[Review] Mega Man 9

8 Oct

Mega Man 9 is very easy to review. You’ll either love it or hate it depending on how you feel about the rest of the series, particularly the six NES titles. Still, I suppose I can clarify exactly why it is that Mega Man 9 is so clear cut.

Mega Man 9 is like a greatest hits reel of the six NES titles it was inspired by, with a bit of 7 and 8 thrown in for good measure. That’s a nice way of saying that it’s very difficult at first, but, like the rest of the series, becomes pleasantly beatable. At first, you’ll find yourself cursing in frustration as you attempt level after level, but eventually, you’ll have tiny moments of transcendence where things just click.

Each stage recycles familiar conventions of the series in refreshing new ways that’ll make you confident Capcom can pull off a Mega Man 10. So, be ready for enemies that jump out of pits, a ceiling of spikes in an underwater passage, and, of course, disappearing block puzzles hovering above bottomless pits.

In addition to these difficult bits of nostalgia, you’ll encounter at least one interesting quirk per level. In one stage, you’ll run back and forth on a dangling platform to create enough momentum to leap across a gap. In another stage, you’ll fly through various portals, again building momentum to reach the next area. One of the later stages introduces a particularly interesting take on anti-gravity.

The bosses themselves each have great designs and manage to turn rather generic sounding names into creative appearances and attack patterns. The weaknesses are as unintuitive as ever from an elemental standpoint, but most make sense in their function. Some actually function well against several bosses’ attacks. The Wily boss weaknesses aren’t as obvious, but they’re creative and fun and offer that cranked up challenge we’ve come to expect. There are even a few familiar references here and there.

When it was announced that sliding and charging would be removed for Mega Man 9 to make the game more like the fan favorite 2, some of the fan base was a bit worried. Fortunately, the absence of these two mechanics is barely noticeable as the levels have so much to offer with just the basic jumping and shooting. If Mega Man 9 channels what Mega Man 2 was like when it was first released, I can begin to see why fans rave so much about the original sequel.

All of the obstacles come together in brilliant level design that would have you think the game came out back in the 80’s, something the sights and sounds greatly contribute to.

Fans have always had mixed feelings about Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8, the two entries in in the classic series not for the NES. With changed graphics comes changed gameplay, no matter how closely you stick to the formula. It’s because of this that the graphics in Mega Man 9 not only contribute to the game looking like the games of our past but feeling like them as well.

Mega Man 9 goes beyond being the “seventh NES Mega Man” by fixing the only major flaw in the series, something that wasn’t addressed until Mega Man 6: the energy crisis.

In previous Mega Man games, you’d get to Wily’s Castle where it was guaranteed that you had all the tools the game had to offer. That means, in order to progress, you’d have to use the various Rush platforming powers as well as the ones you learned from the fallen robot masters. Every Mega Man other than 6 featured this mechanic to some degree, but 9 implements it in a tasteful way that never becomes an issue.

MM9 also features the Energy Balancer, an item that allows you to recover energy without switching between powers, relatively early on in the game. It’s one of the ten items that you can buy in the store, a concept borrowed from MM7. As you play, you’ll find screws that you can use to stock up between levels. Some of the items are familar stand-bys such as E Tanks and 1Ups, but there are also items that can reduce the damage you receive or let you survive contact with spikes. These items would be useful, but they’re used up after completing a level.

As this review is posted, the first bit of downloadable content has been made available for the Wii version of Mega Man 9, the most interesting of which is the Proto Man expansion which allows you to play as Mega Man’s scarf-wearing rival. Proto Man can charge and slide like Mega did in the past games and can also reflect projectiles with his shield while jumping. Other downloadable content will include extra difficulties, a survival mode, and a new level (complete with new boss.) It’s a bit unfair to ask players to pay for content like extra difficulties, but the prospect of extra content is nice.

There’s something about the thrill of starting a new, old Mega Man experience. Mega Man 9 couldn’t get away with its extreme difficulty if it weren’t Mega Man. That means anyone new to Mega Man that actually enjoys 9 would most probably be a fan of the six NES titles. On the otherhand, anyone who didn’t like any of the NES games wouldn’t find anything here to change their mind. I’m sure the hype surrounding 9 is bound to get some people wanting to retry the series, but I doubt many will be convinced.

Mega Man 9 is a blast from the past and a breath of fresh air all in one digital package. Go love it or hate it.

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