Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mighty No. 9 - Review

Mighty No 9. Oh man does this game have some history. Not long after the well known developer Keiji Inafune left Capcom and Mega Man games started getting canceled left and right, this little game appeared on Kickstarter in 2013. While not too much was known about it at the time, the fact that it was an Inafune game being created to "bring back Mega Man," and other talented developers were working along side him, it was more than enough to get people excited and pledge crazy amounts of money. 67,226 backers for a grand total of $3,845,170 to be precise. Of course even those who didn't back the project were excited for this one, and as time went on the wait for it got harder and harder... Then, things changed. The game was hit with delay after delay after delay, we learned that the development team was having issues because they chose the cheaper game engine (rather than spending a few bucks extra a month for the newer one), and a few other games by Inafune popped up as well making it clear that he was focusing on other things and not just the game we were waiting for. Needless to say, many got fed up with everything that was happening, and then it finally came out. Well? How is it?

First glances show that the graphical quality and animations are much lower than the initial "tech demo that was developed in 7 days" that was shown off not long after the game was announced, but honestly that's not enough to judge the game on. Instead I'm going to take a much deeper look at this game, and let you guys know exactly what the final product is. This review will follow my other review's standards, but I'm going to get a bit more personal at times as well. Also considering this is meant to be a spiritual successor to Mega Man, I'm going to break my "no using other games to explain mechanics in this one" rule, but also make sure to explain things for those who have never played a Mega Man game in their life.

So, with that being said, let's get on with the review.

The Story:

Mighty No 9's story is a full on throw back to the good old days, or rather the days of Mega Man where the story started to play a large role. Rather than having cutscene after cutscene, this game keeps it simple and right to the point. The very start of the game quickly introduces us to the Mighty No robots which were created to battle it out in the coliseum for human entertainment, but instantly something goes wrong and 8 of the robots go crazy -- these are the "bad guys" of the game. Following the orders of the man who created him (Dr. White), young Mighty No 9 "Beck," sets out on an adventure to put a stop to the other rampaging robots, and return them to normal. Each one has set out to a different location in the United States, and Beck is free to deal with each one whenever he chooses.

The story itself is mostly told by characters talking to each other in the lab from a side view (similar to what we've seen in one of the latest Mega Man games... Powered Up on the PSP...), but there's also moments where characters will talk while you play through the stages. Often this dialogue is related to what is happening right in front of you, and the dialogue can change depending on what robots you have already saved. Since you don't actually kill any main boss you fight, they'll actually come and help you during different sections of stages, and sometimes even throw in comments of their own. Really none of this adds too much depth to the game, and some of the lines can be very cringe worthy for anyone older than the age of 12. One scientist crying for his mommy when the lights go out, the same scientist yelling "Cheese and Rice!" when he is shocked by something, and the same scientist -- I'm sure everyone gets the point. There's also some characters that make non stop bad puns, and there are plenty of dialogue lines that are simply over the top. While the original Mega Man games never had a large focus on story, the writing in this is a major step down from the more serious X, Zero, and ZX series, as well as the more dialogue heavy Legends, Battle Network, and Star Force. While they tried to be for everyone (with a handful of them being aimed a bit more towards young adults), it's clear Mighty No 9 would rather focus on the new generation of kids instead.

Of course this doesn't mean the story is "bad," but it also doesn't mean it is good either. The fact that character's mouths don't move, and that they repeat the same animations over and over again kind of takes away from the experience, but the still mugshots that appear during stages is perfectly fine. Still when you consider the budget this game had, it's hard not to be let down when you realize not much went into this part of the game. In fact, the story itself hardly goes anywhere from start to finish, and it's made very clear that they plan on making more. Sadly Dr. White is the only truly interesting character in the cast, as Beck is your generic "I have to save everyone" hero who hardly ever speaks in the first place, the Roll inspired Call is a robot without emotions, Dr. Sanda is non stop cheesy lines and annoying, and the other Mighty Nos are either just as bad or have even less dialogue than Beck making it hard to know if we should like them or not. Overall, this game isn't one you should get for the story, nor should you expect the quality seen in the X or Zero series -- which is actually what this game is most like.

The Gameplay:

When this game was announced to be a successor to Mega Man, we expected the gameplay to be the same as well. Well, it's not. Before I go on any further, let me make it clear that this is not a Classic Mega Man game, but instead it is something more similar to what is seen in Mega Man X, Zero, or ZX. Yes, the game is a 2D side scrolling action platforming game, but how it plays, and what the stages are like makes it something a lot different from the good old run 'n gun classic Blue Bomber.

Before you jump right into the game, you're given the option to select which stage you want to go to first. Each one has their own theme/gimmick, and it is pretty clear what you'll be in for by the description of the stage, and boss. For example, water/ice boss is in the water area, electric boss is in the power plant area, and fire boss is in a burning oil field. Really it's nothing we haven't seen before, but at the same time you can't really expect everything to be the same -- if you do, this game will be a major let down. Once you get past the familiar stage selection screen, you'll instantly see how different this game really is.

The basic controls for the game are as followed. You can run left and right with the analog stick or D-Pad, you can jump, you can shoot, you can pull up a menu to switch between abilities you've gained, and you can dash -- the latter being the most important this time. Other than this, Beck can also grab onto ledges, he can use a jumping back move that shoots downwards at an angle as you do it, and he can also dash under objects when down is being held as you press the dash button. Overall the controls are very simple, and if you've ever played Mega Man Zero or ZX, you'll instantly know how to shoot, dash, and jump your way through the stages; this is exactly how this game is to be played.

Rather than slowly walking through each level and shooting enemies until they are dead, Mighty No 9 uses a system where after an enemy's health hits 0, you can dash through them to absorb them and gain a small stat buff such as stronger attacks, or having your shots pass through walls. Of course you can also keep shooting enemies until they die after reaching this point, but that will actually make the game harder by not giving you your buffs, and you'll also get a lower score at the end. Instead the way the game is meant to be played is by shooting an enemy just enough times for them to enter the state (any shot after will weaken your absorption rate of them), and then dash through them as fast as you can; creating combos all the way from the start of the stage to the finish. It's a very fast style of gameplay, and it can be a lot of fun... It's just, some of the stage design choices will get in the way of that fun.

The biggest issue with each stage in Mighty No 9 is that they tend to barrow some of the most annoying elements from past Mega Man games, or more specifically Mega Man X6, X8, and the final stages of ZX Advent. What does this mean? Spikes -- that's what. Just like in the MM series, spikes will instantly one hit kill you, and there are multiple stages where they are placed in the worst possible spot. Most of the time you'll get killed by these because you hit them before you could even see them (thanks dashing), but once you've learned where they are they stop being a problem. Sadly the same can't be said for the other death traps which are only deadly because of wonky controls and enemy placement. Although the game is normally nice and smooth, there are a few hick-ups you'll come across when in tight spaces, or when enemies guard cliffs or death traps just waiting to knock you in. There's also a section later on in the game where it may be necessary to jump down off of a moving hook you're holding onto, but you'll find that it is impossible to do so because pressing jump in mid air activates a mini hover jet pack in this section. Instead you'll find yourself constantly grabbing a hold of the hook as enemies shoot you to death or you somehow find a way to escape. Moments like this are just oversights that should have been caught, but once you figure out how to deal with them they can be easily avoided as well -- doesn't stop them from being annoying though.

Other than this, some stages do barrow some nostalgic moments as well. Of course some may not like them as much as the original "versions" of these stages, but some may find them to be nice throw backs as well. For example, one stage is basically Spark Mandrill's stage from Mega Man X1 (complete with the electricity in tubes, and the lights going on and off), while another stage has a tower that looks very similar to the tower climbing section in X1 as well. Sure these sections may just be cheap rip offs and continue to be things we haven't seen before, but they can also be some of the better moments within these stages. Sadly these moments don't last long and you'll most likely come across something that annoys you shortly after, but at least they are fun while they last.

Like in past Mega Man games, Beck also has the ability to "steal" powers from each boss he fights. For some people this may be the most important part as it was always fun to see what new abilities Mega Man would get, but sadly in MN9 these abilities are a little hit or miss, and actually function more like the Bio Metals and form changes from Mega Man ZX and ZX Advent. In these games rather than stealing the power from the boss, you would either transform into a version of the boss, or become the boss themselves (in ZX Advent)... MN9 uses the style of the former. Upon defeating a boss, not only will that boss appear in a stage later on to help you (the stage with the boss their power is strong against -- which basically gives away each enemy's weakness), but you'll also be able to transform and make use of these powers. Sadly not all of them will be as viable as your standard buster weapon, but there are moments within some stages where they'll be required to reach extra areas, and there are a few that will greatly change the gameplay experience; or more specifically the blade ability.

The blade ability may possibly be the best power in this entire game, depending on what type of play style you like. Rather than being a standard weapon with an energy bar to limit how much it can be used (don't worry, energy recharges by dashing through enemies so most powers do stay full anyway), the blade ability can be used non stop, and it practically turns the game into a Zero and ZX clone. Dawning red armor, and a yellow scarf flowing behind him, Beck is free to run, dash, and slice his way through every stage using his trusty sword. The blades are strong, they can knock back and block bullets, and they can even protect you from some other types of attacks that can be hard to dodge. In other words, the blade transformation is like a character of it's own, and those who are a fan of other games created by Inti (which is the team that helped develop this game as well as the Zero and ZX series) will feel right at home. Basically if you're one of those people who can run through the Zero games by hitting enemies just enough times and dashing through them to finish them off without slowing down, you'll do perfectly fine using the blades -- you'll most likely have a lot more fun doing so too.

Other than this, there really isn't much more to the game. Run right, shoot enemies, dash through them, jump on platforms, avoid death traps, fight bosses by memorizing their patterns and exploiting weak points, and do whatever you can to achieve the highest score. The game also offers a wide verity of in game achievements to work towards to offer some replay value, but if you want something harder you can increase the difficulty after clearing the game for the first time. In these harder modes health items don't appear in all of the same locations (enemies don't drop health in this game, health must be found or earned from absorbing enough to build up an energy tank), enemies move faster and hit harder, and they also have more health. There's also a one hit kill mode where you die instantly if you're crazy enough to try it. Of course if you're not up for this challenge you can just stick with normal -- the game is pretty easy in it's base state as you can even go into the menu to choose how many lives you start each stage with. (Something I personally didn't notice, and lowered by mistake... It wasn't until I finished the game that I realized I didn't have to go through the entire game with one life, only gaining more by picking them up at times... Ah well, like I said, the game is pretty easy in general.) On top of that, there's also a verity of different mini challenge stages you can play through (again, similar to Mega Man Powered up), and some can even be completed in co-op. There really is quite a bit to call you back to this game, and and plenty of reasons to come back to it if you wish.  Although, that's not the only reason to come back to this.

Ray DLC:

Typically I wouldn't mention DLC in a review, but considering this is an entire second side to the game's story, and it comes with new copies of the game, it's something worth mentioning.

Ray is a female robot who sort of takes on the role of Bass and Protoman in Mighty No 9. She's angry, filled with power, and for some reason she's dying -- something that carries over into her gameplay. This robot sets out to get revenge on Dr. White (for some reason), and she's not going to let anyone stand in her way. Her time is limited, and she's going all out.

Unlike Beck, but a bit similar to his blade mode, Ray is a full on melee attacker. She has claws to rip things apart, and her dash move is a spinning dash that can also kill weaker enemies in a single hit. Rather than dashing through enemies to absorb them, her attacks actually destroy her targets, and that becomes a key part of her gameplay. While she does play through all of the same stages as Beck, she is what you might call a speed run character. Her health is constantly dropping, and the only way to survive is by killing enemies to "recover," and by racing to the end as soon as possible. This is where the challenge comes in.

Although Ray can "heal" by killing enemies, she cannot heal if she takes actual damage. Each second her life ticks away, a second health bar can be seen behind it -- this is her true health. If you take damage while her health bar is drained, her true health will drop down to whatever it is. For example, if her current health is at 50%, but her true health bar is at 100%, the moment she takes damage her true health will drop to 50% and will not be recovered past that point when an enemy is killed. On the other hand if her health is at 50% and her true health is at 100% and you get a kill without being hit, your health will jump back up to 100% and begin draining again. In other words, you have to keep moving, you have to keep killing, and you have to avoid getting hit -- especially in boss fights where you have no hope of finding any health items to recover your true health once it drops from being hit. This makes her story much more challenging than the main game, and is perfect for speed runners. Also for anyone who is a fan of games like Mega Man X5 or X6, you'll be happy to see that her story is told with the same style of highly detailed 2D art seen in those games. As funny as it may sound, many people may actually like this style of story telling better than the 3D models seen in game -- the vocal work and dialogue is quite a bit better during Ray's story as well.

The Good and the Bad:

It's not easy to point out both the good and bad in a game like Mighty No 9, but you can easily see where things could have been much better. First of all, this is not what an almost 4 million dollar game should look like. The graphical quality is pretty low, animations can look pretty funky, there's some issues with the stages that were simply overlooked, mouths do not move in cutscenes, the voice work isn't the greatest, and the game doesn't do much to innovate itself or break away from Mega Man. Instead it tries to copy elements from these games, and the result is simply more of the same but "not quite as good" -- possibly due to nostalgia. Anyone looking for something new really won't be finding it here, and anyone who is looking for the Mega Man they used to know and love, you won't be finding that either. Instead this is a game that will mostly appeal to X, Zero or ZX fans, but with some of classic Mega Man's more limiting movements (for example, no wall jumping). Dashing around at high speeds, killing enemies, and slashing your way through the game with the blade ability can be a lot of fun, but you'll also come across sections that you'll flat out hate. Some long time fans may compare this game to games like Mega Man X6, X8, or Mega Man & Bass when it comes to the stage design, but for those who aren't used to such cheap tricks may get discouraged easily. This honestly isn't anything we haven't dealt with countless times before, but one can't help but wish they could have evolved past it in some way. Having challenges in stages is one thing, but having fake challenges based on luck is something completely different.

Even so, Mighty No 9 isn't actually a bad game. Again, those hoping for something that'll blow them away wont find it here, but anyone who just wants a simple action game to blow through is sure to at least have some fun with this one. It's not an amazing game, but it's an okay game that you may still return to once in awhile. If you can just put aside the long development times and the high budget, you'll see that Mighty No 9 is a game that at least deserves a chance. You'll have to put up with some annoyances here and there, but again, what Mega Man game didn't have moments like these? Being a massive fan myself (and someone who has played every Mega Man game minus a few Japanese exclusives), I can honestly say that there is at least one moment or two in each game that I dread going through, and I can now say the same for Mighty No 9 as well. Sometimes you just have to push through and get back to what it is you like about the game. Maybe Mighty No 9 isn't worthy of being Mega Man's successor, but it was entertaining.