Published on August 4th, 2016 | by Sean Warhurst
Mighty No. 9 PS4 Review
Summary: Mighty No. 9 is a game hamstrung by its own hubris. By choosing to rely upon archaic design decisions and outdated level design it fails to achieve the level of success so clearly desired by the developers.
Mighty or not?
We’re a little late to the party with this review of Mighty No. 9 and many of you are probably already aware of the critical lambasting and fan backlash it received upon release. Pitched as a spiritual successor to the much loved Mega Man series and with Keiji Inafune – The mind behind Dead Rising and an illustrator on the early Mega Man games – on board, expectations were high for this to take up the mantle after the Blue Bomber’s series slowly disappeared, seemingly relegated to obscurity by Capcom, who seems content to simply re-release the classic titles rather than working on a new entry.
But is Mighty No. 9 as terrible as some outlets would have you believe? Is it worthy of the high level of derision and scorn that has been heaped upon it since Comcept released it into the wild?
Well… Yes and No.
Funded by one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in recent memory, Mighty No. 9 was held up as the second coming of Mega Man in all but name, borrowing liberally from the formula that made those games such a unique experience whilst updating certain elements for modern times. Ironically, it’s this adherence to some of the defining elements of its inspiration that holds Mighty No. 9 back from achieving its aim.
In essence, Mighty No. 9 is being pulled in two directions – Rigidly conforming to the rock hard challenge of the NES Mega Man games and introducing graphical and gameplay upgrades to make the package more appealing to a modern audience who are used to infinite lives and generous checkpoint systems.
The final result is, unfortunately, a muddled mess of ideas and whilst there is definitely potential to be seen behind Comcept’s approach, juggling too many balls at once has had a detrimental effect upon the overall quality of the game… Yet, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. Mighty No. 9 has a solid foundation that serves to make the experience playable, it’s just that the game rarely rises above acceptable levels and is destined to be viewed as a simply passable gaming experience rather than the shining beacon of hope that many assumed that it would be based upon its creative pedigree.
You take control of Beck who, let’s be honest here, is basically just a reskinned Mega Man. The world has fallen into chaos after the robot population have ostensibly malfunctioned and started attacking the populace. Beck, unaffected by whatever is ailing his fellow robots, is tasked with taking on the Mighties, eight robots who each reside in their own uniquely themed levels.
As was the case with its inspiration, the story is fairly threadbare and serves more as an excuse for the action rather than being a motivating narrative exploration, and this is perfectly okay with me; nobody played the Mega Man games for the plot. Mighty No. 9 actually does a little more with it than the aforementioned series however, injecting a healthy dose of humour into proceedings during the many cutscenes that break up the action… Sure, most of it is corny and hamfisted but at least they tried to give the game a little more personality.
Gameplay wise, Mighty No. 9 is really just an evolution of Mega Man’s key components. You run and shoot enemies with your hand cannon and leap about the place through hazardous environmental obstacles. The biggest difference here is the inclusion of the dash mechanic, which distances itself from the similar move in the Mega Man games by being a key ingredient for success. After weakening his enemies, indicated by a change in their colour, Beck can then dash through them, chaining together attacks for a multiplier bonus and temporarily absorbing certain buffs which can then bolster his strength and attacks.
This mechanic serves as an incentive to play aggressively and string together as many dashing attacks in as quick a time as possible; the longer you wait the weaker the power ups gained will be. After a few runs of a level you can commit enemy placement to memory and pull off some truly satisfying chains, but the downside to this is that multiple playthroughs are necessary in order to take full advantage of the system, which leads into one of Mighty No. 9’s most frustrating features – The trial and error level design.
Simply put, you will be forced to play through each stage multiple times due to the sometimes aggravating and cheap placement of environmental hazards that result in one-hit kills. As you only have three lives before you’re forced to restart the entire level, this can soon prove to be an exercise in frustration. It’s not that it’s hard, it just feels lazy and discouraging to have to replay sections over and over again because of yet another unpredictable instant kill trap hiding just off screen. If you can persevere through each area until you know the layout well then you can speed through for the most part but it is admittedly super frustrating to lose your progress due to sneaky level design.
Just like Mega Man, you can choose to tackle the levels in any order that you want and a handful of the environments are actually pretty dang cool. Climbing up a transmission tower besieged by aggressive winds is pretty exhilarating but these high points are somewhat let down by other stages that come off as bland and too similar to one another, such as the military base and power plant.
When all of the elements come together Mighty No. 9 can be rather enjoyable but all too often one aspect will be undercooked and the rest of the experience suffers as a result.
Which leads us to the boss battles, which I personally consider the high point of the game. After slogging through the levels you’ll come up against one of the Mighties, defeat them and then absorb a weapon from them that can be used to take down another boss with relative ease. This Rock-Paper-Scissors approach was one of the defining characteristics of the Mega Man series so it’s really no surprise to see Inafune bring it back and, for the most part, it still works. Some of the weapons seem a little too overpowered and others seem to cater only for specific situations that only crop up a couple of times but it’s a system that has been effective for years and allows for some experimentation in how you choose to approach the stages in order to discover the optimum path.
The boss battles themselves are frenetic experiences where you must memorise attack patterns and use your blaster and dash attacks to whittle down the heath bar of your foe. These segments are the ones that feel closest to the Mega Man games and are generally pretty fun, although one boss that forces you to basically play hide-and-seek with it can be more than a little aggravating due to the myriad of death traps you have to avoid.
This frustration can be compounded by the collision detection and hitboxes, which aren’t as precise as you’d expect for a title like this. For the most part it’s manageable and the controls are decent enough but at times you’ll find yourself exasperated by the experience as an attack that was nowhere near you still manages to cleave your health-bar in two or when a final last ditch attack will inexplicably miss a boss and leave you open to attack.
Graphics and Audio
Mighty No. 9 isn’t an attractive game. The 2.5D environments look copy and pasted and the character animation is stiff an anachronistic; even the mouths don’t move during cutscenes. This is obviously due to Comcept aiming to release the game on multiple platforms at once and the limitations imposed by this decision is clearly evident in the visuals, particularly when you compare the finished product to the much more polished proof of concept video that accompanied the Kickstarter.
The audio is decent enough, full of goofy voice overs and chirpy music, but like much of the game it barely ever rises above merely being serviceable.
Mighty No. 9 is a game hamstrung by its own hubris. By choosing to rely upon archaic design decisions and outdated level design it fails to achieve the level of success so clearly desired by the developers. The passion behind the project is clear to see, even if one can’t shake the feeling that a few too many shortcuts were taken in order to release on multiple platforms, but the legacy of the Mega Man series looms over the game and it’s unable to pull itself out of its shadow. If Comcept hadn’t so stubbornly adhered to the source of its inspiration and were willing to take more risks with the title then maybe it could have been something really special but at the moment it’s let down by some baffling creative decisions.
However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some fun to be had here. When Mighty No. 9 works it provides a gaming experience that’s as close as you can get to the high points of Mega Man 2, 3, and 4 and the dash mechanic can be pretty fun to use to quickly tear through the environments.
A case of missed potential, I’d still suggest giving Mighty No. 9 a look if you’re a fan of the Mega Man games of old but gamers weaned on modern titles will no doubt quickly become frustrated and chuck the disc back on the shelf before reaching the handful of moments where the gameplay truly shines.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Mighty No. 9 more than I initially thought that I would but its shortcomings are plain to see and the game wallows too much in the realm of the average for the tastes of most gamers.
Primary Format – PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Linux, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, OS X, Wii U
Game Genre – Action – Adventure
Rating – PG
Game Developer – Comcept
Game Publisher – Deep Silver
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst