A Failure of Epic Proportions


HIGH The hunt for Mighty No. 8.

LOW Falling onto spikes that were obscured by a text box.

WTF How did the idea of facechecking enemies to kill them even get off the drawing board?

Mighty No. 9 is terrible. That statement shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows games, but simply labeling it as crap and moving on is a mistake. Mighty No. 9 isn’t noteworthy just because it’s bad, but because the ways in which it is bad are so precise. Its failures feel so deliberate and painstakingly ill-conceived that I can’t even imagine the degree of dysfunction that went into its development. More than just fodder for critics, Mighty No. 9 should be a cautionary tale about hubris and overconfidence for future game designers.

When robots around the world go berserk, Mighty No. 9 (also known as Beck) must spring into action and rescue his fellow Mighty Numbers and neutralize the threat. The setup is as Mega Man as one can get without actually being Mega Man, so it is reasonable to judge it by Mega Man’s standards. This is the crux of understanding Mighty No. 9’s failure—it takes a proven formula that has been replicated to varying degrees by numerous other games over the past two decades, and somehow completely screws it up.

The greatest hindrance to Mighty No. 9 is its primary combat mechanic. In order to finish off enemies and collect Xel (the game’s currency) one must dash into them after they’re disabled by cannon fire. This move is called facechecking, and it requires not just walking into them, but literally dashing. Enemies are still active even while disabled, so mistiming a dash can mean taking damage instead, losing most of the Xel to be had. Traditional Mega Man revolves around precise ranged combat, so requiring the player to get up close to collect drops makes zero sense. In fact, this concept is so bewildering that I’m shocked that it made it past the planning phase.

Absorbing Xel quickly can result in temporary upgrades like increased firepower or movement speed. However, the movement speed was more likely to send me to instant death than help me, and the firepower doesn’t do much outside of a few instances where it’s practically required to get past an obstacle. So not only is the method of currency collection at odds with the style of combat presented, the rewards for collecting that currency are mostly useless.

In terms of level design Mighty No. 9 manages to replicate traits from the worst Mega Man games, such as an over-reliance on instant-death traps and enclosed rooms with swarms of enemies. While cheesy levels aren’t necessarily a huge problem if the checkpoints are forgiving enough, Mighty No. 9 also brings back the archaic system of limited lives, making an already frustrating experience into a nightmare by forcing the player redo an entire level after failing to cheap deaths. Any modern platformer worth its salt wisely dispenses with limited lives, so the decision to bring it back is inexcusable.

The art style, reminiscent of the horrific later Mega Man X games, is also a dud. None of the environments or effects stand out enough to be memorable, and interactive game objects are often hard to see against the background. This also causes yet another problem with the dash-to-kill mechanic—since disabled enemies sometimes blend in with the environment, it’s even harder to tell if it’s safe to facecheck them. The user interface is also horribly over-complicated, making basic tasks like switching weapons an annoying chore.

Despite all the problems I had, I still felt that at least a few people in the design meetings knew what they were doing. Mighty No. 8’s stage is a great twist on classic Mega Man level design, and the way boss weaknesses are handled with one of the other bosses helping out in certain levels is pretty neat. On top of that, Mighty No. 7’s weapon (which replaces Beck’s cannon with a close-range sword) even makes the dash-to-kill mechanic work to a limited degree. There was undoubtedly a lot of creative firepower behind this game, but for whatever reason those forces were not in alignment with each other.

When considering Mighty No. 9, I’m strongly reminded of Daikatana, a similarly ill-fated “masterpiece” from a well-known games luminary. Like Keiji Inafune, John Romero had grand ambitions and failed spectacularly. Like Ion Storm of old, the minds at Comcept and Inti Creates know full well how to make good Mega Man games, and have even done so as recently as 2014’s Azure Striker Gunvolt. The idea that these people would fail in every conceivable way when making a Mega Man-style game is morbidly fascinating. However, being interesting doesn’t change the fact that Mighty No. 9 is still a dismal failure. Rating: 1.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game is developed by Comcept and Inti Creates and published by Deep Silver. It is currently available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, and Vita. This copy of the game was obtained via kickstarter backing and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed due to a glitch in the last level. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E (10+). The action is all pretty kid-safe and none of the content was objectionable.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All relevant dialogue is subtitled and audio is not a significant gameplay factor.

Remappable Controls: Keyboard controls are remappable, but the controller setup is locked.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

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5 years ago

So Richard, someone’s eventually going to ask this but is Mighty No 9 worse than Mega Man X7?