One day I really hope a book is written about the making of Mighty No. 9 because I bet there is quite the story to tell here. Most people reading this I’m sure are familiar with the game’s history. The game was launched on Kickstarter in August 2013, and went on to raise almost four million dollars. The Kickstarter campaign came at the perfect time, when legions of Mega Man fans were not happy with the way Capcom was treating the franchise. The idea of a spiritual successor was appealing, to myself as well. I didn’t end up putting any money towards funding the game, but I do remember considering it.
From there, it was as though they made a list of all the worst decisions to make following a successful Kickstarter campaign and proceeded to tick off each item one by one. The game was delayed repeatedly, a separate Kickstarter was run for a different game while this one was still in the midst of a troubled production, there was hostility with the appointed community manager, and the list goes on. Then when the game finally saw the light of day, backers were not given their codes in a timely manner and many that did received ones for the wrong platform or one that flat-out didn’t work. The last I saw, not a single person had received any of their physical rewards either, and my understanding is that Comcept (the company behind the game) has been radio silent on the matter. They did speak up long enough for a developer to state that the game isn’t perfect, but is better than nothing. Add poor reviews on top of all that and you have yourself a Kickstarter debacle.
I admit, the only reason I own a physical copy of Mighty No. 9 is because I pre-ordered it over a year ago and completely forgot about it until I got a shipping notice email letting me know that it was on its way. The price was low and I was curious, so I was not too upset about the surprise. I have now played Mighty No 9 and I can say I feel the terms “disaster” and “trainwreck”, both of which I have seen used on numerous occasions, are an exaggeration (at least for the game itself). Terms like “bland” and “crushingly mediocre” are definitely much more apt.
Mighty No 9 has a story. It is not interesting in the slightest. A scientist created a bunch of robots, each labeled as Mighty No 1-8, and now they are all evil. No 9 has to go through eight stages, in the order the player chooses, and snap each robot out of it and get their power, which can then be used to defeat the other robots. There are cut scenes between each stage and they, wow they do not look good. Everything looks so dull and basic, and the characters don’t even move their mouths when they speak so they all look like slack jawed crazy people. If I’m not mistaken, after the initial Kickstarter, additional funds were sought in order to provide full English voice acting and what we end up with is wooden and consistently poor. It’s hard enough to care about the story as is, but when the voices trying to sell it to you are this dull, the whole narrative doesn’t stand a chance.
The presentation issues aren’t limited to the cut scenes. The art style of this game is just so…blah. I wonder if it has to do with needing the game to run on nearly every video game platform that currently exists, but everything about this is flat and well, boring. I typically don’t like to make statements like this, but this game truly looks like something you would have seen in the initial stages of Xbox Live Arcade. From Beck’s (that’s the main character’s actual name) running animation that doesn’t seem to match his actual speed, to the uninspired character design, to the downright laughable explosion effects (which are used very frequently) there is almost nothing visually appealing here.
In terms of the actual game, it does NOT make a good first impression. I was ready to stop playing right after the first stage. The movement felt slow, the shooting felt bad, enemies were taking way too long to kill and the stage design was bland. I persevered though and once I started to get a better hang on the game’s poorly explained mechanics, I started to appreciate it far more.
The main mechanic here is the dash move, which not only factors into your traversal (moving forward faster and its often necessary to navigate the environment), but into the combat as well. Once an enemy has been shot a number of times, their colour changes and they become dizzy, allowing you to dash through them. This kills them instantly and allows you to absorb their power, which can increase your firepower, speed, etc. I have to say, when you get a good dash run going, it can feel quite good. It’s satisfying to zip your way through a series of enemies, becoming more powerful all the while. The problem is that the stages often didn’t lend themselves well to getting a good chain going, often quickly putting you back in the situation of having to deal with its typically sluggish pace.
The stage select portion of Mega Man is of course one of the most notable elements of the series. Each robot master would grant you a different power and each robot master had a weakness to one of those powers. Finding what ability works best with which boss was always one of my favourite parts of those games. Mighty No 9 attempts that. It has eight stages with eight bosses. Each gives you a power that hypothetically works best against another boss. The problem is, I never really needed to exploit those weaknesses. I employed a similar strategy here that I do with the Mega Man games in that my first go at the boss is always done with the regular weapon as I get a sense of his pattern. When I did that here, almost every time I realized that the regular weapon worked just fine against the boss, sometimes even beating them on the first go. So I never really had to experiment with any of the weapons. Yes, that’s on me as I easily could have done so, but the game never made it seem necessary so I mean, why bother? In fact, the powers as a whole never seemed necessary until one of the last stages, which makes effective use of them. You have to utilize different powers to progress through the level, and it was the only real time it felt like my various abilities were being put to good use. The one nice touch is that if you are in a stage and possess the weapon the boss is vulnerable to, the boss that weapon previously belonged to will show up at some point during the stage and effect it in some way. The stages don’t change in a strong meaningful way, but at the very least it’s a nice, added touch.
That ties into a bigger issue – the stage design. The original Mega Man games had consistently memorable levels. Each one felt unique, tied to its particular robot master in a meaningful way that gave the whole thing a large amount of personality. There are moments and encounters in those games that I remember to this day. Mighty No 9 has none of that. The stages are fine, with a couple that do stand-out. The highlight for me was the Capitol Building stage, whose boss, Countershade, spends the level trying to snipe you down. This requires you to dodge his distant fire as you make your way through the stage. It was one of the last stages I played and was the rare one that had a gimmick to it, something that made it stand out from the others. Most of the other levels feel cobbled together at random, like somebody made them in a Mega Man level editor.
Outside of the main story, there’s also a Challenge Mode which, though I haven’t completed all of the stages, does seem to make decent use of your various powers. Though a run of the early challenges simply has you play through the exact same “Destroy all the Targets” level, but with each individual power. So it’s a mixed bag, but at least it’s there if you want more Mighty No. 9. There’s also a boss rush mode, if you want to play through a run of forgetful boss fights one after another.
That’s a lot of negatives so let me say that I don’t think all of that adds up to make a terrible game. It’s fine, its just so thoroughly fine that I can’t muster up any enthusiasm for it. I can’t say you should play it, but I also can’t say that you shouldn’t. I finished the main story in about 4 hours, didn’t strongly dislike the time I spent with it but also was not unhappy that the credits (which are almost the length of the game itself due to all the Kickstarter backers listed) were rolling. It’s a perfectly fine game that, if it didn’t have the history it does, would likely fade away into obscurity amongst so many other unremarkable digital titles.