Mighty No. 9 Review – Nostalgia Cynic
Mighty No. 9June 21st (NA/Asia), June 24th (EU), 2016
PS4 version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher.
We all know the reason Mighty No. 9 was kickstarted to the tune of a whopping $3.85 million, with an extra $400k being crowdfunded later: nostalgia. It’s an incredibly powerful tool to use, one that Keiji Inafune has both managed to use perfectly and damage greatly. It’s been a turbulent route for a number of reasons.
Let’s start with the major reason. With long delays as well as two extra crowdfunding runs later, while calling people slacker backers, trust was depleting. Comcept, and inafune by proxy, didn’t help themselves by seemingly ignoring Mighty No. 9 while trying to cash in on nostalgia even further. Red Ashe: The Indelible Legend and Red Ashe: Magicicada were both put up on Kickstarter at the same time as Mighty was seeing further delays, where even the trials demo – an apology for the delays – was hit by a delay.
All the delays are over and Mighty No. 9 has been released. The real question is if it can recapture the glory days of Mega Man and prove to be the spiritual successor it wants to be.
There’s a huge difference between a difficult and a punishing game, or as some may call artificially difficult. This is something most gamers are aware of. While games like Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy and Spelunky are difficult, they’re excellent fun, rewarding, and have gained huge numbers of fans because of this. Punishing games like Mighty No. 9 task you with smashing your head against a brick wall until either the wall, or your skull, caves in first.
I’ve got no shame in admitting that the game has beaten me. However, that’s the inherent problem, it shouldn’t be designed to beat the player, just to challenge them. A good game makes repeated deaths fun, or at least easy to recover from, while still being frustrating. If you look at games along the lines of Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami and even the Souls series, deaths either don’t negate any permanent improvements made during that run, or they’re so quick to come back from due to the levels being short or fast.
Mighty No. 9 has none of that. It’s incomprehensible that there’s an arbitrary lives system found in the game. While these lives can be boosted through pickups, losing them all at any point boots you out of the level and sets you back to just three lives. The problem with this comes primarily through the difficulty of the bosses. While certain levels offer slightly challenging sections, the most challenging for myself was the oil-rig where buildings would fall on you. Though it was only made difficult by a seeming lack of pattern by untouchable artillery units, not the dodging of the falling buildings.
Throughout the thirteen stages (plus one tutorial stage) there are smaller sub-bosses or events, capped by the end boss. Examples can be a large group of enemy units ambushing you in the second stage, or two helicopters attacking in the sixth. Everything in the level up to the end boss seems to stay at a level, or slightly rising difficulty curve. Hitting the bosses is like hitting a brick wall.
There are a number of reasons for this. The first is the absolutely absurd amount of health they have in comparison to your attack power. It’s literally like chipping away with a pea shooter. Though this can be mitigated by using an ability they are weak against. The issue is that these are only obtained by defeating other bosses. This isn’t to say the bosses can’t be defeated, they just require an almost saintly amount of patience, or just more skill than me. They follow patterns, as to be expected, and they have multiple stages to them, but the annoyance comes with the tendency to stun or ignore its own rules.
A large number of bosses offer a method to stun you, be it though freezing you or other methods. This is perfectly fair as your attacks, when you damage an enemy enough, stuns them for you to dash in and ‘absorb their xels’, which can also be used to give you a power up. The problem with enemy stuns is that they use them repeatedly, in quick succession, and require you to rapidly press a button while attempting to move side-to-side to break out. In theory, this lets you break out before too much damage is done, the actual requirements it places on you means a woodpecker would struggle to hammer the button fast enough.
What compounds this issue, and my argument that the game outright ignores its own rules, is that when you have dealt enough damage to a boss that you are able to dash in and absorb their xels, is that they can still move. With both Mighty No. 6 (Avi) and Mighty No. 2 (Cryo), I’ve got them to that point, only for them to move out of the way. They have then flown, or jumped, out of my reach making dashing impossible. This then lets them regenerate all the damage done.
One other issue that comes with the boss fights is the game’s own tendency to get in your way. As mentioned before, each of the bosses’ attacks has a pattern. Some are difficult to discern from others due to similarities, others aren’t so difficult. Other issues include attacks that quite literally obscure over half of the screen. In the case of some bosses, lines of dialogue are said which pops up a subtitle box that covers a large portion of the screen. In the latter case, against Pyro, it’s when he goes into a one-hit-kill form, to only complicate matters.
If these design choices weren’t bad enough, it’s not even that good to look at and downright terrible to listen to. What little saving grace there is for the game, the music and soundtrack are decent. The music is quite good to listen to, changing and fitting in with the levels. Other audio effects fit in well with the game, lasers, explosions and the sound of the enemies all fitting in.
However, this is where the strengths end and it all goes downhill. The voice acting, alongside the script, is just terrible. I genuinely think that the game would have been better sticking with the Japanese audio, it certainly wasn’t worth the extra $200,000 crowdfunded for the English language. Further complicating the issue is that the game is just so bland. From the colorful concept that got the game funded, it’s turned into such a bland looking husk of a game. What little color is muted, the character models are ugly outside of the cutscenes and it just looks soulless.
Compounding matters is the fact that the game has so many issues and is poorly optimized. A game that looks this bad should never run into frame rate issues, yet even on PC’s there’s been reports. I noticed problems on the PS4 and I’ve even had the game crash a few times. What seems to be Comcept’s biggest issue is that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Offering multiple platforms is all good and fine, but’s it’s invariably led to the detriment of the game.
I’ve got no doubt that my own personal inability has caused a lot of my frustration with the game. At the same time, I’ve been downright rubbish at a number of other games. The vast majority have featured good game design that has kept me coming back for more, wanting to beat the challenges. That isn’t the case here.
Mighty No. 9 is an incredibly frustrating and abysmally designed game. I’ve found great enjoyment, with the frustration, in challenging games like Super Meat Boy. The From Software games are up there as some of my top games ever. Here, nothing works to make the game enjoyable. The difficulty curve is obscene and the game itself can’t abide by its own rules. Honestly, you’d be better off buying and playing Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams if you want a fair but challenging platformer.
Mighty No. 9 was designed to be a spiritual successor to Mega Man. If any of that spirit was ever here, it's long since decayed. The game is incredibly frustrating, suffers from bad design choices throughout and offers only middling enjoyment .
- The act of moving through a level, particularly when you time the dashes and jumps perfectly, can be incredibly fun.
- Level design is all over the place, culminating in faux-difficult boss battles that are even more punishing due to the absurdly arbitrary life system - only implemented to artificially extend an absurdly short game.