Yesterday, The Mega Man Network was recently able to sit down and play through a demo level of Mighty No. 9 during the 2014 Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). While it was only one level (played on a PC laptop with an Xbox controller), it showed off a number of cool things that makes Mighty No. 9 a different beast than its predecessors, while still maintaining much of what made previous games staring blue robots particularly special.
The demo level was called "Military Base" and while it isn't clear yet how much of this level will eventually make it into the final game, it was perfect for introducing the mechanics of the game to a new player-- a good idea, as while Mighty No. 9's gameplay is in some ways a dramatic departure from Mega Man.
Beck runs, jumps, and shoots just like his spiritual ancestor, but the greatest change to the formula is Beck's ability to absorb the energy of weakened enemies. It's a fairly straight-forward mechanic, but it has numerous ramifications. Essentially, any enemy can be shot enough that it will glow. At that point, Beck should dash toward it, and when he does, he absorbs the energy (called a "Xel") and the enemy disappears. Some Xels enhance Beck's blaster, making his shots larger, or faster, or go through walls or enemies. Some restored health energy on the spot. Other Xels contributed to a Health Boost, which were basically partial or full health recovery selectable from the pause menu.
Sounds simple, right? Well, this Xel mechanic means that defeating a number of enemies at the same time presents a certain dilemma- do I defeat all the enemies so I can get their Xel, or do I just eliminate the one blocking my path? If I do decide to defeat all my enemies, which ones should I destroy first? The ones dealing the most damage or the ones closest to me so I can get their Xel? Do I shoot up an explosive box to destroy all those enemies and lose the chance to get their Xel, or do I fight them all? These are the sorts of cost/benefit analyses that happened with increasing regularity while I played through the demo level, and by the end it was making sense to air-dash across a pit of spikes just to take out a few enemies, completely out of the main path of the level.
Speaking of enemies, they are well animated and at this point, it seemed like there was not much left in terms of programming behaviors. Some were more stationary and shot bullets (and some even did this from the background), others had shields (Sniper Joe lives on!), others still were Beck's size and would move and shoot at you, while more would lob missiles at you while flying. Most of them were included in previous builds you can see online. Twice in the demo level, the larger ones that moved along the ground were in a specific area that you could only clear once you defeated all them-- something that the Classic Mega Man series never did to my knowledge.
Also a departure from the Classic series was the presence of Mighty No. 2 in the background while I moved through the level. After about halfway through, he would appear in the back and freeze enemies or objects that would influence the gameplay in the foreground. It will be cool (no pun intended) to see how this factors in to the final release.
Other tidbits worth discussing include just how streamlined control of Beck is. As those who have played through Mighty Gunvolt can attest, Beck's dash works fine in the air and on the ground, and he can squeeze under seemingly anything with it. He also has the ability to grab onto ledges and pull himself up, which will have some fun implications for level design down the road. The only thing that felt a little strange was, oddly enough, using ladders.
At a certain point, Beck was nearly at the top of a ladder and in classic Blue Bomber fashion, found that there were two enemies that were shooting at the top of the platform. Unfortunately, the enemies were positioned just above where Beck could blast them from a ladder, meaning, at least in my case, I had to take a bit of damage before moving on. A little complaint, but hopefully something that gets fixed before the final release.
One thing that hopefully gets upgraded before the final release is the ongoing talk featured at the bottom of the screen-- Dr. White, Beck, and even Mighty No. 5 all converse through the level. I barely paid attention to it, so hopefully there are voice actors that are able to be toggled on so I can catch it all while giving the actual game the utmost attention.
About two or three times in the level, around the checkpoint areas, the Support Character (whose final name and color scheme will be determined soon, though for my playthrough he appeared in both all-white and in blue and white) appeared and dropped off health energy and blaster upgrades. His final appearance was right before the boss of the demo level, Mighty No. 5.
Mighty No. 5 is an explosives-based boss with a knack for blowing stuff up. While there were no clearly defined changes to the brawl (unlike, say, Azure Striker Gunvolt's marked energy bars), his pattern definitely changed throughout our fight. In the beginning, he would fire a few missiles and bullets my way, along with charging me head-on. That kind of collision hurts Beck quite a bit-- he's sort of new to saving the world, so I suppose it's understandable-- but he makes up for it in his ability to dodge.
As mentioned earlier, Beck can dash in the air or the ground multiple times in a row. This is done much more smoothly than in Mighty Gunvolt. Here, dashing in the air or on the ground is all executed by tapping a button (no more charging or down+jump here!). This is a particularly useful skill in facing off with MN5, as he liked to fire off multiple rounds of bullets at Beck in the middle section of our duel. It is also helpful because it is the only way (I think!) to absorb the Xel energy that was coming out of MN5. You see, as you whittle down a boss's health, part of the boss health bar will remain red, indicating health that can be restored if Beck does not absorb the Xel. This added dynamic of forcing players to get up-close and personal definitely changes how Beck fights his foes, and adds a bit of strategy of how one goes about defeating them.
Near the end, MN5 got a bit mad and fired off a missile that would have killed Beck instantly if he didn't jump out of the way. Unfortunately for him, that missile just stuck in the side of the wall... and exploded multiple times through the rest of the fight, engulfing half the screen in flames every so often.
Eventually, MN5 fell to Beck and the latter received MN5's full Xel energy and went on his way to fight, presumably, for everlasting peace. The demo ended with Mighty No. 5's defeat at the hands of Beck.
Overall, the demo was awesome. Keiji Inafune would later remark that only by playing the game can one really appreciate how all the parts of the game fit together, only by controlling Beck can you really appreciate the differences and subtleties of Mighty No. 9's gameplay.
In this, he was absolutely right. Watching the videos and keeping up with the latest update can only get you so far, but playing the game really opens your eyes to how different and awesome this part of our post-Mega Man world will be.
Undoubtedly, many of you will soon enjoy the same feeling, as Inafune announced at his PAX 2014 panel that the "Mighty Beckers" who contributed to the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter campaign will be receiving a download code for the beta on Steam sometime over the next 24 hours (as well as a code for Mighty Gunvolt). Just one level will be available to start, but more content (about three levels' worth) will be available in the coming weeks.
Stay tuned for our post-preview interview with none other than Keiji Inafune himself!
All images courtesy of Comcept. A big thank you again to 8-4 Ltd. for facilitating this playthrough.