Mighty No. 9 review

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Wii U, PS Vita, 3DS, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Deep Silver
Developer Comcept USA
Release Date Jun 21, 2016

It seems impossible to separate Mighty No. 9 from the series that birthed it: Mega Man.

From its inception, Mighty No. 9 was pitched as a spiritual successor to Capcom's "Blue Bomber." Keiji Inafune, the Mega Man franchise's most recognizable figurehead, is at the helm of Mighty No. 9. He pledged to take Capcom's well-worn game mechanics and modernize them with the moral and financial support of fans.

Developers Comcept and Inti Creates promised something "fresh and amazing" with their tribute to Mega Man. The final result, however, is a dull, unattractive, unpolished game that does little to improve upon, let alone emulate in a consistently enjoyable way, Mega Man's classic gameplay. Mighty No. 9 is out, available, finally released on a wide variety of platforms, and that, sadly, feels like its greatest accomplishment of all.

I found myself wishing for a simplified weapon wheel menu

Mighty No. 9 puts players in control of Beck, one of nine Mighty robots who compete in the futuristic Battle Coliseum. At some point in the year 20XX, eight of those nine Mighty Numbers go rogue, and Beck, with the aid of his friends and his creator, is tasked with stamping down a robotic revolt.

All of the Mighty Numbers have special gifts, but the modest, good-hearted Beck is the most gifted of all of Dr. White's robots. Like Mega Man, he can steal the powers of the Mighty Numbers that he defeats in battle by absorbing their "Xel." Beck is armed with a simple but useful arm cannon, and after defeating other Mighty Numbers — who shed their evil influence once subdued — he can swap his normal attacks for their special abilities, the likes of which let him explode with flame or lob freezing ice rounds or charge like a bulldozer. Players can cycle through each "transformation" power on-the-fly, and some of Beck's enemies are extremely vulnerable to certain special powers.

Outside of a few boss battles, though, many of those powers don't feel particularly useful — or at least any more useful than Beck's built-in arm cannon. Few of them feel especially fun; I found myself resorting, sometimes with a degree of annoyance, to Beck's most basic attacks to feel effective. Worse, switching between powers is a hassle; I found myself wishing for a simplified weapon wheel menu.

mighty no 9 screen 1

Beck's other main skill is his ability to dash through foes that are partially damaged and disoriented, and this power ties into Mighty No. 9's combo system. When Beck causes a certain amount of damage to a foe, they'll "destabilize" and he can dash through them for a killing blow. Beck will also absorb their Xel and, if the player chains these "aXelerate" kills together quickly, they'll boost Beck's attack damage, speed or health.

The goal is not just to destroy your enemies in Mighty No. 9, but to rapidly chain Beck's attacks and dashes back-to-back. Chaining together these combos is where Mighty No. 9 begins to flirt with something fun; players are rewarded with score multipliers and on-screen accolades when they link dash-kills together. One can see how expert players and speedrunners — those with the patience to withstand repeat plays of Mighty No. 9 — will find some thrills. But there's just not enough here to last over the handful of hours it takes to run through Mighty No. 9.

mighty no 9 screen 2

Like Mega Man games of yore, players can choose from a selection of eight main stages in any order they choose. Some of these are fun, inventive side-scrolling platformer levels, like a stage where Beck must climb to the top of a building under construction while gusts of wind pitch him back and forth. But later stages exhibit poor, frankly baffling level design, one in which Mighty No. 9 forces players to loop through a flat, lifeless hallway for a game of hide-and-seek with an elusive boss.

Mighty No. 9 is bad at teaching the player which threats to avoid. As a result, many of its deaths feel unearned, even if you're knowledgeable of the classic design tricks that injected longevity into classic Mega Man games. The game's worst moments come after suffering through a lifeless segment of shooting and platforming, only to have a crumbling tower or instant-kill energy field kick you back to a distant checkpoint.

Many of the game's deaths are all the worse because its controls feel frequently to blame for failure. Beck moves sluggishly, stiffly; his strange, exaggerated running animation makes him look tired, seemingly weary from shouldering the expectations of Mega Man fans. At least when Beck is dashing, it feels like a split-second of fun shines through, but beyond the combo chaining, there's just not enough interesting about the core gameplay mechanic to overshadow Mighty No. 9's sundry shortcomings.

Those shortcomings are visible throughout, often literally. Mighty No. 9 is not an attractive game. It's barren, bland, devoid of character. One section of an underwater level was so murky and washed out that I momentarily considered that I'd hit a bug: "Did this stage's lighting not load properly?" I thought. Storytelling cutscenes between levels feature dead looking cartoon characters, their mouths locked in one of a few animation frames, exchanging painfully slow exposition. And that dialogue wears increasingly thin after each death, when Mighty Numbers and Beck's creators repeat the same tepid jokes again and again.

mighty no 9 screen 3

Wrap Up:

This feels like an answer to why Capcom isn't making Mega Man games anymore

If nothing else, Mighty No. 9 mostly functions in its role as a reminder of how much we used to love Mega Man games. There are eight enemy robots to battle against, and they look vaguely like (but different enough from) the Robot Masters that Mega Man fans remember fondly from the past three decades. There are kindhearted scientists and brave robot boys and girls who want to rid the world of simple, clearly defined evils. Beck shoots his arm cannon just like Mega Man. He climbs ladders just like Mega Man. Squint your eyes hard enough you might be convinced, for a passing moment, that Mighty No. 9 makes good on its promises. But when you open your eyes, it plays like an answer to the question "Why doesn't Capcom make Mega Man games anymore?"

Mighty No. 9 was reviewed using a pre-release retail PS4 copy provided by Deep Silver. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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