What is there left to say about Mighty No. 9? The crowdfunded spiritual successor to Mega Man from Keiji Inafune, one of the producers of Mega Man (though not its creator), has been one of our most talked about games. We’ve followed the game from the launch of its Kickstarter back in 2013, providing commentary as it went from exciting prospect to its unfortunate, underwhelming release.
Given everything surrounding Mighty No. 9 in the past year leading up to its launch day, it would have taken a miracle for it to be anything other than bad. And bad was what we got, with the game releasing to generally poor and mediocre reviews, including ours. When I wrote our review for the game, I specifically made a point that I would only be reviewing the game and not the fiasco that became its development.
That’s because I knew I would inevitably be writing this post.
Mighty No. 9 has become a byword for crowdfunding disaster. It’s next to impossible to start a conversation about it that doesn’t eventually circle back to the events that led to its creation and launch.
At every turn the game was beset by problems of its own making, as it overreached, as feature creep conspired to sink the endeavour before it ever really started, and as the people in charge of making it seemed unable to keep from courting controversy at every turn.
The first red flag that signaled that Mighty No. 9 may have problems can probably be traced back to its own Kickstarter campaign.
After announcing that he would be leading development of a spiritual successor to one of the most beloved franchises in video game history at PAX, Keiji Inafune and Comcept launched the campaign on September 1, 2013. They asked for $900,000 to create what they called Mighty No. 9:
“Mighty No. 9 is an all-new Japanese side-scrolling action game that takes the best aspects of the 8- and 16-bit era classics you know and love, and transforms them with modern tech, fresh mechanics, and fan input into something fresh and amazing!”
The Kickstarter also promised a game featuring six levels, which actually wasn’t enough levels to create a Mega Man-style game that should have featured eight (for the eight other Mighty Numbers). The last two levels were the first stretch goal – if the campaign raised $1.2 million in funding, Comcept would be able to add another two stages to the game, making it a complete experience. It’s these stretch goals that began a long series of problems for the troubled development.
Ask any independent developer and they’ll tell you exactly how difficult it is to launch a game on multiple platforms. There’s a reason a lot of indie games launch first on one platform, then on others at a later date. For $900,000 Comcept promised to release Mighty No. 9 on PC.
As they surpassed that number on their way to raising $4 million, their stretch goals now meant that they would be releasing on an insane number of platforms simultaneously. By the time the Kickstarter had concluded on October 2, 2013, Mighty No. 9 would be releasing on PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
It wasn’t just the expansion to launch on ten platforms, thanks to reaching more than 400% of its original goal, Mighty No. 9’s scope expanded considerably. Instead of the originally planned six levels, there would now be eleven. The game would also launch with six extra modes, extra characters, an extra retro-style soundtrack and FX package, and a making-of documentary would be shot and produced.
They planned to do all of this by April 2015, just 18 months after the Kickstarter concluded.
In hindsight, this should have been the first warning that Mighty No. 9 was perhaps promising more than it could deliver. Although Comcept would later confirm that Vita and 3DS versions of the game would not launch with the others, this was still a monumental undertaking. That was a lot of content to create in a year and a half, and Comcept were not a big studio.
Looking back on the Kickstarter page now, it’s fairly plain to see that alarm bells should have been ringing for all of us back in September 2013. Mighty No. 9 was a development that had clearly spiraled out of control.
However hindsight is 20/20, and at the time we didn’t have much reason to believe that Comcept couldn’t deliver us the game. They had gotten almost $4 million in funding and vastly overshot the amount they needed to make the game. What should have looked like a sign that Mighty No. 9 was too ambitious for its own good merely looked like a game that was going to be even more awesome than we had originally thought.
Everything seemed to be going along fine for 12 months, as Comcept continued to keep backers and fans updated on the progress of development. It wasn’t until October 2014, just over a year after the end of the original campaign, that cracks began to show.
This was the moment that Comcept attempted to crowdfund DLC for its crowdfunded game, one which had yet to be released. In a Kickstarter backer update, Comcept announced that they would create DLC for the game if they received $190,000 from “slacker backers” by the end of 2014 (slacker backers are people who back a crowdfunding project after it has officially ended, usually by donating to a PayPal account):
At the time, some questioned the wisdom and morality of asking for more money for a game that hadn’t yet been released, for even more content. And again, in hindsight this should have been another major indication of the events to come. However quickly scrolling through the comments of the backer update shows that many were simply excited that their game would come with even more content.
The straw that truly broke the camel’s back was the first delay.
It wasn’t so much the delay itself that set off warnings for people, so much as the way Comcept went about it. Mighty No. 9 was officially delayed for the first time on April 28, 2015 – two days before the end of the month the game was due for release. This was despite Keiji Inafune himself declaring the game was “pretty much done” in January.
The delay was blamed on the number of ports that the developer was working on.
Also announced was the news that Mighty No. 9 had found a publisher in Deep Silver. Deep Silver, who publish games such as the Saints Row series, would provide additional funding to the game and also launch it physically at retail. It was now that people began asking questions of the games development, without realising that the shit was well and truly about to hit the fan.
Mighty No. 9 would now be released on September 15, 2015.
On July 4, 2015 Comcept launched another Kickstarter. This was for a brand new game called Red Ash:
“RED ASH is an opportunity to not only fulfill Keiji Inafune’s desire to create a game that pays homage to Japanese animation, but also his vision of “immersing players in a freely explorable anime world.” The RED ASH team is spearheaded by Art Director Kazushi Ito and Director Masahiro Yasuma, key members of the original team that pioneered open world game design with Mega Man Legends. With the RED ASH project, they aim to build an action adventure experience with a new level of freedom, complete with the polish expected from such veteran creators.”
Many people, both backers and non-backers of Mighty No. 9, were quite rightly incensed that Inafune would attempt to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a brand new game before Mighty No. 9 had been released. As July drew on it became increasingly obvious that Red Ash would not meet its funding goal, with many declaring they would absolutely not support a second game until they could play the first.
It didn’t matter. On July 30, 2015 – four days before the Red Ash Kickstarter was about to end in failure, the project was “miraculously” funded by Chinese company Fuze. As it turned out, Comcept had been courting funding from other companies, making many question the need for a Kickstarter campaign at all.
According to Comcept, backers would now be paying for stretch goals as opposed to the game itself, though they refused to reveal what those stretch goals actually were, meaning that backers literally had no idea what they were spending their money on. On August 2, 2015 Comcept was forced to fend off rumours that Mighty No. 9 was to be delayed again, and the campaign for Red Ash failed the next day.
On August 6, 2015 – three days after the failure of Red Ash’s Kickstarter campaign, and four days after denying it, Mighty No. 9 was delayed again. From the wording of the delay, the fact that the news had leaked out the week prior, and the reason given for the delay (bugs in the online leaderboard systems), it seemed obvious that Comcept had been trying to keep the delay quiet until after Red Ash’s Kickstarter
Mighty No. 9 would now launch on an unspecified date in Q1 2016 (which would later be revealed as February 9, 2016).
Then Comcept went quiet. While the Japanese Mighty No. 9 Twitter account continued to actively engage with followers, the English account went into radio silence, as people continued to question the necessity of an online component in the game, the suspect behaviour of the company regarding Red Ash and the delay announcement, and whether or not the game would ever actually see the light of day.
On January 26, 2016 – two weeks before the game was scheduled to be released – Comcept announced the third delay, which they again attributed to “critical networking issues”. At this point I probably don’t need to point out what the reaction to this news was.
Mighty No. 9 would now launch in Spring 2016.
As Spring came and went, and Mighty No. 9 was neither given a release date or actually released, any enthusiasm or goodwill towards the game had evaporated. Nobody was excited for it. Nobody seemed to even have a good word to say about the game. It was a negativity that Comcept had brought on themselves due to their shocking behaviour and blatant disregard for their backers, the fans who had enabled them to develop the game in the first place by giving up their own cash.
It wouldn’t be until May 3, 2016 that Comcept would announce that the game had gone gold and would be releasing on June 21, 2016 (its final release date). Nobody really cared. Few believed them.
Before it launched, however, Mighty No. 9 had one more controversy up its sleeve – the now infamous Masterclass trailer. Aside from insulting their fans (“make the bad guys cry like an Anime fan on Prom night”) it had become apparent that Mighty No. 9 actually looked nothing like the original screenshots and gameplay shown during the initial Kickstarter pitch.
Protagonist Beck, who once looked so detailed, now barely had any features whatsoever. Levels, backgrounds, enemies and more had all been significantly downgraded, leaving many to feel that they had been misled all those years ago. The excitement that so many had felt in September 2013 had now completely turned to outrage.
As it turns out, the game really did launch on June 21. After four delays and fourteen months behind schedule, the game was launched last month. And it was bad. Really bad. Aside from the poor quality of the game, Mighty No. 9 suffered from an array of technical difficulties – DLC broke the game, the game broke Wii U’s, codes weren’t working or had not even been dispatched…the list, depressingly, goes on.
And that’s the story of Mighty No. 9. It seems safe to say that whatever Keiji Inafune does next, it probably won’t be crowdfunded. His once great reputation now lies in tatters thanks to the multi-year disaster that was Mighty No. 9.
Mighty No. 9 has caused a knock-on effect – as people who backed the game, or watched the calamity from a safe distance, have begun swearing off the platform altogether. While I can’t blame anyone who would prefer to avoid crowdfunding thanks to Mighty No. 9, I would urge them to reconsider.
Mighty No. 9 is a warning, perhaps a harsh one, but still a warning. In 2013 we could have seen this coming. As the money kept pouring in, Comcept overreached, and promised a game that any small developer would find impossible to deliver. Anyone who looked at the Kickstarter campaign could have seen this was going to happen (and I say that from a place free from judgement, I didn’t start asking questions of the project myself until a year later).
But Kickstarter has given us Pillars of Eternity.
It’s given us Divinity: Original Sin.
It’s given us Wasteland 2, FTL, The Flame in the Flood, Superhot, Darkest Dungeon, Hand of Fate, Hyper Light Drifter and countless other gems.
The problem isn’t Kickstarter. The problem is developers who promise too much. We all need to be more cautious with the crowdfunding projects we back. Hopefully, as harsh as it sounds, Mighty No. 9 will be a wake up call. For us, to be wary of developers asking for too little or promising too much. And for them, to ensure that they have the means to finish what the start.