Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates Publisher: Deep Silver Format: PC (reviewed), PS4, Wii U, Xbox One Released: June 21, 2016 Copy provided by publisher
Mighty No. 9 feels like a cheap Mega Man clone from a man afraid to stray too far from his best known creation while fearing accusations of sticking too close to what he was best at.
It feels cheaply presented, frustrating to play, and devoid of definitive direction.
Let’s start with the most immediately deficient aspect of Mighty No.9’s presentation, the dialogue and voice acting. A perfect example of the game’s wonky narrative is showcased in the very first spoken line of VO in the game:
“It is the current year..”
Yep, the game opens up by vaguely stating that you are playing in a world set in “the current year”. Ignore the fact the game world has sentient AI machines, a massive robot fighting colosseum, and is far more technologically advanced than our world today, it is very definitely “the current year.”
The writing rarely improves from this point. A particular highlight of the introductory mission sees a professor shocked at an ability our heroic robot is able to use before remembering that he actually programmed that ability and should not have been nearly so shocked that it was being used.
The writing is constantly contradictory, stilted and disjointed.
Voice acting quality doesn’t ever seem to improve either. From terrible line reads that seem to have been recorded in isolation without any thought for how emotional tone would carry between lines, to awkward pauses in VO that hamper pacing, the voice acting in Mighty No. 9 always feels like a budget product from a team struggling to pull together enough cash for their story.
I love when video games use their boss fights to push players to their limits, testing players abilities and pushing them to retry an encounter over and over in order to overcome a tough but fair challenge.
When done correctly, like in Dark Souls, Shovel Knight or Undertale, these encounters are a memorable and unique joy to overcome. Bosses throw unique challenges your way, pushing you to switch up your gameplay style until you discover a way to push through to a unique and satisfying victory.
Mighty No. 9 is tough, but not in any kind of way that feels rewarding. Everything about Mighty No. 9 screams that the lesson it took from modern gaming was that difficulty was popular without implementing any of the frustration-saving solutions modern games have developed.
Where Shovel Knight has no defined penalty for death, with anything lost when dying to a boss theoretically retrievable, Mighty No. 9 features a lives system that punishes boss deaths with needing to replay complex platforming sections every two or three attempts.
Where Undertale bosses are varied in the attacks they throw at you and the skills needed to survive, Mighty No. 9 bosses always seem to throw the same challenges at players, requiring the same steps to survive.
More than a few bosses feature the same section in their fights where they shoot projectiles that can freeze the player, initiating an impossibly timed button-mashing sequence that, when failed, results in losing an entire half of a health bar.
If, like me, you are not fast enough at mashing A quick enough for such harsh demands, many of Mighty No. 9’s boss fights might well become functionally impossible to survive.
Where Dark Souls allows players to apply persistent upgrades to themselves over time, ensuring even failed runs make future chances of success higher, Mighty No. 9 sets up brick walls and gives players no option but to bash their heads against the problem until it is gone.
In no regard is Mighty No. 9’s difficulty rewarding, it’s simply frustrating.
This is most disappointing because the gameplay running up to boss fights feels like classic Mega Man with a dash of speed running tech thrown in.
The jumping and shooting are responsive, enemy designs are memorable, platforming is fair if challenging and level designs are unique and instantly recognisable.
The introduction of dashes allows boss runs to be completed more quickly as you learn layouts and the idea of absorbing enemies to temporarily power yourself up adds an interesting tactical element to the order in which you kill enemies.
It’s just that the vast majority of levels end with infuriatingly tough bosses who would feel a whole lot more manageable if I had started the game with an option to shoot upwards, dash upwards to deal with bosses that cheaply move out of range, or be free of an arbitrary number of lives.
The fact that most bosses wielded an attack I was not fast enough at tapping A to effectively avoid meant that early progression was slow, infuriating and made me want to punch my screen.
This set of issues was somewhat alleviated as progression was made, but the opening segments of the game felt almost insurmountable.
Oh, and half the time Mighty No. 9 completely fails to mention mechanics available to players. The fact that regular enemies freeze on the spot when ready to be dash attacked but bosses do not is never addressed, causing early boss fight confusion. Several power ups and collectables never have their effects explained.
The fact that you can defeat enemies to build up healing items which are stored on your pause menu and can be used even when your character is unable to move is never explained. Multiple vital aspects of the game are just never effectively introduced to players.
What’s perhaps most annoying about Mighty No. 9 is that Inafune clearly knows how to fix many of the problems present in the game. There’s a DLC transformation that allows attacking upwards from the beginning of the game and an additional DLC boss which throws out the gimmicks and just relies on skilled combat movement to fight.
There are examples in Mighty No.9 of Inafune designing content that feels rewarding, but it’s often set aside as optional DLC rather than being a core aspect of the game’s design.
Much like an anime fan on prom night, I would rather be at home playing Mega Man than here. I would rather be playing Shovel Knight. I would rather be playing most games in this genre.
Mighty No. 9? More like Shitey No. 9!