Thoughts and Opinions on Mighty No. 9

I know this has taken longer to show up than I'd intended (Fun Fact: I actually began writing this back in June), and I hope no one was kept waiting too long for it. Truth be told, I kept putting it off because of how long I figured it would be; as it is, for the sake of getting this out there before the end of 2016, this is actually the trimmed-down version.

The original title for this was going to be "Sorry, Mighty No. 9, But I Tried," which ought to give you some idea of where my mindset was on this game early on. That, or the mass amounts of cursing on my Twitter.

Still, I kept at it. For some reason, amidst rising blood pressure and frustration, I kept at it. At least, for as long as I could.

If running a site called The Mega Man Network for a good many years and working for it that many more wasn't enough of an indication of where I'm coming from as a fan, I'll give you a little background on me.

I've been a fan of Mega Man from pretty much the beginning -- that is, the first game. I didn't even get my first video game console (Nintendo Entertainment System, of course) until the winter of '88, so I wasn't technically there at the very beginning, but for all intents and purposes in a pre-internet age, I was there from the start.

Since then, I followed the series closely and intently, grabbing at anything I could get my hands on for new art, information, merchandise, you name it. When I first went on the internet, one of the first things I looked up was Mega Man, and one of my earliest memories is of reading a story called "The Zero Chronicles." I met my then-future wife through her Mega Man fan page and stories, and adopted my online nickname that I've used since (and am known by rather widely) from one of my own Mega Man fan characters. I've even had a hand in perhaps more than my fair share of officially licensed Mega Man merchandise, and Mega Man is how I wound up getting into the career of writing.

The point of this is, I've been with Mega Man for a long time -- most of my life -- and I feel like Mega Man is very much a part of who I am today, however directly or indirectly. For his part in it, I'd still love to be able to meet Keiji Inafune in person and thank him for helping to make that possible.

I say this not to brag or put myself on any sort of pedestal. Truth be told, there are probably others more deserving of such an honor, who have actually met and conversed with Inafune or have every single game and piece of Mega Man merchandise out there -- neither of which are claims I can make. I say this because, to step up and try to make a true spiritual successor to Mega Man?

Well, that's a matter I take to heart. Maybe a bit too seriously, even. But I feel that I'm as qualified as anyone to at least have a say in what does or does not feel right to me in a game that tries to carry on the Blue Bomber's torch like Mighty No. 9. That doesn't make the opinion of anyone else any less valid, of course; some decry the game as utter garbage, others say that it's a worthy heir to the throne. Just the same, I feel like things are a little more complicated than that, and all I can offer are my own personal thoughts and feelings on what has taken three years to finally reach us. By that same token, I might also view some things a little differently than others who have rated the game.

So, without further ado...

Beck

In looking at the game, I'm going to try breaking it down into its multiple components, and the logical starting point is with the game's star, the eponymous Mighty No. 9, also known as Beck.

If you've been following Comcept's Kickstarter campaign closely, then you have a good idea of who and what Beck is. If not... well, good luck to you, as you should probably do some digging. The game doesn't really give you much in the way of information there. Sure, the original Mega Man didn't do a lot to explain its hero, either, and there was scant little else for us to go on back then as well. But then, that was also 30 years ago (yeah, I'm rounding up).

Sadly, while I think he has a neat design, the game does so very little to establish Beck as a character -- he has no agency, basically just running around where the doctors (more on them in a bit) tell him to. And while Beck does try to talk down his fellow Mighty Numbers from their respective rampages, there's no shining moment that defines the character as Rock had when he decided for himself to volunteer to stop the renegade Robot Masters due to his strong sense of justice.

In terms of gameplay, I found he took some getting used to. With Mega Man, X, and those heroes, I found that they felt almost like a second skin to me, as though they were an extension of myself. This probably comes from having played three decades' worth of games with that feel, of course, but I wasn't able to just slip into controlling Beck with quite the same ease as Capcom's series, despite so many of the same creatives acting behind this one.

That isn't to say Beck controls poorly, however. The best way I can think of to describe it is that he "feels" heavier to me. Sort of like Zero did in Mega Man X3, but perhaps not to that same degree -- just enough to feel off if you're expecting him to control like the Blue Bombers from which he was supposed to carry the torch.

A lot of people liken Beck's dash, a key component of his arsenal, to what X does. However, it doesn't really act the same way at all, and that's a double-edged sword. Rather, it doesn't work like X's ground dash; instead, it's more like X's air dash, which doesn't follow the curvature of the terrain, but shoots Beck off like a blunt projectile, regardless of where he is when he performs it.

On the upside, whether on the ground or in the air, Beck has unlimited dashing capability, which is kind of cool. I always thought it would be neat if X and Zero could fly beyond what their dashes allowed for when in the air, and that's more or less what you get here. Granted, Beck loses altitude with each dash, though there are times when that's compensated for. Successfully "flying" to where you need to be can feel pretty satisfying when pulled off properly. (Side note: The dash's default button is RB/R1, but I had to place it similarly to where it is in Mega Man X to feel comfortable using it as needed.)

Then there's the reason why he dashes: To absorb Xels. Whereas Mega Man would simply shoot stuff until it blew up, that's not quite as effective for Beck. Instead, there's more of a score attack mechanic at play as you try to weaken foes with, er, "Buster" shots and then dash into them to absorb these building blocks from which they're comprised.

It's an okay mechanic, but not without its flaws. The biggest problem is that unless you've really got things down, it leads to a lot of stop-and-go playing -- and that's not even counting the "enemy rooms" where you literally stop to destroy everything before moving on. In addition, the accuracy can be iffy at times, too, particularly when there are groups of enemies clumped together and for one reason or another, you're able to destabilize one enemy but not the one right behind it, leading to the player taking damage when they try to absorb. The fact that the dash itself has zero offensive power doesn't help.

Interestingly enough, Copen from Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 -- also developed by Inti Creates -- uses a very similar mechanic, albeit inverted. Rather than blasting enemies and then dashing into them, he dashes into them to tag them before unleashing a volley of homing shots to finish the job. For what it's worth, I find his method more fun and less clumsy to use.

Beck has a few other maneuvers, a quick backwards jumping dodge and a similar move that returns fire at enemies. Unfortunately, these moves rarely if ever proved useful, and I did try to incorporate them into my repertoire.

Other Characters

Compared to the original Mega Man and Mega Man X at their outset, Mighty No. 9 has a surprisingly robust cast of characters at its disposal.

Beck has two doctors backing him up in White and Sanda. While the rotund Sanda is easily flustered, Beck's creator Dr. White is just the opposite -- calm and collected, almost to a fault, as the voice acting for him tends to sound almost too flat. Even when he's angry, White's voice barely feels like it's raised at all.

Then there's Call, creation of Dr. Sanda and effectively the series' counterpart to Roll. She gets her own playable level later in the game, and is just... well, flat. Unlike White's flatness, Call's is by design as she delivers lines in a dull monotone that reminds me of the menus for Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast, only less enthusiastic. Her whole thing is being more of a "robot" than the others, so it's not like it doesn't work as intended; the question is whether it works as desired, which is an altogether iffy thing. I'm okay with it in this installment, but I'd like to see a bit more personality come out in any later installments, should they occur.

There are still others as well, including Sanda's brother (who is only briefly seen), Gregory Graham, and the mysterious Dr. Blackwell. It's hard to talk more about them without getting into the story, so I'll save that for now.

Mighty Numbers

On the other hand, we have the Mighty Numbers, who are anything but flat. Okay, maybe their personalities are a little one-dimensional, but at least they have those personalities, and they're played to the *ahem* nines.

While others have written off these guys and gals as poorly acted, I feel like the voice actors for these eight really bring a level of personality to the characters that we didn't really get to see until late into the Classic and X series of Mega Man. At the very least, they have as much personality as the Robot Masters in Mega Man Powered Up, and may even be better performed.

Speaking of that oft-overlooked PlayStation Portable classic, Mighty No. 9 manages to follow in its footsteps by not writing itself into the same sort of corner that the Classic series originally did. As in Powered Up (optionally), Beck doesn't destroy the Mighty Numbers outright; he just basically knocks some sense back into them, allowing them to come into play later, rather than the mysterious resurrections Capcom would throw our way.

And come into play they do. Each Mighty Number will "scout" out a specific level before Beck arrives, offering some advice from the stage select screen. Furthermore, as Beck progresses through said level, that particular Mighty Number will show up to help you out as you go. Unfortunately, more often than not, their help turns out to be a token effort at best -- often, whatever they do can be easily handled by the player most of the time anyway. Still, it's a nice touch that comes into further play towards the end of the game.

As for actually fighting them, many of the boss battle employ some pretty clever ideas. Some work, and some don't -- I found Countershade an absolute joy to fight, while someone had the bright idea of making Pyrogen's cues audio-based (which clashes with the near-constant voiceovers from the doctors), and Cryo is the bane of my existence. Even watching how others took her on, it just never seemed to work for me. Her weakness is supposed to be Pyro's weapon, but I ended up taking her out last by spamming Brandish's maybe-slightly-overpowered swords against her instead.

If nothing else, that at least speaks well of the versatility of the weapons in the game, so that seems like as good a segue as any into...

Special Weapons

Like Mega Man (you were expecting to hear that a lot, right?) and the Robot Masters, Beck is able to acquire special weapons from the Mighty Numbers he defeats. Unlike Dr. Light's creations, however, Beck seems to take a cue from the digital Blue Bomber of Mega Man Battle Network by changing his entire form to meet the needs of his new abilities.

All told, this degree of change is pretty neat, and as you can see in the case of his Seismic transformation in the lower-right, allows for a greater degree of variance when he gains a new weapon as well.

Further setting his use of this ability apart from his predecessor is the fact that his weapon energy is nigh-unlimited. That is, there is a weapons energy gauge, but you don't have to worry about grinding foes for specific items, as it refills gradually on its own. Use them somewhat moderately, and you might never run out.

Most if not all are fun to use, even the caterpillar treads, which have Beck race along the ground and slam into enemies. My personal favorite was Countershade's sniper gun, which can ricochet off of walls and enemies, homing in on whatever is closest. It quickly became my default weapon, as it typically sets enemies up for absorption pretty well, too.

As is typical, not every weapon is great, but at least they tend to have various uses, and you'll likely need to use them in those various ways to get through the game -- which is better than those special weapons in Mega Man games which are there just because they needed a round number eight to fill things out with. Assuming we ever get a sequel, we'll see how long they're able to keep that up, though.

One problem with the special weapons is equipping them, though. Unlike Mega Man, you get no sub-screen here -- it's always done in real-time, using the LB/L1 and LT/L2 shoulder buttons to cycle through the selection before confirming. It kind of sucks when you want to just pause and look at what you have before deciding on a course of action, nor is it quite as intuitive as just tapping the L and R buttons in Mega Man X to cycle through. On the bright side, you can set some buttons up for instant changes to selected weapons of your choice, so that's pretty handy.

Story

Without getting into too much detail for sake of spoilers, I'm going to say that the story was actually one of the things that pleased me the most about this game. I went in expecting a retread of the Dr. Light/Dr. Wily feud, but that wasn't the case at all.

What we got instead exceeded my expectations, even though on a grander stage of fictional narratives, it might not be anything that special. Just the same, it did something I'm not sure any Mega Man game ever really has as it largely disregarded notions of good and evil at work against one-another. Instead, something has gone wrong that's affecting the robots around the world, and it's a mystery of finding out what, why, and putting a stop to it.

Stages

One of the biggest components of the game, the stages, are something of a mixed bag.

Aesthetically, about half of them take place in indoor areas that don't really spark the imagination so much; they're kind of samey, except for the industrial stuff going on there. I guess Mega Man was probably guilty of this at some points as well, but it just somehow seems a little more pronounced in these cases.

But then there are others that are more interesting. The standouts for me are Brandish's highway chase (seen above), which takes place on a highway through various weather conditions and times of day -- I'll admit, I love that stuff, so maybe there's a bit of bias there. The other is Countershade's takeover of the capitol building, but that has its own issues.

A lot of design decisions in the stages throughout the game are iffy at best. In Countershade's case, there's a fantastic idea of following the direction of his bullets through a large, circular path to find and challenge him, dodging when you hear gunfire (and the closer you get, the closer the stream of bullets is to the sound they make when fired).

It's a grand idea and quite original, at least as far as Mega Man-styled games go, but it's hampered by a lack of any checkpoints before the boss, meaning any slip-up has you run through the entire stage all over again. Even if you manage to do it in a single run, it tends to drag on for longer than it should, dulling the experience overall. Throw in some instant-death traps, and you've got a stage that for many people is their bane of the whole game.

There are other little bits sprinkled here and there throughout that could probably have been refined and done better, but it seems the folks at either Comcept or Inti weren't interested in that. It seems they figured they were right with what they came up with the first time out, and that was that.

The flag-bearing instance of this would have to be the infamous turbine in Dynatron's stage. An instant-death trap, your only way past it is to do a low dash underneath it (and hope you do it just right). This was an issue in the beta version because nothing ever taught you to do the low dash like it did for so many other moves, and if I'm not mistaken, it's never required anywhere before or after this one single instance in the game, with the regular dash always being sufficient for getting underneath low overhangs.

People took issue with it, but did the developers fix it? Nope! Instead of, say, moving the turbine so that a regular dash would do the job or making the low dash a more commonly-needed move, they basically just slapped a band-aid on it in the form of a message that tells you how to get past it, popping up after a moment of looking at the obstacle. It's effectively the in-game equivalent of how Springfield decided to keep any more children from falling down the well.

Stage Enemies

One thing which lent a lot of personality to the Mega Man games were the vast array of enemies found throughout each game, many becoming icons of the series itself. Mets, Sniper Joes, Battontons, and more, as well as many unique to individual stages.

Sadly, Mighty No. 9 is rather lacking in that area. You'll see a lot of the same enemies spread across the same stages, and despite recognizing them as I came across them, I can't say any carried particularly memorable designs so much as I recognized their functions and actions.

Graphics & Music

On its own, I didn't find the graphics in Mighty No. 9 to be terrible, but when you start to look at other Kickstarted games, from Shantae: ½ Genie Hero, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Shovel Knight, and others, and what's there does come across as somewhat lacking.

Still, I found that close-up shots tend to do the game a great injustice, and when things are zoomed out a bit, a lot of it looks fairly nice. Not as good as the aforementioned, mind, but not terrible either. And as noted, some of the more unique stages look pretty good as well, Chef Boyardee explosions aside.

On the music front, it's pretty good stuff. I'm not the most qualified to give much more than that, though I'll say that with the exception of a few tunes, most of it didn't really stick in my head, though even the less earwormy among the lot still made good background music.

Cutscenes

Maybe this should have gone under graphics or story, but I felt like talking about this on its own.

The way the cutscenes are presented in Beck's game are pretty lousy. Even though it's in real-time with the in-game models, the characters' mouths don't move, and it's a surprise that they even blink during these portions. While I thought the story being told was good, the way it was presented between levels was not.

What's crazy is that at the beginning and end, there's more traditional still images, and these look fantastic. What's more, the story for the Ray downloadable content uses the same style, and it looks fantastic as well!

The quality is like night and day, and it makes me wonder why they even bothered doing any of these in-engine.

Now, speaking of...

Ray

Included if you bought the retail version, but available for about $5 USD if you went digital, it took a while before the Ray downloadable content would actually appear in my game.

As it happens, I feel like it's a pretty good addition. I really enjoyed the stage and three boss battles against the titular character, which are perhaps my favorite battles in the entire game. They kind of reminded me of those battles between Mega Man and Proto Man or Bass, or X and Zero, which was probably the intent here, considering.

Defeating Ray allows you to play as her, and it's... interesting. Her life is constantly draining, requiring you to absorb more Xel, but if she takes damage, she can't restore it without a life capsule. Her attacks are satisfyingly savage, and her version of the dash is a spinning roll that's like a cross between Sonic's Spin Dash and X's dash, following along the ground (unless you perform it in the air).

Still, the constantly draining life and limited refill ability made it pretty tough, and I didn't enjoy it for too long past the intro stage. If her overall life had been tied to the Xel absorption, I think I'd have enjoyed it more.

Other Thoughts

Just a few other random thoughts from my time with the game before I wrap up (and there is probably something I'm forgetting):

Mighty No. 9 incorporates its own version of the Sub- and E Tanks, but it doesn't feel quite as well thought out (like many other parts of the game). You can accumulate energy while taking out enemies in stages, but you can't really hang on to it in any meaningful way. Whether you complete the stage or just happen to die, it's gone -- use it or lose it. So if your strategy upon entering a boss's room with little life energy is to just die and then try again with a full life and your backups, then it's not really going to work here, which is a bit of a handicap to the player.

There have been a lot of complaints about the game, but for what it's worth, the options are really robust and often overlooked. It doesn't solve everything, of course, but I found that issues such as having the doctors' talking obscure part of the screen or the sound could be easily dealt with, for example.

I tried out the multiplayer, and it was alright. Not really worth the wait, in my opinion.

And speaking of the wait, besides some of the issues mentioned above, one really has to wonder why they didn't make better use of their time as the game was constantly delayed to polish some things up. Some of the typos alone are nothing short of embarrassing, and I can't believe these were never addressed in the year and a half between when Inafune said the game was finished and when it finally shipped.

Hey, Comcept? If you need a proofreader, contact me. I'm sure we can work out an agreement -- I love McDonald's, so you know I'm a cheap date.

In Conclusion

Mighty No. 9 has received a lot of harsh criticism since its release, and I tried to give an honest appraisal of the product itself, controversy and other issues aside -- just me and what's in the box. Oh, and I played the Xbox One version, so I didn't experience the issues of the Wii U version, though as mentioned with the Ray download, I had others of my own. But again, putting those aside for this, I wanted to basically look at what we'd have gotten even if everything had apparently gone "right" with its launch.

My feelings here are kind of complicated. I like Beck and his world, though the presentation has its flaws. There are a lot of great concepts at work here, but the execution of many of them leaves something to be desired. To use a common cliché, it feels as though Mighty No. 9's spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I don't hate the game by any means, but it's a hard recommendation to make, too. You really have to be of a particular mind to really get the most out of this, and unfortunately, that mindset is not widespread enough for something like this to be viable in the long term. Those who really love a challenge and defying a game in spite of itself, the kind who break and speedrun and excel -- those are the kinds of players who are likely to get the most out of Mighty No. 9.

As for me? I'll be honest, I didn't even finish the game -- I came up to the finish line, but having seen the slog that is the final boss battle, and decided "I'm good." I don't know if either my patience or temperament would have handled that well, and I've got my health to think about.

But I want to see more. I see a lot of potential in Mighty No. 9 as a concept, even if it's more Mega Man than Mega Man X. I didn't think too highly of the original Mega Man when I first played it, thanks to things like Guts Man's Lifts of Doom or the disappearing blocks and finicky Foot Holders of Ice Man's stage. But it left me interested enough to want to check out Mega Man 2, and as you might have guessed, I'm glad I did.

I think the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter was a big lesson for everyone, and I hope Keiji Inafune and Comcept learned something from it as well. I really want to see them double down and do a tighter, more focused sequel to Mighty No. 9 that builds on what the first one did right and corrects what it did wrong, all while making sure not to overreach its grasp.

At this point, I think Mighty No. 9 is past the point of being considered a proper successor to Mega Man, especially if Capcom really is interested in reviving some of their dormant franchises. That said, I still think there's a chance for it to be a successful property in its own right, even if the beginning was rather -- pardon the expression -- rocky.

I believe in you, Beck. Take your time, and do us all proud.