As part of our celebration of the Mega Man series hitting its 25th anniversary, we are featuring a look back at many of the games of the Classic series. For this entry, I’ll be looking Mega Man 9, the best 1988 game released in 2008. Once upon a time there was a site called Pixelboy’s Mega Man Mainframe (née Corner). It was here, back in the late 1990s, that its curator posed an idea to the then GeoCities and WebRing-bound Mega Man community that started quite a bit of discussion. His game idea (beyond Mega Man VI GB) was that Capcom ought to remake the old NES games with Mega Man 8-style graphics and extra features similar to that of The Wily Wars.
When Capcom announced Mega Man 9 in the summer of 2008, it led to an instant explosion on the many message boards across the internet. Pixelboy’s Mainframe was long gone (as was Mega Maniacs, Dr. Light’s Lab, ZeroXGold, and many other sites), but suddenly those who loved the Classic games were reengaged on the internet. And as amazing as this may sound to some, there was definite apprehension in some corners. Many thought that the 8-bit graphics were a poor decision, wanting a more modern take on their beloved series. Others thought it was a genius decision, loving its embrace of the growing retro chic that was consuming the gaming world.
In the end, Mega Man 9 was a stroke of genius. While many proclaimed it the spiritual successor to Mega Man 2, that was selling it too short in many important ways. It is simply the melding of a lot of the best elements of the dozen platforming games in one solid package, improved by modern technology and influenced by new attitudes in game design. MM9’s producer, Hironobu Takeshita, stated around the time of its release that ridding Mega Man of his Mega Buster and slide are necessary steps to rebalancing the game, aiming for the tighter experience of the very first games.
At the same time, the weapon versatility lifts a page from the latter half of the Mega Man series. Weapons interact with the environment in a way that resembles more closely to Mega Man IV and Mega Man 7 than the games developed in the 1980s. And in an under-appreciated move, MM9 carries over MM8’s love of mini-bosses, featuring once again another set of four more challenging enemies in the middle of half the Robot Master levels.
In a similar manner, MM9 jettisons the level design decisions made the last three NES installments less enjoyable. By introducing level design innovations in a less risky environment and then putting pressure on later by melding innovations together and throwing spikes, pits, and enemies at the player, the game never puts the player in unfamiliar territory with no room for error.
Going with the zeitgeist of retro games like Pac-Man: Championship Edition, Mega Man 9 plays with the fundamentals of the game to create a new experience with its Endless Mode. For the first time, Mega Man goes super retro. But it is also of the modern age, as Mega Man 9 introduces challenges to the player, embracing the achievements zeitgeist nuts and bolts with as much gusto as the retro chic surface. Capcom and Inti Creates ironically crafted a new experience in a series broadly seen as trapped in a design cul-de-sac by at once going back to the days of kill screens and playing for high scores on one hand and embracing the modern desire for Achievements on the other.
Mega Man 9 also gives fans something they have been clamoring for since before they shared game ideas on UseNet–- the use of Proto Man in a full platforming game. It also provides an incredible challenge with Hero and Superhero Modes and the first Time Attack in the series. Perhaps most notably, Mega Man 9 embraces online connectivity not just in its distribution method but in showcasing the high scores on Endless and Time Attack modes, bridging a gap between the actual games and fandom for the first time since Mandi Paugh’s Mega Man Home Page first helped define the online Mega Man fan experience eighteen years ago.
Looking back on it all, the Mega Man fandom sometimes has to go through a rough patch to get something truly amazing. Despite the amount of discussion generated by Pixelboy’s "Mega Man All-Stars" proposal, Capcom was completely silent and the closest we got to new Mega Man 8-style content we got was that awful Anniversary Collection selection screen. But perhaps that was for the best, for it's hard to imagine a better return to greatness than what Mega Man 9 delivered. Everything wrong is right again–- the guts of MM9 was built upon years of experience and a period of reflection. It is not a stretch to imagine that we are in that period once again.
It is an understatement to say that Mega Man 9 is a great game. Mega Man 9 revitalized interest in the Mega Man series and has come to define this modern age of being a fan of what has proven to be one of the most resilient and iconic franchises in gaming history.
Screenshot credits: GameFAQs/Gamespot
James is TMMN's Features Contributor and world traveler. He is currently in a faraway land, but he occasionally sends messages in a bottle. If you require more of his love, he left behind a sentient Tumblr account that updates all on its own.
The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.