Mighty No 9

EDGE - - GAMES -

So this is what $4 mil­lion gets you these days. Com­cept might have asked for a more mod­est sum of $900k, but with Keiji Ina­fune in charge and a prom­ise to com­bine the best of vin­tage sidescrollers from the 8- and 16bit eras with con­tem­po­rary ideas, Mighty No 9 quickly be­came some­thing of a stan­dard-bearer for crowd­funded games. The pres­sure of such an el­e­vated sta­tus seemed to have taken a toll on pro­duc­tion; the game missed its orig­i­nal due date and a suc­ces­sion of up­dated dead­lines. Now, more than a year late and with por­ta­ble ver­sions still pend­ing, it’s fi­nally with us – and we find our­selves won­der­ing what ex­actly was caus­ing the de­lay.

Ina­fune, if you believe Hideki Kamiya, might be more busi­ness­man than cre­ator, but this is very much his baby: it’s his name on the Kick­starter cam­paign, his name at the very top of the cred­its list. Be­yond the con­cept, it’s hard to gauge ex­actly how heav­ily in­volved he was in the day-to-day de­vel­op­ment – and this clearly wasn’t the only project on his slate. Re­gard­less, this is very much Ina­fune by num­bers, a Mega Man game in all but name, and not a par­tic­u­larly good one.

A for­giv­ing open­ing stage sets the scene with rea­son­able ef­fi­ciency: the world’s ro­bots have turned hos­tile, in­clud­ing pro­tag­o­nist Beck’s for­mer allies, Mighty Num­bers 1-8. The robot de­signs are of­ten rather char­ac­ter­ful – it’s a rare and amus­ing treat to find your­self un­der at­tack from a ram­pag­ing re­cy­cle bin – though they’re the vis­ual high­light of a game that other­wise falls well short of that ini­tial pro­mo­tional im­age. Per­haps its sim­ple aes­thetic was in­formed by a need to ef­fi­ciently scale to less ca­pa­ble hard­ware; ei­ther way, it says much that 3DS should be able to han­dle this quite com­fort­ably. Even with that in mind, the pre­sen­ta­tion is of­ten sec­ond-rate. Story se­quences are sparsely an­i­mated and poorly voiced. “You are. All set. Then?” is your stilted in­tro­duc­tion to each stage.

Mighty No 9 rarely de­vi­ates from the Mega Man for­mula, pay­ing un­com­fort­ably close trib­ute wher­ever it’s able: Beck’s allies in­clude a ge­nial pro­fes­sor and a friendly fe­male robot (in Mega Man it was Roll; here, we have Call). Once past the open­ing City sec­tion, you can tackle the lev­els in any or­der, ob­tain­ing trans­for­ma­tions from de­feated guardians that can smooth your progress through other stages. If all this is em­blem­atic of the gen­eral lack of in­ven­tion, it does at least boast one smart idea. Rather than sim­ply shoot­ing en­e­mies un­til they ex­plode, you’ll weaken them with a vol­ley or two and then dash into them to as­sim­i­late their en­ergy. With a combo chain that builds the more times you suc­ces­sively achieve 100 per cent ab­sorp­tion, in­creas­ing your score to­tal and your sub­se­quent stage rank­ing, it’s an in­cen­tive to speed through lev­els, with Beck’s lan­guid move­ment of­fer­ing more en­cour­age­ment to get a wrig­gle on. You may also re­ceive an item that can be used to top up your health with a tap of the touch­pad – of­ten best saved up for the end-of-level boss.

As­sum­ing you can sur­vive that long, of course. Mighty No 9 has ap­pro­pri­ated the high dif­fi­culty of its in­spi­ra­tion, but it’s ap­plied in­con­sis­tently, and of­ten con­fuses fussy, ex­act­ing de­sign with a firm but fair chal­lenge. Some sec­tions are alarm­ingly straight­for­ward, but then you’ll hit a spike and lose sev­eral lives all at once. You’ll find a sin­gle, need­lessly tight gap mid­way through an ex­tended de­scent be­tween two walls of spikes that kill you on con­tact. We lost count of the num­ber of times lone pro­jec­tiles nudged us off nar­row walk­ways and col­laps­ing plat­forms.

It’s the kind of game that asks you to leap be­tween moving ve­hi­cles on a high­way chase, while a robot hov­ers just out of com­fort­able at­tack range, launch­ing tiny drones that barely touch your health me­ter but do just enough to pre­vent you mak­ing the jump, even with an at­tempted mid-air re­cov­ery dash. When you know what’s com­ing, these el­e­ments are eas­ily over­come; they’re not de­signed to chal­lenge, but to frus­trate. And in a game de­signed to be sped through, trig­ger­ing a fa­tal haz­ard near the en­trance of a room is sim­ply bad de­sign.

Even tun­ing out the an­noy­ing di­a­logue of the boss bat­tles – and you’ll have to press a but­ton to skip through their pre­am­ble dur­ing each sub­se­quent at­tempt – there are some that are pro­foundly te­dious to beat. One has a se­ries of one-hit-kill at­tacks; thank­fully, it tele­graphs them clearly enough that they’re eas­ily avoided, though we dis­cov­ered to our hor­ror it also has a fa­tal ex­plo­sive at­tack if you don’t de­feat it quickly. Oth­ers are at­tri­tional in Beck’s reg­u­lar guise, but ren­dered triv­ially easy once you’ve un­locked a spe­cific power. Mak­ing the ef­fort to ob­tain a new abil­ity should earn you a tan­gi­ble ad­van­tage, but go­ing from a steep chal­lenge to one that’s barely there be­trays a glar­ing lack of bal­ance. An en­ergy me­ter the­o­ret­i­cally lim­its the use of your pow­ers, but that hardly mat­ters when the fight is over be­fore you’ve ex­hausted even two-thirds of it.

De­spite a crush­ingly generic ‘train­ing room’ aes­thetic, a suite of chal­lenges of­fers a more con­sis­tent level of dif­fi­culty, of­ten en­forc­ing cer­tain re­stric­tions as you race a strict timer, or at­tempt to de­feat sev­eral en­e­mies with a lim­ited num­ber of shots. It’s here that Mighty No 9 ful­fils a lit­tle of its po­ten­tial, but are these flashes of in­ge­nu­ity enough to sat­isfy its in­vestors? This may have been a game with rel­a­tively hum­ble aims, but such star­tling lack of am­bi­tion is even more baf­fling in light of the ac­cu­sa­tions its fig­ure­head has lev­elled at Ja­panese pub­lish­ers. Ina­fune spoke of a cul­ture of com­pla­cency, of a re­liance on repack­ag­ing old ideas and sell­ing them as new. His crit­i­cisms ring all the more hol­low when he’s just spent $4 mil­lion of back­ers’ money do­ing pre­cisely that. Mighty? No.

This is very much Ina­fune by num­bers, a Mega Man game in all but name, and not a par­tic­u­larly good one

De­vel­oper Com­cept, Inti Cre­ates Pub­lisher Deep Sil­ver For­mat 360, 3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 (tested), Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now (360, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One), TBC (3DS/Vita)

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