Friday, July 15, 2016
Mighty No. 9 - Thoughts
It's difficult finding the words to describe my feelings on Keiji Inafune's Mega Man successor, Mighty No. 9. As a backer of the game and longtime fan of the blue bomber, my expectations for it were sky high with Inti Creates onboard. Gradually that excitement fizzled out as the project was repeatedly delayed, each video of the ongoing alpha builds doing nothing to rouse me. Receiving a lukewarm reception at launch, I didn't quite know what to expect from Rock's estranged cousin, and even after finishing it... I still don't know what to say. If I had to lead with something, it's that Mighty No. 9 is a troubled game.
... That's not to say it's a terrible game. Embittered fans (and foes) of a franchise are often too eager to resort to hyperbole as a means of entertainment, chomping at the bit to watch a game crash and burn. Keiji Inafune also did himself no favors when he boldly attempted to grow the Mighty No. 9 franchise before the game was even released, his business strategy coming across as unchecked arrogance. Comcept having to port the game to ten separate SKUs and implement a plethora of promised features outright crippled development, and the longer the game stayed in development the worse it seemed to age. Stacking these factors together meant the game was ripe for verbal lashings when it was released, with plenty of people gleefully denouncing the folly of both Kickstarter and Inafune alike.
But here's the kicker: Mighty No. 9 is most definitely a Mega Man game at heart. Those that peer at the older titles with rose-tinted glasses may not see the comparison, but the Mega Man franchise has always had its fair share of issues. From the hilariously incremental differences between the NES games to the baffling design decisions that plagued the PlayStation titles, the 2D series has ranged from "pretty good" to "grossly mediocre" (and in X7's case, "an affront to platformers everywhere"). This isn't to excuse Mighty No. 9's problems but rather to illustrate that Comcept's debut is more or less what I would expect from a (non-NESlike) Mega Man game made nowadays, flaws and all.
Of the many problems Mighty No. 9 has, nothing stands out more than its bland visuals. The game looks like a PSP title, complete with stretched textures and pitiful character models. The character art is fine in and of itself, it's just that the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I would've loved for the game to adopt a sprite-based artstyle—especially since Inti Creates is so damn good at it—but luckily after an hour with the game you quickly become numb to the cavalcade of flat, lifeless polygons before you. The only part where I thought to myself "hey this looks alright" was the anteroom before Countershade; every level frankly fails to impress.
The gameplay holds up quite well in comparison. The main mechanic that separates Beck from his inspiration is that he can dash into weakened enemies to absorb them, gaining a temporary boost to one of his stats. It gives the Mighty No. 9 a closer feel to the X series with its focus on dexterity and speed, the pace at which you can clear certain sections of a level being surprisingly satisfying (provided your frame rate remains stable). Level design is alright too—I've seen many lambaste the game for it's terrible stages, but outside of Countershade and Call's missions there's a decent heaping of traps, enemies, and environmental hazards to keep an eye out for. Certain sections in the game are sadly too demanding for a Normal playthrough (crumbling towers in Pyro's stage, the turbines in Dyna's stage, spike sections in each of the penultimate levels), but barring that the game is surprisingly fair and fun.
There's a couple of other things I would also like to remark on—like how I think it's really cool that bosses help you out after you defeat them, and that the final boss is atrociously designed—but my thoughts are so disorganized that I'm trying to hit all the important bits before the end of this entry. I don't think it's a bad game, but I also don't think it's a game that people unaccustomed to Mega Man will enjoy. A legion of tiny issues lie in wait beneath its unremarkable exterior, but there's nothing in there that I would deem game breaking or unforgivable; I lean less "it's boringly mediocre" and more "this game seems to be designed by amateurs". In a way, it's almost more fun to take Mighty No. 9 apart piece by piece and analyze it rather than play it, pointing out where it works best and where it trips and falls flat on its face.
Mighty No. 9's greatest sin is that its sloppiness appears unbefitting of its pedigree. I specifically state appears because the game is actually an oddly balanced blend of both Mega Man (1) and Mega Man X6. There's a promising blueprint here—insofar as it's worthy of its legacy—but the game is spread so thin between all its different modes (four difficulties, two characters, co-op, speedrun, challenge missions) that corners were bound to get cut. If more time was spent refining the core gameplay for a single platform I reckon a lot more people would've been pleased with the outcome of this project—as it stands now it's uh...
... something, I guess.