Review: Mighty No.9

Neutral: Mighty No. 9 isn't the greatest game ever, and if it had been rebranded as a Megaman game, likely would have been one of the more lackluster ones. It is however fun, and is surprisingly high quality given all the development issues it ran into.  It might not be saying much, but Mighty No. 9 is far better than Megaman X7. Give Beck a chance.

Review: Mighty No.9
Date published: Jun 28, 2016
2 / 3 stars

Mighty No.9 is a platform shooter developed by Comcept and published by Deep Silver.  The situation surrounding Mighty No. 9's development can best be described as shaky at best. Suffering a number of delays in it's creation, some community issues, as well as Kickstarter backers being displeased with the company's treatment of them, it's somewhat of a miracle the game managed to leave development hell. Boasting a budget of over a few million dollars, it began to seem like the game would never come to light. The first few previews of the game were not favorable, citing frame rate issues, sub par graphics and many game breaking glitches in the beta. The game has finally been released, and within a short time was rumored to be wrecking WiiU consoles. Given all these initial problems, I truly expected Mighty No. 9 to be far more broken than what became of the final outcome.

As it stands, Mighty No. 9 is a frustrating and expensive lesson in game development, that shows that a bigger budget isn't always better. Despite there being no real functional gameplay gripes, the game is fraught with many odd design decisions, ending up in some weird kind of amalgam of the original Rockman games and X. Boasted as being the spiritual successor to the much loved Megaman franchise, people were initially very excited for Mighty No. 9, but as the days went by it became clear that our hopes and dreams were a bit too optimistic, and the game would just become known as being barely competent.

We have done this dance many times before

The story borrows quite heavily from the well known Megaman universe, with Dr White (Light) having created several robots called The Mighty Numbers. All of the Mighty numbers except No.9 have been infected with a virus, and are going haywire (Maverick virus anyone?) and wreaking havoc. Fortunately No.9 (Beck) has been built with the ability to assimilate and defragment other robots' programming routines. As the only Mighty No still functioning, he is charged by Dr White with fixing their programming and bringing them back.

The plot for Mighty No. 9 is very basic, and apart from one or two little surprises, plays out like most Rockman games, and that's just the problem. Mighty No.9 doesn't appear to have an identity of its own, coasting merely on what has become before. There is nothing really groundbreaking or really interesting in the story, up until the introduction of the "Sigma" (avoiding spoilers here) analogue enemy. Before then the exposition is really bland and the dialogue is pretty cringeworthy, regardless what language you're playing the game in. There's an analogue for the Maverick virus from X, there's subtanks, there's a Gutsman style robot, and in true fashion after beating all the Mighty No's (robot masters), there's the Sigma analogue levels. Everything feels very old hat, and the only thing really missing is Dr Wily.

The gameplay is once more an odd mixture of both Rockman and X, incorporating elements of both, and picking some of the worst to utilise. The X Buster isn't present here, something I greatly missied my entire playthrough. You can't charge up your weapon, and there's no wall climbing, apart from designated ledges you can hang off. The dash from the X series is present and you can still cross large ravines using it, with a slight twist. When an enemy is sufficiently damaged they will flash, and give off Xel particles. This is your cue to dash through them and assimilate their code. The benefits of doing this are quite hit and miss. Depending on the colour of the absorbed enemy, you will temporarily acquire an ability. Red boosts buster damage, green boosts speed, yellow increases armor, and blue will fill up your aXcel boost. These aXcel boosts are the game's subtanks, only they're somewhat useless at times.

The first aXcel boost needs to be filled by assimilating blue enemies, while the second one never fills at all. The only times I managed to fill up the second tank was when attempting a stage boss for the tenth or so time. Occasionally the game would take pity on me and drop either an extra life, one of the assimilating abilities, or a refill for the aXcel. Unlike in Rockman however, these subtanks are nowhere near as useful, as when you die you lose all energy stored in it. This can be really frustrating when say facing the final boss of the game, and you're basically playing a game of chance as to whether subtank energy, a life or some far less useful power up will drop before the battle.

Boss powers are back

Each of the 12 stages have a boss for Beck to defeat at the end, and for the first 8 of them, they are weak to one of the other abilities that can be gained from defeating prior bosses. Discovering which ones work isn't always easy, and for all 8, I mainly just stuck with the standard buster. The exception was the end game where you're forced to solve puzzles using Mighty boss skills. The boss fights were somewhat clever, and challenging, but nothing I haven't seen before. I found myself dying constantly, until I figured out the important part of defeating bosses. They heal you see, and once you have damaged them a certain amount, you must dash through them to affect their code and prevent health from regenerating. It's an interesting mechanic, that can also make the game frustrating. If you're too slow to dash through the boss and swipe that code, they heal that segment of hp back.

Levels are as always dotted with instant-death spike traps and unpleasant little puzzles to hinder your progress to the Mighty Boss. Initially the game only gives you three lives to make it to the end, but oddly enough that number can be increased in the menu, without changing the difficulty level. There are little secret paths that reward you with bonus points, and little else. Occasionally a hidden path might yield an extra life or some health, but it's a far cry from the exploration that made the Rockman series so darn great. The levels are standard fare, and won't provide much satisfaction other than the knowledge that you never have to return to it once beaten.

It's only after I had completed levels a few times and had the layout in my head that the game started to become fun, sort of becoming a race against my own clock to see how fast I could clear it. However, first playthroughs of a level can be rather unpleasant with the traps and enemies being harder to deal with than the end boss. Then there's the replay value. Once you've finished the game, there's little to do apart from try and increase your rank on each level, or participate in Ex mode. Ex Mode also feels tacked on, boasting both solo and coop challenges that limit certain abilities Beck has, in an effort to make you run a gauntlet and beat the best time.

Not the most visually impressive title

Graphically, Mighty No.9 isn't great. The textures are massive and out of place, and while the models for characters look okay, the effects just don't seem right. Explosions look kind of like lava, and environment effects are just plain weird, with very little shadow of three dimensional depth to them. Electrical pulses look okay, as do the assimilation effects, apart from those shown at the end of a boss fight. The models aren't incredibly detailed, and while animations in game are fairly smooth, cutscenes can be a bit uncanny valley, with no character's  mouth actually moving as they talk. The whole thing just feels a bit lazy, and like something you'd expect from a fan made Megaman game. Not Keiji Inafune himself.

The game is very bright, and boasts a large array of colours. The frame rate is surprisingly steady at maximum setings, with there only being the ocassional stutter every hour or so of gameplay. Animations during boss fights are quite fluid, though at times the screen can get a bit busy, leading you to lose track of your character. Most boss appearances are unoriginal, borrowing heavily from Rockman pedigree and baring forms similar to enemies of the aforementioned series. The game also has a sort of cel-shaded feel which for me didn't suit the genre, and characters, pulling me out of what little immersion there was.

The audio mix for Mighty no. 9 is peculiar

Mighty No. 9 falls short audibly as well, with lackluster music for each stage. Ranging from soft piano keys to hard and fast pumping, pulsing techno rock, there isn't really a memorable tune in the bunch. the tracks serve their purpose well enough, but you aren't likely to get them stuck in your head and humming songs from the game. There's also an option to change the music to 8 bit renditions of the tracks, but it doesn't serve to lessen the monotony or fix the sound balance. Sound effects trump all in terms of the mix, with voice acting just a bit lower, followed by the really quiet music at the bottom. It's really odd, and serves to show why games similar to Mighty No.9 have previously had no voice acting in the mix.

The voice acting is very hit and miss, regardless what language you play the game in. Japanese is a tad more bearable, but really none of the characters voices suit them, with the exception of maybe Call. Special mention goes to Beck, who is an odd combination of SatAM Sonic The Hedgehog and Robin from Batman TAS. He really gets annoying, and voices his opinion on absolutely everything, from assimilating an enemy, to finishing a level, and even just grabbing a power up. The voice acting is commical, and the dialogue is sub par at best. Even the lines involving voice acting illumni Steve Blum aren't great, but that's more due to the written dialogue than anything.

One important thing of note is that the game tells you to use a gamepad. I myself used an Xbox One controller and had little issues with the controls. The game itself knows that playing using the keyboard can make the game and certain jumps really awkward. I highly suggest using a controller if you've any interest in Mighty No. 9. A weird level near the end of the game involving Call changes the gameplay for a short while, requiring minimal stealth actions in order to acquire all the keycards for an are. The gameplay feels quite clunky and tacked on and the boss fight is easily one of the longest in the game. The whole ordeal completely betrays that it was an afterthought stretch goal from the kickstarter campaign.

All we are saying, is give Beck a chance.

Ultimately, what can be said about Mighty No.9? Well, it tries to combine too many aspects from Megaman games in my opinion, and fails at almost all of them. At times it can be fun, and a few of the later boss fights are quite challenging and imaginative. The final boss in true Megaman style has two forms and is mainly a battle of attrition and finding the right combo of abilities to use. Mighty No.9 is odd. For all its issues and problems, the game is surprisingly functional. It frustrated me to no end on some sections and yet I can't bring myself to hate it.

It's an expensive blueprint that shows the best laid plans don't always go off without a hitch. I would say I had more fun with the game than the sections that frustrated me and while I can't say it's a great game, it somehow manages to capture the feeling of Megaman, without the soul. I'd say give Mighty No. 9 a go when it comes on sale and in the meantime just play the Megaman Legacy Collection. Mighty No. 9 won't change your life, or enrich it in any way, but it's a fun little misunderstood romp to kill a few hours with. I will recommend this to fans of the genre, or anyone interested in the Megaman series of games.

<p><strong>Neutral:</strong> Mighty No. 9 isn't the greatest game ever, and if it had been rebranded as a Megaman game, likely would have been one of the more lackluster ones. It is however fun, and is surprisingly high quality given all the development issues it ran into.  It might not be saying much, but <em>Mighty No. 9</em> is far better than Megaman X7. Give Beck a chance.</p>