenges in the game. I lost countless lives simply because Beck refused to grab the edge of a ledge or a ladder I was trying to jump towards.
Mighty No. 9 features the level selection from Mega Man – you can tackle the game in any order you see fit. The idea in Mega Man was to figure out the correct order to actually complete the game – each boss had a weakness, which you needed to figure out, then go kill the boss that dropped the weapon which exploited that weakness. It was a fascinating system, but not one that has been replicated in Mighty No. 9, which is a damn shame. The only value being able to choose your level has is to give you somewhere else to go when you’ve had enough of whatever level you’re on currently. Y’know, before you snap your controller in half.
While you still get new weapons off defeated bosses, they don’t actually make a difference to other boss fights. All bosses can be defeated without special weapons. In fact, Beck’s standard blaster is generally better than the other hard-earned upgrades anyway. Except for Cryo’s weapon, which can freeze enemies. Defeated bosses will help you out in specific levels – for example after defeating Cryo she showed up in another level, but all she did was freeze some turrets that I could have easily dodged anyway. At least the Mighty Numbers are entertaining, in a terrible, B-movie villain kind of way (props to Cryo, who throws out more ice puns than Arnie in Batman & Robin).
It’s a shame that the rest of the characters, the story and the voice acting are all total garbage. I knew I was in for a special time as soon as I saw Mighty No. 9’s opening line – “It is the current year.” After that stunning revelation, the game quickly segues into a Godawful opening segment that sees a Doctor surprised that Beck has an ability that he himself had programmed him with. The opening few minutes set a specific tone that the rest of the game, unfortunately, adheres to very strictly. And while some of the Mighty Numbers are so bad they’re kind of amusing, the rest of the game is simply bad.
The whole game is compounded by hideous visuals. All of the levels, while distinct from one another, look truly terrible. Distractingly so. Everything in the game looks blurry, like it’s in a lower resolution that has been upscaled. The artwork itself is actually really good, and Shinsuke Komaki deserves credit for doing some stellar work with the characters themselves, which makes the ugly visuals even harder to take. Honestly they’re enough to make you cry like…well, you get the idea.
Mighty No. 9 is a mess of a game – too beholden to the past to really contribute anything new or feel fresh in the slightest. It’s biggest problem is video games have moved on from the days of Mega Man, and a lot of its mechanics feel dated. Whereas we’ve had plenty of games released lately that have updated classic genres and franchises with a modern touch, Mighty No. 9 is a relic. There are small pockets of fun to be found in fighting enemies, when the game isn’t asking you to perform precise platforming that its controls cannot support. The rest of the time is spent grinding repetitively through the same bland levels over and over and over again. Mighty No. 9 doesn’t so much test your skill so much as it tests your patience.
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