Back in December of 2010, the veteran game designer, Keiji Inafune decided to leave Capcom to seek out new challenges and with that Comcept was born. Later in 2013, he set out to create a new game that drew inspiration from the Japanese side-scrolling games of the 8 and 16-bit era. As you probably already know, the team utilized Kickstarter to raise the funds for Mighty No. 9’s development and the campaign was a huge success. The nostalgia-filled the hearts of gamers and they completely filled Comcept’s wallet with a ton of cash — four million dollars to be exact. Fast forward to 2016 and after several delays, we’ve finally gotten our hands on the final product and it’s definitely not what we were expecting. Despite the disorganization of the entire campaign and the broken promises, I’m setting out with an open mind to find out if Mighty No. 9 is the bad game that everyone claims it to be.
The year is 20XX and advanced robotics are a part of the everyday stream of life. One of the greatest engineers, Dr. William Light, creates nine robot siblings known best as the “Mighty Numbers”. The best engineers from around the world come here to pit their greatest creations against one another to find out who’ll reign supreme in the government-sponsored competition known as the Battle Colosseum. However, Dr. White’s robot family constantly dominates the top ranks of the tournament — that is until one day when the competition is hit with an act of cyber terror. Suddenly all of the participating robots, including the Mighty Numbers, are suddenly infected with a computer virus that causes them to run amok throughout the country. Luckily, the youngest of the Mighty Numbers, Beck, isn’t infected and has taken it upon himself to not only save his brothers and sisters, but also the world.
When you first start Mighty No. 9 you’ll immediately notice that it is far from a gorgeous game and it doesn’t even come close to the proposed concept art shown during the Kickstarter campaign. It doesn’t even compare to the visualization footage released seven days after the campaign’s completion. The original concept art made you feel as if you were playing a Saturday morning cartoon through its usage of beautiful colors and vibrant lighting effects. I initially thought that the development team would create hand drawn sprites using the 3D models of the visualization test (similar to the way that SNK created high-quality sprites for King of Fighters XIII), but what we’re left with these bland character models and lifeless animations that just leave you wanting more in the visuals department. For instance, during the Radio Tower stage, Avi will appear on a giant blimp display and delivery a somewhat humorous news report about the rampage and chaos that Beck is causing throughout the stage. However, this moment’s charm quickly dries up when you notice Avi’s stale animation, which doesn’t match up with his energetic personality and monologue. The voice acting was adequate, but there were plenty of occasions throughout the game that were ruined by these static animations during dialogue. The characters began to grow on me, but it makes me sad that Comcept completely dropped the ball with potentially bringing these characters and world to life.
In spite of the huge let down with the graphics, the gameplay slightly picks up the slack with borrowed mechanics from other Inti Creates games. As Beck, you’ll traverse through each stage jumping and shooting your way through a constant barrage of enemies in hopes of saving your Mighty Number siblings. Beck’s arm cannon isn’t his only tool for taking down enemies. He can also absorb them after lowering their defenses and then using his acxelerate technique to take them out quickly. This mechanic plays a huge role in Mighty No. 9, but it’s no surprise since this mechanic draws inspiration from Azure Striker Gunvolt. In that game, Gunvolt could use his pistols to defeat his enemies, but it would take way longer if he relied on them alone instead of utilizing his flash field technique. The same situation will happen here as well, Beck can shoot his enemies to the point of death, but dashing through them is the optimal way of finishing the job faster — plus, there’s a chance that you’ll get a status boost afterward, known as axcel boosts. There’s the speed boost, which increases Beck’s movement; the power boost which increases Beck’s weaponry and upgrades his arm cannon’s blast so that his shots cut through multiple enemies; then there’s the defense boost, which simply increases his durability; and finally Beck can collect several life boosts to create an axcel recover — which is the equivalent of an E-Tank from the Mega Man series.
Beck’s dash is not only used for finishing off enemies quickly, but it’s also used for combo building and achieving high scores, which is where this game starts to shine. If Beck absorbs an enemy at the beginning of their destabilization, he’ll receive a 100% absorption rating and a combo counter will begin. Any hesitation will cause the absorption rate to drop to 90% or lower and it will restart your combo counter. This is where knowing exactly when to dash through your enemy becomes extremely important and slightly elevates Mighty No. 9’s gameplay. Although, combos aren’t the only method of building your score. Technical boosts provide another way of encouraging the player to explore the level and perform advanced feats for extra points. One instance involves successfully dash absorbing multiple enemies at the same time. Not only that, but the player can earn extra points by discovering hidden areas, speed-running through certain sections, or even defeating a boss without taking any damage. Score building made me truly appreciate the gameplay and it’s was definitely the highlight of the game for me.
Boss battles were also somewhat fun since they are reminiscent to those from the Mega Man series. The Mighty Numbers will repeat set patterns while you dodge incoming fire and slowly deplete their health. At certain points during the battle, they’ll become destabilized and Beck will have to dash through them to permanently remove that portion of health. Any hesitation will not only disrupt your combo counter, but they can also regain the health that they just lost. However, once Beck depletes their life to zero and removes the virus, he’ll acquire their weapon for later use — or that is what I thought. The majority of the optional weapons proved useless to me in battle, either because they were too weak, or their shot range proved to be inefficient. I usually relied on Beck’s standard weapon and Brandish’s blades, because it felt like I was switching between Mega Man and Zero on the fly. Occasionally, I’d find myself utilizing Pyrogen’s weapon, but the charge time was horrendous and it only proved worth my time during boss fights. It’s unfortunate that the other weapons barely get any real usage, but this isn’t surprising since optional weapons sometimes get overshadowed by others in Mega Man games, too. However, it would have been a nice addition to the level design if certain sections within stages required a particular weapon to explore, in the same vein as Mega Man X. This would have easily encouraged the player to revisit a stage, other than to increase their score or ranking, and it would increase the replay value.
Mighty No. 9 was a tricky game to review, but I wanted to give it a chance, just so I could form my own opinion about it. In the beginning, I was one of the many that were once filled with hope by the Kickstarter. But in the end, the entire campaign slowly transitioned into a shit-storm of development delays, distribution complications, and broken promises. So it’s no surprise that Mighty No. 9 is getting all of this bad press, but it sucks for other indie developers who need crowdfunding to finance their projects. Only because gamers will now be hesitant to fund campaigns because of the negative outcomes from Mighty No. 9. I backed the project in the beginning, but I pulled out early on only because I had a bad feeling about the entire thing — and it looked like I made the right decision. I just feel as if Keiji Inafune bit off way more than he could chew and got way too trigger happy with merchandising Mighty No. 9 before its release. Not only were we getting a game, but apparently an animated series is in the works, too. It also didn’t help that immediately after the completion of the Kickstarter campaign, he launched yet another campaign for a Mega Man Legends spiritual successor entitled, “Red Ash: The Indelible Legend”, further adding to the negativity behind his decisions. I can only wonder what was done with the four million dollars that the campaign generated. One thing is for sure, it didn’t go to the art department in hopes of improving the graphics before the release date.
Despite all of this, I remain a huge fan of the games co-developed by Keiji Inafune and Inti Creates — obviously because of the focus on the scoring and ranking. The combo system ended up being my favorite part of the game and acxel boosts added an extra layer of strategy by forcing me to make quick decisions for extra points. All of the score building mechanics became addicting to the point where I found myself constantly restarting stages just so that I could perfect certain sections for higher scores. But that’s about it, and it sucks because most of the positives that I found in the game were quickly accompanied by negatives. If you’re the type of person who enjoys tough platforming games with an emphasis on scoring and speed-running, then I’d recommend this. Otherwise, I can only recommend this when it’s on sale. Mighty No. 9 isn’t necessarily a bad game, it’s just one that ended up being disappointing with an underwhelming experience.