Way, way back in 2013, only a few months apart, two games were announced, both with the promise that they would have us reliving the NES golden era of 2D action platformers. The first of those game was Shovel Knight, which while being helmed by a studio with a lot of enthusiasm, was coming from rookie developers who were unproven and inexperienced. It was released in 2014 as a smash hit. It delivered both critically and commercially and left it’s backers satisfied, delivering on all of it’s Kickstarter promises and even giving them more than what they had expected.
The other game, of course, is Mighty No.9, the so called spiritual successor to the beloved Mega Man franchise. Helmed by series creator and veteran of the industry, Keiji Inafune and his studio, Comcept, and with a Kickstarter backing that was more than quadruple that of Shovel Knight, everyone’s hopes were high that this new chapter would reignite everyone’s passion for the 8-bit classics.
These factors are what makes it so sad to admit that Mighty No.9 is nothing more than a generic soulless rendition of a Mega Man game. This unsuccessful attempt to recapture former glory is filled with all sorts of jankiness and design pitfalls that make it feel less like Shovel Knight and more like shovelware.
Mighty No.9’s weaknesses are glaring and come in droves. From it’s mismanaged main mechanics, terrible level design, stale boss battles, dreadful voice acting, incoherent story and uninteresting characters from top to bottom, it fails it’s audience. All of the pieces of an original Mega Man game are misconstrued one way after another and find their way into Mighty No. 9, so stripped of whatever made them exciting and unique in the first place, that they feel more like half thought out nods to the classics rather than a full fledged successor.
Our hero is Beck, who aside from his cross-eyed appearance is supposed to be the second coming of the blue bomber. He, to put it quite frankly, doesn’t come close. Not only does his character model leave much to be desired, he’s also just a flat out annoying character who’s voice acting fluctuates between bad and grating. And while he’s the most notable, he’s far from the only person in the cast that will make you consider playing the game on mute.
When it comes down to the gameplay, there are a few twinkles of what could have been, but never does it feel completely like a Mega Man game. The biggest differentiator from the original games (aside from it’s complete lack of heart and fun put into it) is the introduction of the dash. Beck’s dash attack kills enemies after they’ve taken a few shots. This is distinctly not Mega Man, but actually manages to work in rare bursts when the levels are designed around it. However, when platforming elements, something prominent in the old games are introduced, the dash disrupts the flow of the entire level, which left me feeling more than once like I was banging a round peg in a square hole.
As for the robot masters, nothing new is really happening here, and it’s one area which a simple rehash back to the old game doesn’t really work. The boss themes are stale, with a fire boss, an ice boss and as many trite video game tropes as you can think of. All of who’s powers are too samey-samey and fail to provide any meaningful takes to shake up the gameplay when you equip them. I couldn’t help but ask myself as I restarted stages from the beginning over and over again. Where are the unique bosses with inventive weapons that can change the way you go about stages? All I wanted was Magnet Man, or Quick Man, or even Guts Man, but all we get is tiring video game cliches and dull meaningless abilities that add nothing to an already lifeless adventure.
As far as everything else goes, Mighty No.9 is just a cacophony of busted concepts and unfortunate misadventures. It’s 2.5D art design look straight out of a high school level computer science class, rather than the arm of a iconic game designer. It’s enemies are rehashed from stage to stage giving them no sense of being, as they are reused and worn out. The lack of basic things like lip-syncing leave the already struggling story and voice acting floundering in the dark. And extra features like online leaderboards and challenge modes are something I couldn’t ever recommend touching with a ten-foot pole.
Mighty No.9’s development was a complete disaster so the final product being one as well should come as no shock. But this game will be a stain on the resume of Keiji Inafune, a long heralded purveyor of new and bold games and ideas. It will serve as a warning sign to people who plan to use the crowdfunding model in the future, as how not to treat their backers and give them what the deserve. A game made with heart, hard work and determination of something you love and care about, all of which Mighty No.9 doesn’t begin to even come close to.
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