June 20, 2016
Mighty No. 9 is one of the most hateful experiences we’ve had playing a game. It wants you to die. It wants you to fail. It rewards you for rushing through levels, but if you do rush through levels you’ll have to repeat the same damn tests over and over again. It’s a mixture of being intentionally hard and absurdly designed - and the result is infuriating.
So let’s get one thing straight: we tried to complete this game properly. We tried to kill everything that should be killed and get rid of every obstacle that was in our way. Because that’s how you accumulate score: the more kills you can chain together in one wonderful line, the higher you rank. But the hitboxes are fucked, the tracking on enemy AI is screwed, and the way the game's little hero Beck controls is sluggish, like you’re trying to mould tar underwater.
And that’s before the framerate drops come into it. So we’re playing it pre-patch on PS4, and it’s a twitch game - some stupid little fire-breathing flowerpot asshole is trying to burn you as jump across a pit (the pit is a one-hit KO, by the way). So you’re being careful. He triggers his four-way split-burst projectile and you jump. But the PS4 staggers and the framerate goes all over the place, so actually your jump triggers a frame or 10 too late. And you die.
Well done, idiot, back to the start of the level you go.
We wouldn’t mind, but it’s not the first time this has happened. Oh, and the game deleted our save data the first time we cleared this sorry excuse of a level, too (this issue should have since been resolved with the game's day one patch). So by this point we’re pretty aggravated.
It’s fine, we think, we’ll boot up one of those other levels we’ve got on offer - after all, there are eight proper levels you can jump into straight after clearing the tutorial; we’re sure it’s fine. But every level, every time, the same is true, case-by-case: electronic projectiles with unclear hitboxes, AI with homing attacks that don’t seem to make sense, framerate that somehow slows to a crawl (this bothers us the most, because the game looks like it was supposed to release on 3DS or something).
Since announcement, Mighty No. 9 been billed as a tough game - a game that harkens back to the original Mega Man titles. It’s intentionally difficult, and that’s fine. But the slippery way protagonist Beck handles and the slight (but ever-so-noticeable) delay on every input you trigger turns that difficulty into palm-smacking frustration. The level design is often outright mean - insta-death zones placed to coax you into rushing an enemy and dying straight away. Usually that would be fine - we love difficult games, even at the worst of times - but intentionally mean level design like that in Mighty No. 9 just comes off as sneaky, underhanded, crude.
But we really don’t know how much of that is down to the game being a dick to the player, and how much is down to our skill. We’re not proud to admit it took us a good 30 goes before we got through some of the levels. And when you’re reviewing something in a tight amount of time, we can’t lie - that may have clouded our vision with rage.
But we soldiered on, paying little attention to the straight-to-VHS story and the appalling voice acting, keen to actually make something of this platformer: a genre that’s sadly under-appreciated in the current market. But you know the only positive we could really take from this? ‘It feels like Mega Man, a bit.’ If you close your eyes and squint, you can pretend this is an unlicensed remaster. There’s your saving grace.
Let’s talk about bosses. Bosses are supposed to be fun, unique experiences that offer punctuation to a level, right? Well, apparently Comcept would say you’re wrong: bosses are supposed to be trial-and-error slogs that aggravate and glitch and artificially extend a game’s life. Nailing one of the childish little bastards on the final segment of your health bar is exciting, don’t get us wrong, and we’re sure there will be YouTube highlight reels of exhausted and sweaty ‘influencers’ putting the fuckers in their graves, but it’s not fun. It’s arduous. It’s long. And it’s repetitive.
Maybe Mighty No. 9 is attempting to emulate its 90s influences a little too strongly and that’s the result. But after copy-and-paste platforming sections designed exclusively to make you suffer, or copy-and-paste mini-bosses you have to face twice in a row before you’re allowed to proceed, or infuriating chase sections that result in instant death if you so much as blink at the wrong time… we can’t face them with much enthusiasm.
Let’s compare this to something like Shovel Knight - a game that took the NES platformer influences and ran with it all the way. Mighty No. 9 is a shambles compared to it: the art direction feels lazy and derivative, like Inafune found an old college sketchbook and handed it to his concept artists. The music is uninspiring and insipid, the whole thing sounding like the mishmash of sounds you’d hear from a cheap Tokyo arcade’s bathroom, and the graphics? It may have worked so much better in 2D or pixel art, but we’ll never know. You wouldn’t believe this game has been delayed as much as it has looking at it: in fact, you’d think it should’ve come out as a XBLA ‘Summer of Arcade’ game sometime five years ago.
Despite all this - despite everything - we can’t hate it. Not totally. Because a hateful, malignant little part of ourselves enjoyed bashing our head against the wall for hours on the same level. It made us feel like the game was taunting us, like it was intentionally broken.
It feels like Mighty No. 9 is a famous swordsman in Game Of Thrones, right, and this swordsman has one arm, leprosy and a pretty gnarly chesty cough. And he challenges you to a fight. He’s a dirty old bastard - throwing dirt in your eyes, feigning tripping over and smacking your fingers with his wooden cane to make you drop your weapon. Every time this crusty hermit wins, you think ‘fuck you old man, I’ll have you this time’ and every time you jump back in.
It just makes you angrier every time you lose. But somehow, despite how fucking bad everything about the game is, you can’t stop smacking your head against it. It’s a hard thing to score because of that, but we can tell you this: it isn’t a good platformer, and it isn’t a good Mega Man-esque game. And yet, despite everything we’ve moaned about in these last 1000 words, we wouldn’t say that Mighty No. 9 is necessarily a bad game. It’s just average, at worst.
Challenges and completion bonuses abound, and some more tricky rewards await those willing to test themselves. Not a bad list, all told.