If you are feeling nostalgic for Mega Man, dust off your NES or Super Nintendo; Mighty No. 9 is not the spiritual successor we wanted. It may look and play like Mega Man, but Comcept’s robotic doppelganger doesn’t have the heart of Capcom’s Blue Bomber. A sparkless facsimile, Mighty No. 9 never captures the excitement or creativity of Mega Man’s classic exploits.
Keiji Inafune and his development team at Comcept clearly put forth an effort to create a worthy successor. The appreciation this studio has for Mega Man can be seen through every second of play – and that’s where it goes wrong the most. Too much of the content feels recycled, from enemies with shields to weapon designs coming close to being copied wholesale.
Unfortunately, none of the familiar content is as stylistic or lively as it once was. Mega Man’s characters and artwork were consistent and unified; Comcept’s take is largely pedestrian. A few enemy types are imposing and heavily armed – often pushing the player to dispose of them quickly – but a glut of foes mimic ordinary objects like trashcans and filing cabinets. Comcept could have turned anything into a robot – yet opted to go with the menacing trashcan.
Most of the visual content stands in stark contrast to protagonist Beck, a colorfully designed robot boy who just happens to be a hell of a lot of fun to control. Beaming with confidence, Beck has the ability to obliterate everything on the warpath. He can stun his foes, and quickly dash through them to earn bonuses like increased speed, defense, and a shot that penetrate foes for multiple hits. The dash mechanic is finely honed, and can be an absolute blast to use when enemies pose a great challenge, but those moments don’t occur frequently enough in the standard stages.
The level designs temper the excitement, and are largely uneventful until the boss encounter. One stage forces Beck to backtrack through previously conquered zones as he searches for a foe. Oddly, these areas don’t repopulate with enemy encounters, and the whole sequence almost feels broken in design given how empty they end up being. Another stage appears to be designed with the dash mechanic in mind, as huge smokestacks crumble as Beck approaches, except he don’t have to engage them, and can simply stand back and watch them fall. A different level warns of limited visibility in a tunnel, yet it ends up being one of the mostly brightly lit sections in the game. Call, another playable robot, stars in one stage that tries to add an element of stealth to the gameplay mix, and, well, fails miserably at it.
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Not all of the stages or moments within them are bad. Two stages in particular are good fun, but they come far too late in the game – after all of the standard boss stages are cleared. One of these levels forces you to repeatedly dash to stay airborne, a true test of skill. Another has Beck switching to enemy weapons for navigation purposes, producing enjoyable, puzzle-like elements of experimentation. I saw glimmers of greatness here, but they’re often tucked between boring, by-the-numbers sections.
The one thing Comcept absolutely nails is the art of the boss fight. The robotic adversaries that Beck squares off against dish out punishment, and are fun to study and improve against. I defeated most of them by discovering weaknesses to specific weapons (think ice against fire), but I felt like I could take them all down with just my standard blaster. It almost makes me wish Comcept had left out the lackluster levels and made a game consisting of just bosses, because that’s where Mighty No. 9 shines the brightest.
Similar praises cannot be sung of the final boss, which…well…I’ll just come out and say is a spore-spewing plant. Outside of being an appropriately difficult encounter, this foe is so odd in design that it doesn’t feel like a final fight. Given the lack of build up leading into this encounter, I was shocked that the game ended after this conflict. I thought for sure it was a mid-stage boss, and was anticipating another fight or stage after it, but was instead surprised by the rolling of credits.
Don’t even think about playing Mighty No. 9 for narrative reasons. I know Comcept is releasing an anime soon, but this story is terrible. The dialogue made me cringe to the point that the “Hey, it’s supposed to be campy” card cannot be applied. Hardly any of the story break sequences are animated. They feel rushed and incomplete. Any time a cutscene plays, you should just view that as an opportunity to take a bathroom break.
Mighty No. 9 was supposed to be the game that sated our long-starved appetite for a new Mega Man entry, but it instead just made me want to play the old games again. I still think there’s room in the gaming world for a new, classically designed Mega Man experience, but it can’t just be a faceless and creatively sapped clone. Games like Shovel Knight feel more like a spiritual successor than this half-baked misstep.