A PlayStation 4 copy of Mighty No. 9 was given to XO.TV by Deep Sliver for the purpose of this review.
Mighty No. 9 isn’t a bad game but it’s also not a great one. It sits somewhere just above average which, to be honest, is perfectly fine. Naturally those who funded the game via Kickstarter and other means, will be quite disappointed about this but sadly sometimes a game doesn’t end up great. Game development is exceedingly hard… sometimes stuff goes wrong, as it evidently did here.
When Mighty No. 9 is at its best, the game feels truly wonderful to play. The problem is, there are too many times where the game gets in the way of itself, and this is where the game falters.
Mighty No. 9’s biggest issue is how aspects of the game, be it gameplay mechanics, level design or story, frequently conflict with each other, breaking the fluid experience the developers seek to create.
Mighty No. 9 is very different from the game it’s influenced by (Mega Man). I think one of the reasons why some backers and journalists are so upset with the game is because they boot up the game expecting one thing, and instead get something totally different.
Whilst Mighty No. 9 might look like Mega Man, and in some respects plays like Mega Man, its core mechanics are very far removed. Mighty No. 9 is all about speed and reflexes. It’s not about a slow methodical pace, like Mega Man, but rather about bursting through the level as quickly as possible by any means. The primary shooting mechanics do well to cement this ideal.
When you shoot enemies and lower their health they become staggered, turning purple. When enemies are in this staggered state, the player can dash into them to destroy them. Doing this can sometimes give the player a short buff, depending on the enemy.
It’s not just the standard fodder that uses this mechanic, it’s bosses too. But they use the mechanic a little differently. After reducing some of the boss’ health, you will be required to use the dash skill to permanently reduce the boss’ health. If you don’t dash into the boss in time, then they can start regenerating their health.
Whilst this system works very well on one, very important, occasion it conflicts with the rest of the game.
The final boss’ primarily color is, yup, you guessed it, purple. The first few times I fought the final boss, I struggled to understand when he was staggered for this very reason. What didn’t help was a hard-to-read stagger animation which made it even more frustrating. I found myself dashing into him when he wasn’t staggered, and dying as a result. I understand the thematic reason for making the final boss purple, however it just conflicts way too much with the core mechanics.
It’s moments like these which ruin an otherwise perfect game. With a little bit of polish, this issue could have been completely eradicated.
Another area of conflict is during levels there will frequently be minor story exposition. Character text boxes will appear, with the various characters explaining things or talking to one another. In Mighty No. 9 death can be swift and brutal, so having characters talk whilst the player is trying to concentrate on the level at hand can be very frustrating and can even go as far as to remove information from the player. For example, during the boss fight in the first level, the characters will speak over the boss’ own lines which indicate what type of attack he’ll do. This leads to many unnecessary deaths.
It’s important to note that these problems do occur pretty frequently. Most of the levels have at least one problem with them, even if it’s just a very minor issue (such as a water level being very, very, dark, decreasing viability significantly for no apparent reason). Having said that, there are one or two levels that come together perfectly.
There is a Highway level which requires the player to jump from cars as they drive along the highway in order to progress throughout the level. The level is thrilling and interesting, and definitely shows what can be done when the development team gets everything right. Another level, my favorite, is set inside a fancy hotel which sees a sniper track you the entire time, constantly firing bullets as you go through all of the rooms attempting to find him. It’s essentially one giant, dynamic puzzle.
It’s these levels where everything comes together, where Mighty No. 9 truly shines and we see the game that could be, had the developers spent a little bit more time polishing the final build and ensuring all of the game’s design fell into place.
Of course there’s some things which no amount of polish could fix, and that’s the games very bland and uninspired art style. If I’m deeply honest, I feel as though most of the hate Mighty No. 9 receives is because of its lackluster art style, more so than its gameplay. There’s something salvageable in Mighty No. 9’s gameplay. There’s nothing positive about the way Mighty No. 9 looks.
What makes the lack of graphical prowess even more frustrating is that despite the game not being very technically complex, it runs quite poorly. There are clear dips in frame rates in certain levels, which can occasionally damage your gameplay experience (although neither of the frame rate dips caused me to die).
The story is simplistic (which is fine for a game so focused on its gameplay) however is presented very poorly in roughly animated cut-scenes in which the character’s mouths don’t move, yet everything else does.
Another area where Mighty No. 9 lets itself down is its soundtrack, which is completely forgettable. This is definitely a crime. Considering Mega Man 2, a more than twenty-year old game, had fantastically memorable music, it brings Mighty No. 9 to shame.
Just listen to a piece from Mega Man 2 below:
The music from Mega Man 2 is amazing. It gets the player pumped up for the fight, ready to go. There is nothing like this in Mighty No. 9, at all.
So… where does that leave us?
Mighty No. 9 is a disappointment, because it’s bland, when the game’s it’s inspired by are anything but. Having said that, it’s an enjoyable game and isn’t nearly as bad as everyone says. Yes, it looks horrible, and yes, there’s a cheesey story which isn’t properly told, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is definitely very enjoyable and entertaining. If you’re a player who loves hard games, who wants to play something fast-paced and arcade-y, then Mighty No. 9 won’t disappoint. If you go into Mighty No. 9 expecting something which doesn’t exist, be it greatness, a Mega Man nostalgia trip or a technical masterpiece, then you will ultimately be very disappointed.