Mighty No 9
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)