I don’t know who Mighty No. 9 is for.
I understand that it was backed by tens of thousand of Mega Man fans based on the reputation of Keiji Inafune, the creator and continual developer of many different Mega Man titles throughout the past couple decades. I understand that it was financed almost totally on desire, that weird, nebulous energy that continually produces and puts things into our vision but that can never really be exhausted. I understand that both Mega Man fans and people who just wanted the smallest feeling of childlike enjoyment in their lives equally contributed to the financing and creation of this game.
I’m not one of those people, being neither a financer of the game nor a fan of Mega Man in general, but I cannot imagine that they were happy. At best, the game is a retread of Mega Man concepts and gameplay without any of the polish and particularity that we associate with that series of games. At worst, it is a mountainous waste of time without any clear design goals other than “be kind of like a Mega Man game.”
I don’t use any of these words lightly, but I cannot think of a game that I have played over the past few years that I dislike more than Mighty No. 9. When the game was released, there was a rush to call it garbage followed by a small reaction that summed up to “it is merely a middling platformer,” and during all of this I kept my mind open. I think that I match up and diverge from critical consensus about equally, and doing things like the You Buy It, I Play It series has really opened up my eyes about how to appreciate certain kinds of design that don’t quite fit within videogame norms.
I’ve come away with a strong dislike of the game, and I have a very specific reason for doing so. I don’t have any comments on the story, the character designs, or the music, and that’s because I found them exactly what I expected them to be: they were like a Mega Man game, no better and no worse.
My dislike comes from the control scheme. The Mega Man franchise has always been about exacting controls that force you to accurately calculate jumps, hammer on the shoot button, and efficiently manage how you engage enemies in the game. Mighty No. 9 also requires this specific control, but it seems to do everything in its power to make sure that you have the hardest possible time using those controls.
The first boss of the game is called Pyro, and he charges around the little 2D arena pooping out mini fireballs. They chain behind him, and to avoid them you have to jump in the air and dash behind him at the highest point of your jump. Then you have to dash again at the last second. If any of this is not done precisely correctly, you will take damage. However, the height of the fire isn’t quite clear. Sometimes you might not have to dash the second time, or sometimes you might not be jumping high enough, and you take damage. In another attack, he does a belly flop and then explodes, and to avoid this you simply walk under him and avoid the explosion. That also requires a very particular way of seeing the giant flame orbs that emerge-then-disintegrate from his body. A slight difference of character positioning is all that matters here.
None of this is surprising for a Mega Man fan, and none of it is new. What’s important here is not the punishing and exacting mechanics. Instead, it’s worth noting that the chunky 3D design of the character models, environments, and effects make for a visual space where hitboxes and things that are happening are not always clearly marked. I honestly cannot tell you where the hitbox of Mighty No. 9’s protagonist begins and ends, a problem that is nearly impossible to have in the 2D Mega Man games. The translation into the new art style has real, practical effects on the mechanics that I find impossible to get over or deal with, and it significantly impacted my ability to play or enjoy the game.
If you like cute 3D art, the game probably isn’t for you, as “functional” is probably the best description for it here. If you like Mega Man, I don’t think it’s going to be the experience that you want. If you want well-told tales, I don’t know why you thought to bother with this. If you like tight, arcadey experiences, I don’t think Mighty No. 9 fits that bill, and you’re probably better off with Shovel Knight or Freedom Planet’s oldschool-yet-new sensibilities. Every time I try to think about what the motivator for playing this game would be, I immediately dismiss it. I repeat: I have no idea who this is for.
Mighty No. 9 was developed by Comcept and published by Deep Silver. Our review is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available for Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii U, 3DS, Xbox 360, Vita, PC, Mac and Linux.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released on May 21. It’s available on Steam.