Mighty No. 9 - HighrezGaming

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Mighty No.9 / 3rd of August 2016

After three long arduous years spent foraging in the development wilderness, Keiji Inafune and his Comcept development team have finally allowed their spiritual successor to Capcom’s Mega Man games to emerge into the cold, hard light of day. After promising much in the way of new features, gameplay mechanics and superior, Unreal Engine powered visuals, the end product feels almost entirely removed from the early prototype footage used to garner support on Kickstarter, let alone the best games that the genre has to offer. There were obviously going to be some concessions made en route to release, this was made especially clear after Inafune-san himself spoke publicly saying that the finished game was “better than nothing” which prompted just one question to repeat itself over and over to me as I played it; is it really?

The narrative of Mighty No. 9 centres on the last of a series of powerful robots, each numbered one through nine, and each packing a special ability unique to them. When all hell breaks loose and the first eight robots find themselves corrupted by a malevolent force, it is up to number nine, otherwise known as Beck, to set things right again. Beck, as it turns out is the most special of all the mighty bots as he can absorb the power, or Xel, of his enemies, even when the robot that he fights is one of his corrupted compatriots.
What happens in this instance is that Beck absorbs their special attack, which means that players suddenly find themselves with alternative weapons to cycle through and utilise, giving an obvious aesthetic variation to Beck’s own standard attack, and some of these also appear to be slightly more effective when taking out certain enemies. On paper that sounds like a great idea, and is perhaps slightly reminiscent of Rare’s Kameo in this regard, yet in practice, the reality falls far short of the promise. There’s no weapon selection wheel, so after procuring multiple weapon types, cycling through them can become a bit of a chore, and frankly, there isn’t really enough of an incentive to actually employ these outside of boss fights, of course, even here the bog standard blaster is more than capable of seeing you through. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most of the weapons (No. 7’s blades aside) are just downright useless, which undoubtedly highlights a glaring opportunity that Comcept have not taken advantage of in their attempts to add a bit more depth to the proceedings. Ultimately, I can only hypothesise that this is a direct result of the open ended design; by allowing players to tackle the available levels in any order rather than adhere to a linear structure, the designers were evidently unsure of how to implement improvements to Beck’s combat effectiveness when using alternative weapon types whilst still maintaining the usefulness of his mainstay gun. Sadly, though, this is only one of the game’s many issues.

Naturally, it was always expected that Mighty No. 9 was going to offer a robust level of challenge, but far too many deaths seem to stem from what is simply substandard level design, there are obviously some highlights to be found across the selection of eight levels on offer, but it’s definitely something of a mixed bag over all. The checkpoint system in place is reasonably generous, but still, having a structure collapse on your head, falling into the obligatory bottomless pit beneath the playable area or succumbing to any of the other instant-kill scenarios, only to find yourself forced back to an earlier point to replay a banal section of a level is hardly going to entice players to simply keep playing, is it? Sure, the goal was to create a retro 2D platformer with a modern day twist, yet ultimately all that Comcept have given us is an unpolished end product isn’t even remotely close to feeling either fresh or original in any way, it’s simply tired and thoroughly antiquated.
This feels as though it is reflected in the aesthetic choices as well, from the insipid cartoon show colour palette to its myriad technical issues and languid animation, Mighty No. 9 is a very poor looking game, not that anyone expected to be blown away by it, but there are simply no excuses available to justify how badly this thing runs on both PS4 and Xbox One. For a start, there is a shockingly minimalistic amount of background detail, with repetitive sprites and primitive models, not to mention shoddy texture work that will surely leave most players simply scratching their head in confusion as they ponder the question that most critics will surely be asking; just how can a game that looks this poor run so badly? As, whilst we can rest easy in the knowledge that the game runs in 1080p on both current console platforms, the framerate on each is altogether shoddy, particularly on PS4. There are visual options available in the settings, which on Microsoft’s Xbox One allows players to toggle with a V-Sync option that doesn’t entirely stave off the threat of screen tearing, but it is an adaptive option that the developer have used and it is this that guarantees 60fps for most of the game, whilst the Bloom option is perhaps the most baffling of all – whether set to on or off, the bloom lighting that should be present in the game is entirely missing. As if all of this really wasn’t bad enough, there are also problems with the real-time reflections not running in sync with the action, and ultimately this all just leaves Mighty No. 9 simply looking like an intolerable mess.

In its defence, Inafune-san has created something that almost felt fun to play at times, his protagonist, Beck, has a second unique power, his dash, which naturally proves essential in tackling the game’s platforming sequences, but also presents a unique twist on combat too. When battling with foes, Beck must weaken them with a weapon and then utilise his dash attack to finish them off, doing so sees him absorb their Xel, and allows for combos to be stringed together that rewards players with increased movement speed and attack power. This is also used in boss fights rather well, with each guardian regenerating their health after succumbing to Beck’s attacks, in order to prevent this from happening, the dash must be used to sap them of their energy. The emphasis is really on speed, which will undoubtedly render Mighty No. 9 a game that will likely be at its best when those willing to work with its stifling design choices and master its mechanics stream their best playthroughs for the world to see. Additionally, its retro soundtrack (available in both modern and 8-bit styles) is not only a perfect accompaniment to the action, but undoubtedly the best feature that the game has to offer.
It is also worth pointing out that whilst the main portion of the game only manages to offer around five hours of play, it is supplemented by an additional game mode to extend its longevity somewhat. EX Mode is a virtual training simulator of sorts that offers a wide variety of challenges for players to complete, and compete with others around the globe on the online leader boards as they search for ever faster completion times. Sadly, the difficulty curve here is more akin to a brick wall given that the game’s mechanics are so poorly explained, and personally, I don’t feel that it offers much in the way of reward let alone entertainment, so it does little to help justify the price tag.

Ultimately then, Mighty No. 9 is a hugely disappointing release, a bland and visually horrendous homage to the classic Mega Man games of old that proves that some things are simply best left exactly where, and when, they are. Avoid.
James Paton
 
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