From the moment that the Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9 was announced, there were enormous expectations placed upon it, and it was always going to be impossible to live up to them. The hype came from Keiji Inafune and a team of Mega Man veterans being at the helm of what appeared to be a spiritual successor to the classic games in the Mega Man series. However, while Mighty No. 9 shares much in common with the critically acclaimed Mega Man games of yesteryear, it suffers from shortcomings that prevent it from ever reaching those lofty heights.
The first thing that strikes you is Mighty No. 9's graphics. They are, quite frankly, terrible, and it looks as if the game could be running on a PlayStation 2, which is slightly disappointing considering it grossed almost $4 million dollars on Kickstarter.
The story of Mighty No. 9 sees you take control of Beck, the ninth Mighty Number, and plays out just like the Mega Man games: a number of robots (in this case eight Mighty Numbers) are under the control of an evil bad guy and it's up to you to stop them. The story is, for the most part, unimportant, as Mighty No. 9 puts all of its emphasis on the gameplay.
Those who have dabbled in the Mega Man series will feel right at home, as classic features such as being allowed to tackle the stages in whichever order you see fit are present here. However, Mighty No. 9 goes out of its way to put its own spin on the classic formula in an attempt to establish itself as a separate entity.
Many of these changes serve to make the game more accessible to the average player. Most notable of these is the option to adjust how many lives you start each level with. Veterans of these kind of games can set it as low as two, while newcomers can set it as high as 9 to give themselves a chance to beat levels without having to constantly start over from the beginning. This is a very handy feature even if you aren't a newcomer as you can find the sweet spot for how many lives are right for you, which gives the game a nice balance between being challenging but not too tough.
Mighty No. 9 is also very generous with its checkpoints, and you will rarely ever find yourself losing huge stretches of progress due to a single death. This comes in extremely handy, as at least once a level you will find yourself stuck on one specific thing that causes you death after death.
Another adjustment to the classic Mega Man gameplay is Beck's ability to assimilate Xels from other robots. Rather than just shooting and destroying robots, Beck is able to stun them and then use his AcXelerate dash attack to take them out, gaining power-ups and a higher level score in the process. This ability to assimilate with other robots is what allows Beck to gather the special weapons of the boss robots that he faces, and is something that is featured heavily throughout boss battles.
Speaking of power-ups, they are another aspect of the game that is used to make things more accessible. In each level you will come across Patch, a friendly robot who will throw out power-ups that increase things like your firepower or rate of fire, as well as extra lives and AcXel Recovers that restore your health in the same way E Tanks do in Mega Man. These power-ups are handed out quite often in addition to being obtained from defeating enemies, and the game will even decide at stages that you are struggling and need even more power-ups. This can get to the point where it's overkill and begins making the game much easier than it should be for the average player.
Platforming plays a huge role in Mighty No. 9 and for the most part it handles well. The jumps the game challenges you with are quite enjoyable to pull off, but it's let down by the occasional ridiculous platforming sections that either don't make much sense or require you to perform trial and error until you eventually luck out. One of these sections occurs in the game's final level, where special blocks prevent you from completing jumps. Hitting them in a certain pattern can destroy these blocks, but after dozens of attempts to decipher "puzzle" we determined that it's completely random. To make matters worse, destroying these blocks sees the game's framerate dip astronomically. Similarly, there is also an area of the Water Works Bureau level that if not done correctly can leave you stranded with no way to progress, resulting in the need to restart the whole thing.
The boss battles are by far the area in which Mighty No. 9 is at its mightiest. Each fight requires patience, skill, and observation, and really makes you work for your victories. It also does a great job of keeping each battle unique, with every boss having its own distinct flair to make the battle memorable.
Boss battles haven't escaped being made more accessible in Mighty No. 9, as the level select screen has an advice button that will tell you what weapon is most effective against the boss. Making this feature optional was a smart decision, as much of the enjoyment and comes from learning what works and what doesn't against every boss. The special powers you receive from defeating each boss now recharge over time, rather than completely depleting as they do in Mega Man, which again makes the game easier.
Unfortunately, the boss battles are not without their flaws. There are times during boss battles where characters will pop up and talk to you, with a text box covering the lower portion of the screen. The problem with this is that it impairs your vision, while the audio forces you to miss cues that help you dodge attacks. This is particularly inconvenient in the Oil Platform level as the boss temporarily gains a one hit KO move that requires you to pay attention to the audio cues in order to stay alive. This led to us having to use a dodgy work around of pausing the game and going into the options menu in order to skip the voice over so that we could fight the boss properly. The final level and boss also employs a huge difficulty spike, and while you do feel like the king of the world once you beat it, you're going to have a hellacious time doing so.
Mighty No. 9 also features two challenge modes – one solo and one co-op – that test you with certain conditions such as being unable to attack or not receive power-up support from Patch. A Boss Rush mode is also unlocked upon completion of the game, while you can jump into Online Race Battles and compete against other players to see who can finish levels the quickest.
Mighty No. 9 appears to be caught in two minds about whether it wants to make a Mega Man-style game for novices or veterans, and that indecision unfortunately prevents it from being anything close to mighty. Combine the release's well-meaning but misguided attempts at accessibility with sub-par graphics, puzzles, and an insane difficulty spike towards the end, and you end up with a title that's not very mega at all.