Mighty No. 9: It’s Not That Much “Better Than Nothing”
July 7th, 2016
Filed under: Reviews
Even after the infamous trailers, the doom and gloom surrounding release, all of it…I wanted so bad for Mighty No. 9 to be an overall good game. So bad.
But as it turned out, anyone with any experience actually designing Mega Man gameplay didn’t work on the same for Mighty No. 9, even Inafune just…wrote it/conceptualized it?! …This is what I get for not following the process. And if any “veteran Japanese game creators” they claim to have had working on it actually worked on any gameplay akin to well-thought-out Mega Man, I sure as hell couldn’t tell.
With only the final boss to defeat (an utter chore at this point since I’ve memorized her patterns), I can finally give my thoughts on this thorough disappointment. Each of the pros below has an associated con, in order, along with bonus cons to cover more of the unsavory bits. ALSO SOME MINOR SPOILERS, FOR THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT THE STORY.
ReXelection, the take-weapons-from-bosses system, is a grand idea, a pretty cool take on Axl’s powers from Mega Man X7. Love the ability to switch styles on demand, with a bunch of the powers being classical-style stolen weapons. Harkens back to Battle Network-esque styles where certain abilities are unique and cost nothing, fun.
I for one dig “shoot n dash” as an alternative to just “jump n shoot”, it keeps things really fast paced and allows for some fun aerial movement while contributing to the scoring system.
Level pacing was pretty decent for the most part. Things slowed down for some encounters naturally, with frantic speedups in other parts that gave a good thrill on progression. Notable is Seismic’s stage and its tunnel sequences, as well as Dyna’s stage with well-timed arenas (even though, narrative-wise, they seemed to make little sense).
Boss fights were fun exercises of the mechanics that actually required some critical thinking…to a point.
Bosses “cleansed” of their corrupted Xel show up in other stages you attempt, to remove some of the hazards for you, which I thought was a nice touch.
The art style is vibrant, vivid, works well overall in giving the game a cohesive look and feel.
- A lot of the extra combat abilities in each ReXelection are functionally useless, as they either don’t have enough utility or don’t deal enough damage to encourage using them over spamming normal shots.
I guess you could say that some ReXelections are specifically for utility while others are focused on attacking, but the Battalion and Brandish ReXelections ended up trivializing around 80% of the combat, to the point where bosses became laughable. Even Brandish’s underwhelming spin-attack was semi-useful in a few encounters.
I suppose this isn’t that much of an issue because you can just use the core weapons like Mega Man games of old, but that begs the question: why have all the extras to begin with then? “Options, Noel!” Objectively inferior options, but sure.
- “Shoot n dash” would be REALLY amazing if defeated-and-not-yet-absorbed enemies didn’t still damage you on non-dash contact.
The way the enemy placement is set up is so counter-productive to the core idea of defeating-then-dashing-forward…there’s pits placed behind enemies at the end of your dash distance, enemies spawning on other enemies you defeat in arena sequences, such that you have to wait to attack the new ones for fear of being damaged…which destroys your combo if you absorb the defeated one before it regenerates since you “took too long to absorb it”…I could go on. Level design contributes to this also, but more on that later.
TL;DR, asinine enemy placement undermines the fullest potential of “shoot n dash”.
- Level pacing was generally good, but level design got really annoying, really fast.
Countershade was the worst offender.
Imagine, if you will, an objective to “Search for the boss!” Cool, all I have to do is find the boss right? Simple. Well, not really. In reality, you have to find him in a looping hallway…with no checkpoints. None . You also have to not just “Search for” him, but actually attack him once you find him, which isn’t evident unless you experiment and hit him enough times to trigger the boss fight; That finally gives you a checkpoint. Yes, that means if you make one false move and hit the death lines that he leaves you on the 1.5-2nd loop through the level, you start from the beginning. The large amount of enemies you have to contend with as you constantly dodge Countershade’s sniper fire through the vertically cramped hallway, along with the chaos of having to “shoot n dash” through that mess, constantly losing health due to misplaced enemies, makes for a terrible experience. No Inafune, peppering the level with health pickups was not the solution to this level’s design; our health wasn’t the core problem. Making us do the hide and seek was the core problem.
“But Noel! He’s a boss, why didn’t you just attack him on instinct as much as you could?” Well, I did do that but I didn’t think it did anything, since the miniboss meter doesn’t show up when you find him, as it does other mini-boss encounters where you need to damage to progress. I thought it was a matter of finding him, with any “hits” I scored not actually counting, similar countless other games with “find him before you actually fight him” levels. It was only when I FINALLY triggered the boss encounter that I realized I should have been spamming as hard as possible every single time I caught up with him.
Countershade’s blunder aside, the other stages had some good spots in terms of “oh this is cool, good test of the mechanics here” but a lot of it was “Why would you put those there? I CAN’T SEE THE DEATH SPIKES, YOU KNOW MY FIRST INSTINCT IS TO LAND BELOW ME.” See also “Are you really going to put an enemy here that, if I dash through it, will put me directly in danger of falling to my death?” Additionally, refer to “TOO MANY BULLETS, CAN’T KILL HIM OR I GET HIT AFTER THE DASH BECAUSE ENEMY IS THERE, BUT MUST DASH TO GET TO LEDGE OR I DIE” Finally, see “BRANDISH’S LEVEL’S DESIGN WAS FAR TOO DISJOINTED, WITH ANNOYING ‘ARENA’ SEQUENCES MIXED WITH SCROLLING MIXED WITH FORCED PACING AND GRATING ENEMY PLACEMENT AHHHH”
To be fair, the final levels were fun, but it’s too little, too late.
TL;DR: Level design was less a matter of “git gud”, and much more a matter of “git gud at designing levels, Inafune”. I only blame him directly since he came out recently as accepting full responsibility for the game’s shortcomings. Pretty sure he didn’t have a major hand in the design.
- The boss fights promoted some clever tactics to finding their weaknesses and best approaches, but once you figured it out and got a good shot spam/Brandish spam/Battalion spam rhythm going they fell like Dominoes.
Even the appropriate “weaknesses” we all know and abuse from the Mega Man games didn’t do nearly as well as they could have. Truly disappointing balance issue there, since I had to intentionally use normal Beck for the sort of thrilling fight I’ve come to expect in Mega Man-esque boss battles. It’s like Metal Blade all over again.
- I was expecting a hell of a lot once I saw old, cleansed bosses come back to help in other levels.
I was hype for more when they appeared until I saw them help with about 5 seconds worth of gameplay before saying “Welp I’m out, good luck Beck!” I was almost expecting something akin to the friend help sections in Kirby 64, where Dedede and others appear to help and change up the gameplay a bit (well, moreso in Dedede’s case). More of a personal con than an objective one I suppose.
However, what makes this “feature” even more pointless is the fact that, if you approach an obstacle that would have a cleansed boss appear without the boss having been defeated yet, that area builds up to nothing. Nothing. The “threats” they “helped” were never actually a threat at all, just placeholders for eye candy. Very sloppy.
- Really liked the art style and art direction, really didn’t like the lack of polish.
I have some choice screenshots (as does the internet) of instances of reeeeally amateur modeling and texturing…which I wouldn’t expect from a game directed by the art designer of Mega Man. Or from a game with a $3,845,170 Kickstarter fund. Going to include the tragically mediocre voiceovers here as well, since for that kind of money they REALLY could have done better. Then again, might be the script that made me think the VO was as bad as it seemed. Speaking of…
- The writing/story…why have it?
The script read like an average Saturday morning cartoon, riddled with cliches and dripping with lame, overused idioms (“Don’t count your atoms before they’re smashed!”). The antagonist’s motives for activating the eventual final boss were vague at best, and the personalities of everyone were archetypal, if not bland (Dyna replaces all her “s”s with “z”s…Get it? Because she’s an electricity themed bot with a bee pattern?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA aaaaand that’s her only defining trait). Yawn. Really enjoyed Avi’s puns for Beck though, he seemed to be the best-characterized out of all of them. But really, look at mainline, non-Sonic Boom writing for the Sonic games, starting with Sonic Colors. It’s fun, has the good old Saturday-morning feel, and doesn’t rely completely on cliches and overused writing tropes to get the point of the narrative and humor across.
Really could have done with less banter during the levels too, didn’t add anything to the feel of the game aside from some of the corrupted bosses’ lines. Everything else started grating after a while.
Team Mighty No. 9, if your target audience was people nostalgic for Mega Man, raise the depth/maturity of the writing juuuust a bit. The theme near the end of robots evolving past death machines was pretty good to me, a theme I think was also tackled in Mega Man Zero. But man, they did not pull it off here. Hell, add conversations with each of the Numbers about their experiences as Xel-possessed agents of Trinity’s will after each fight. Replace most of the banter during the level with that talk at the end and I’d be somewhat happier with the story, and would feel that it has some sort of overarching narrative, given its sudden increase in narrative weight near the end. Instead, there’s this strange sack of ideas we have to wade through.
- The music I heard was forgettable, I really don’t remember any of the tracks in the game.
As someone who listens to game soundtracks on the regular, that’s a bad sign. Probably was the rest of the disappointment in the game that kept me from even listening to the music that intently in the first place.
Mighty No. 9 was a total nightmare. Its few shining moments of good design or good aspects of presentation were buried in an avalanche of bad decisions and terrible writing. As the Kickstarter project that opened the floodgates for comeback projects (I mean, seemed that way with all the others coming out of the woodwork afterward), Mighty No. 9 isn’t setting a great precedent for the platform. Let’s hope Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove, Yooka-Laylee, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night live up to the hype.