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Well, It’s Better Than Nothing

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    Mighty No. 9

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Well, It’s Better Than Nothing

    Mighty No. 9 is a game that was received so disastrously at launch that it would have been reasonable to assume that the developers went to each of their fan’s houses and personally punched all their parents in the face before making their way to the fridge and eating all of the good leftovers. I can’t remember a game that drew more anger from people than this one, and this seems like a good time to remind people that there was a Sonic game a while ago where he tried to hook up with Lacey Chabert. There were plenty of reasons for the angry mob and their even angrier pitchforks, most of which had to do with a Kickstarter campaign that was piloted only slightly better than the Hindenburg. It flopped so hard the Price Is Right losing horn actually plays when you open the game case, and shortly after release I bought this game for $9 in the discount section of Best Buy fully intending to hate it based on what I had read basically everywhere. And, initially, I did. The levels were frustrating, the art design was atrocious, and the voice acting was so bad even deaf people know something is wrong when listening to it. But as I played it more, a weird thing started to happen: I found myself having fun. Now, this isn’t a perfect game by any means and there are plenty of issues that wind up holding it back. Still, of all the games I’ve played this is perhaps the most undeserving of the hate it receives, and is certainly something most Mega Man fans are going to want to check out.

    Things originally started out great for Mighty No. 9. It was headed by Keiji Inafune, producer of several of the later Mega Man games and guy who has been involved with the series since the very first title. They had asked for around $900,000 to get the project funded, and the gaming community responded by giving the team all of the money that ever existed and ever will exist. They were buried in cash, hitting their original target goal in just a couple of days and making nearly $3 million more than they had asked for. People were excited about this project. Like, crazy excited. They had basically said “uh we just kinda just want to make a new Mega Man game” and everyone lost their mind because it turns out the sense of nostalgia in the gaming community is so powerful that scientists are currently studying it as a fuel source for space travel.

    But then the delays started happening, one after another, pushing the initial release date back by over a year. And some unrest was caused by one of the community managers. And the art style turned out less stylized than the initial promise, looking more like something a ten year old with poor motor skills would draw. And then, on top of all of this when the morale in the community had reached its absolute nadir, they announced another Kickstarter campaign for a second game in spite of the fact they still weren’t close to finishing the first. It was a series of mistakes that lead to the very same people that had funded the game to now be in a position where they actively rooted against it. This is where all the hate came from, and it is easy to understand why people were so angry. And yet, absolutely none of this matters when judging the game itself. Luckily, I trust Kickstarter campaigns about the same amount I trust actual snake oil salesmen trying to sell me “wonder elixer not a scam please don’t call the cops”. As such, I am able to assess the game on its own merits and grumpiness at how the game was managed didn’t affect my judgment of the title.

    You play as Beck, better known by his nickname of LEGALLY DISTINCT ENOUGH FROM MEGA MAN PLEASE DON’T SUE. He is totally different from Mega Man though, because he looks like kind of a dork. That is key. Mr. Totally Not Mega Man is in a rough spot when the game opens up, because he gets sucked into the plot of every Mega Man game ever like three seconds in. Beck is the ninth mighty number robot built by a company that builds weird fighting robots for some reason, and thus earns the moniker Mighty No. 9 (naming things is hard for genius robot scientists, apparently). The eight previous Mighty Numbers all lose their mind at once, possibly because someone turned the microwave on in their proximity or possibly because of something much more nefarious. All of the robots in the United States have gone haywire, actually, leaving Beck and one other robot that wasn’t turned on at the time as the only ones that are functioning normally. This is a bit of an issue for a society that has built a bunch of robots with more weaponry than most small countries, and it sounds like this is quickly going to turn into the plot of Terminator. It falls to Beck and his handful of friends to put a stop to the madness, and try to save the rest of the Mighty Numbers from their mystery malady.

    This is one of those games where it would have been better if the story had been cut out entirely. The story scenes here could’ve been removed entirely and replaced with a blank screen for their duration and the game would’ve been significantly improved. They insist on throwing in a story scene every couple of levels, and I have no idea who on staff thought this game needed more plot, but they should be taken out back and forced to listen to Mighty No. 9 dialogue on repeat until their ears bleed. This game needed like one sentence of story, tops. “Hey the robots are doing bad things go stop them.” That’s it. Instead they have these boring characters drone on about things you don’t care about, and it’s like someone keeps interrupting your game with a PowerPoint presentation about friendship just to make sure you aren’t having too much fun. This is a predictable story with awful characters and terrible dialogue, and it is just confusing why the game seems to want to showcase this so badly.

    Part of what makes the story so laughable is the voice acting. The voice acting takes this from “bad” to “memorably bad” territory, and this is the kind of acting you expect from a direct to DVD movie that Walmart forces shoplifters to take home as punishment. I’m not convinced any of these people did any voice acting in the past. Hell, I’m not convinced these people spoke English before this, because if they had they should’ve known how absolutely terrible this all was. Picking out a least favorite here is a bit like picking out a least favorite venereal disease, and at a certain point maybe we can just agree they’re all terrible and leave it at that. But I suppose the guy who plays Mighty No. 1 a.k.a. Pyro a.k.a. the one that is on fire a.k.a. Grunty McThroaty Lozenge stands out as pretty egregiously bad. I would suggest that we come together as a community and ban him from further voice acting, but I feel like that really isn’t much of a concern after hearing this performance. It’d be like starting a petition for banning your arthritic grandmother from playing in the NBA, and when someone is so bad at something usually it isn’t that hard to keep them out. It is just bizarre how bad the voice acting is in this game, and it makes it feel like this is some terrible amateur production.

    While we’re talking about “amateurish”, it is probably a good time to bring up the visuals. The artwork they used to pitch this game on the Kickstarter was beautiful and stylized, and while it was safe to assume they wouldn’t be able to make the entire game look that good, people had hoped for at least a reasonable facsimile. This isn’t even that, though. This is like what happens when you steal the Mona Lisa and try force five-year-olds to fingerpaint their best approximation of it in an hour because you’re planning to hang that up before someone notices it was stolen. It doesn’t even look finished at times. There is this weird white glow around some of the characters and it looks like whoever was in charge of shading died about halfway through and they didn’t notice until it was time to ship the game. The textures just don’t look right at times, and this is something you would be embarrass to ship during the beta phase, much less as a final product. The art style itself is atrocious, the kind of thing you’d expect from a bargain bin PS2 game, and there isn’t anything about the game that even looks good. Some of the character designs themselves don’t look too bad, but it is kind of hard to tell in game because of how lazy the graphics look.

    While the game certainly doesn’t make a good first impression, the gameplay here is actually enjoyable and largely lives up to what they initially pitched. The core concept here is the same sort of combination of action and platforming that made the Mega Man series so popular, which is convenient since their Kickstarter pitch was essentially “we want to make Mega Man again”. This is a 2D sidescroller with various platforms to jump onto, obstacles to avoid, and enemies to explode. Beck gains power-ups from each of the bosses he vanquishes, giving you access to new weapons as you get further into the game. All of this should sound very familiar for Mega Man fans, and this is “inspired” by Mega Man the same way a photocopy is inspired by the original document. If the imagery was changed, this could easily have passed off as the newest Mega Man game in the series if Keiji Inafune hadn’t eaten all those lunches from the company fridge that weren’t his, or whatever it was that he did the lead to him leaving.

    The big mechanic here that distinguishes Mighty No. 9 from Mega Man is the dash action. This is used to give Beck a speed boost and provide extra jumping distance, and is also used in combat. Each time an enemy is weakened enough, they don’t disappear right away because they are quite rude and can’t take a hint. Instead, Beck has to dash into them and absorb their energy into his. This is used to provide a boost to some of his stats, and it can nab you attack and defense boosts in addition to health packs that refill your health bar. It is a bit awkward to use at first, and there are going to be plenty of times when your dash ends just short and you wind up running into the enemy instead of absorbing them. Once you get a hang of it though, the dash mechanic is actually intergrated into the gameplay fairly well and they do a clever job of designing the levels and placing the enemies in such a way as to reward using the mechanic properly. Dashing itself is plenty fun, and once you get a good handle of the basic level designs, it really opens up the game and allows you to use the dash ability is interesting ways.

    This sort of leads into the biggest complaint I have with the game itself, though, in that it isn’t particularly enjoyable for a casual playthrough. My first time through I was fairly certain I hated the game, and the game definitely hated me. There are instant death traps everywhere, even in places that don’t make sense, and I lost track of the number of times an enemy spawned from offscreen, bumped into me, and sent me face first down into instant death pit #417. It isn’t even obvious what causes instant death at first, and there were several times when I figured out I wasn’t supposed to touch something right at the same time Beck’s shattered corpse careened across the level. The worst example of this comes from Mighty No. 3’s stage. There are these large blades that are spinning at you, and obviously I figured I shouldn’t touch them since things that are big and sharp pretty much top the “this will kill you” list. There was a gap underneath, so I tried using my dash to get through, which wound up with Beck sliced and diced into little bite size robot morsels. At this time a hint came on screen that said “maybe try using your duck dash to get under”, something that would have been about one hundred more times more useful to hear about ten seconds before. It is a skill you don’t use before this, and never use again. It is basically a one-time middle finger sticking up in the middle of a level just so you know the game always secreted hated you.

    There is far too much of this in the game, parts that are unfair or poorly designed and almost implemented with the sole intention of trolling the player. It is only upon repeated playthroughs that you see the clever little tricks the game has in store. This is the sort of game that basically invites multiple playthroughs, and it was sometime around halfway through my second playthrough that I realized I was having fun. A lot of the levels seem specifically designed with a speedrun in mind. You’ll definitely be stumbling your way through the levels your first time through, but the first time you fly your way through a corridor, nimbly avoiding enemies and blasting those that are foolish enough to get in your in your way, things just sort of click. There is some slick movement to use, and dashing your way through levels is a lot of fun once you know what you’re doing. Now, “keep playing like two or three times through” likely doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, and I suppose it probably isn’t. “Keep doing it and eventually you won’t hate it so much” sounds like someone acclimating themselves to torture, and it is understandable if you want to quit halfway through your first playthrough to do something less masochistic. A similar game in Shovel Knight was able to deftly create an experience that was thoroughly enjoyable both from a casual and more hardcore perspective, something this game fails to do. Repeat runs are significantly more enjoyable, but there is no denying that the game starts off very rough and takes a lot of familiarity to get into the fun bits.

    After you make your way through the introductory level, you do the typical Mega Man thing where you can pick where you want to go next. There are eight different levels, and while there is no “right” order there are certainly levels that are easier than others. The quality of the level designs vary from level to level, and while overall the platforming is a bit basic on its own, usually there is at least an interesting portion or two per level. Checkpoints are fairly frequent so you never get sent back too far, except for in one level that is a long linear hallway that wraps around and decides that checkpoints are for sissies and even throws in a ton of instant death traps just in case you weren’t having “fun” yet. There are a couple of duds in here, and the previously mentioned linear hallway of doom and this slow paced level where you play another character were always the drags of any of my playthroughs. Still, overall the level design is fairly solid, and there are plenty of areas to pull off a good solid string of dashing. Again, though, this game was designed almost specifically for repeated playthroughs and speedruns, and proper dashing is almost impossible without knowing what is coming up. There are plenty of areas where dashing blindly will get you killed, and the levels clearly want to emphasize the dash mechanic but very frequently have a hard time doing so, slowing you down with traps and enemies at all the wrong places. It works once you get familiar with the levels, but that typically doesn’t indicate the strongest of design choices.

    Each level is capped off by a boss fight against a different Mighty Number that has gone haywire and is doing all sorts of bad robot things. Each has a different theme that fits with their design and style of attack. Mighty No. 1 is Pyro and he uses fire and likes grunting all of his lines. Mighty No. 2 is iced theme and attacks you with various ice based attacks, and there are electricity, rock, military, and various other themed bosses to fight along the way. Boss fights are fairly enjoyable, offering a decent challenge at first but becoming easier once you are familiar with their patterns. They are perhaps a bit on the simple side, and most of the time if you have the weapon they are weak against the fights themselves can be very straightforward. There are a couple of really well designed fights here with some interesting mechanics to be sure. Mighty No. 8 will turn invisible unless you use the right attacks at the right time, and Mighty No. 6 requires some timely ricochet shots to do the most damage. The final boss also puts up a decent fight, and it isn’t like any of these encounters are going to be tremendously easy your first time through. It is a solid group of fights, but there are a couple of duds (hello, slow moving slow acting robot dog) and many of the bosses can be utterly steamrolled through once you have the right strategy.

    Also like the Mega Man games, Beck will get various weapons he can use in subsequent stages in the game once he beats a boss. The weapons vary in effectiveness, and for example Mighty No. 5’s missiles take very little energy to use, cause a lot of damage, and have an excellent range of effect. In contrast, Mighty No. 3 gives you energy balls that typically do about as much damage as scolding an enemy for their poor manners, and really there is only a couple of weapons you’re going to use consistently. Each of the bosses has a weakness to a specific weapon, so there is at least one use in the game for everything you get, but honestly if you switch off the missiles for any other reason you’re probably drunk and should wait for the buzz to pass to play more. There is also an interesting mechanic where bosses you defeat will actually help you out in one other specific level later on. Defeating Mighty No.1 will cause him to show up in Mighty No. 2’s stage and clear the ice from the floor, making the boss battle against her significantly easier. There is one little help per level like this, varying in usefulness from extremely helpful to “seriously Mighty No. 2 is that really all you’re going to do?” Some of this isn’t all that unique as it has been used in plenty of Mega Man games before, and the weapons certainly would’ve been better if most of them didn’t apply to only one specific fight in the entire game. Still, the variety of weapons make them at least fairly entertaining to play around with for a bit, and the way they are used in the boss fights are fun even if we are treading over some very familiar territory by this point.

    Again, the first playthrough is relatively weak in comparison to similar titles, but luckily there is a bunch more content to dive into after the credits roll (and roll, and roll). The game has three additional difficulties to tackle including a one hit kill one that is best left to the most extreme (and insane) of challengers. These really help to tighten up the experience and reward learning the levels, because you are no longer treated to the absurd number of nine lives you get in the normal difficulty. Additionally, there are plenty of single player challenges to dive into including target breaking challenges with your various weapons, individual level speedruns, and even one challenge that requires you to complete the game with only a single life. This is actually where I was having the most fun, because even though one single mistake sets you back to the beginning, by this point you are really adapt at the controls and it almost feels like a completely reasonable challenge. I was trying to speedrun this my last couple of days with the game, and the variety of challenges the game gives you are almost perfect. On top of this, you have a boss rush and a couple different multiplayer modes, meaning there is plenty to see and do after you finish things off the first time.

    Overall, Mighty No. 9 might be a bit of a disappointment, but not nearly on the level of what I had heard. There are issues here, sure, and the game itself isn’t particularly enjoyable on a casual playthrough. At the same time though, it is important to separate out the disappointment from the way the Kickstarter campaign was run and the disappointment one might feel from the game itself, because there are lots of good ideas here. There are a lot of clever little ideas that really only become apparent once you’re fairly familiar with the controls and level layouts, and in particular the speedruns and challenge modes are a great deal of fun. Mighty No. 9 isn’t a great game, and it might pale in comparison to other similar titles in recent years, but this largely delivers on the original promise of the campaign. It is almost Mega Man, which is sadly as good as we’re going to get since Capcom decided to bury the franchise in a shallow grave. “Almost” Mega Man is still pretty good though, and while this might not quite be what the backers were hoping for, there is some good fun here if you can fight your way through a rough beginning.

    Mighty (THE GOOD):
    +Dash mechanic is a lot of fun and the game does a good job integrating it into various elements of the gameplay
    +Lots of reasons for repeated playthroughs and the game is going to keep you entertained much longer than its initial run time
    +Game is extremely well suited to speed runs and the dash mechanic is used very cleverly in this regard
    +Fairly decent boss fights and decent level design
    +Some interesting secondary weapons, and one or two that are great to use throughout the course of the game
    +The way defeated bosses help in certain levels is somewhat original and fairly clever

    Measly (THE BAD):
    -Almost impossibly bad voice acting
    -Egregiously bad visuals that wouldn’t be acceptable in early PS2 era games
    -The game is very poorly designed for most casual playthroughs and many are going to quit before they get to the fun bits
    -Levels can be sloppily designed at times, encouraging you to do dashing but not providing the proper space or layout for it
    -Too many of the weapons are almost useless and only come in handy for specific boss fights
    -Story is laughably bad and cutscenes drag on for far too long

    Monotony (THE UGLY): The credits in this game are longer than the actual game. This isn’t me being clever or exaggerating upon some minor flaw for comedic effect. The credits are over four hours in length because they put in the name of every single person that contributed to the Kickstarter. Even those that didn’t give a name. I have no idea why the needed like 10,000 “anonymous” names scrolling through at the end, but then again I probably could have gone without knowing that “Mighty No. 31564” was 420BlazeItxXxX. I don’t know who’s job it was to compile all of this for the end credits, but I’m sure their time could’ve been better spent doing something else. Like counting the blades of grass in the lot behind their office.

    THE VERDICT: 6.50/10.00

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