A game with this much hype and controversy surrounding it can be hard to critique fairly. There is so much going on, what with the game’s multiple delays and lacking promises to Kickstarter backers, that looking at Mighty No. 9 on its own merits is something of a challenge. Fortunately, I’ve kept myself rather isolated from all the controversy, and have absolutely no stake in the game as either a Kickstarter backer or Mega Man superfan. So in its own right – as an action platformer on the Wii U eShop asking for the price of twenty dollars – is Mighty No. 9 a worthy purchase?
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the game is pretty ugly. The environments and characters all look plastic, with few engaging designs or attractive backdrops. This is a complaint often made against titles with unimpressive visuals, but it really looks like a PS1 game at times – and not in a charming way. It’s just… ugly.
The music fares a bit better. There’s nothing memorable, but neither are the tracks bad, or unfitting. The songs match the atmosphere, yes – or the limited atmosphere there is to be had – but they do not add to it. Considering the franchise Mighty No. 9 is drawing so heavily from, the utter lack of noteworthy music is quite disappointing. For an action platformer, a memorable soundtrack can improve a game considerably – and this game could use some improvement.
The story is atrocious. It stars a robot named Beck, one of nine robots called the Mighty Numbers. When a virus infects all the robots in the country, including the other Mighty Numbers, Beck sets off to absorb the other robots’ powers and discover the villain who set all this in motion. It is sincerely, truly painful. The writing is unimpressive to say the least; there are attempted jokes, but they always fall flat. The characters are either uninteresting to a remarkable degree, or annoying in some way. I’ve never been less interested in a main character.
The voice acting is especially painful. Not a single voice actor manages to inject their characters with any likable personality, and many just annoy. A lot of this comes back to the material they have to work with, but again: it’s just not very good voice acting. At times I felt like I was playing a GameCube era Sonic game. Cutscenes bring the experience to a screeching halt, and whenever the characters conversed during gameplay, all I wanted was for them to shut up.
Fortunately, things start to improve once you reach the gameplay. As Beck you can jump and shoot, of course, but more important is that, in the air or on the ground, you can dash. This helps you traverse chasms and obstacles. It also helps you take down enemies; once an opponent has been shot enough with your gun, you can dash into them to take them out.
It’s a satisfying set of mechanics. The game is pretty fast paced, and the dash mechanic can lead to some fun moments. The problem is that not much interesting is done with these mechanics. The level designs lack any sense of inspiration or passion; I felt like I had experienced it all before, only done quite a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional moments of legitimate satisfaction and tension to be had, but these are rare; for the most part I was just…. bored.
As someone who always sucked at Mega Man, I did not find myself breezing through Mighty No. 9, but it also wasn’t a massive challenge. Checkpoints can be far apart, but the platforming does not allow for much finesse, and you have a huge life bar. Honestly, this is my least favorite kind of difficulty – it is challenging not on the basis of its individual obstacles (though of course there are exceptions), it’s challenging through a thousand almost-inescapable tiny cuts that accumulate over time, and eventually force you to redo the progress you’ve made. Bosses also fail to impress; I generally did not find them to have overly enjoyable designs.
Technically, it works pretty well. While early reports indicated that the game was crashing Wii Us and included tons of bugs, the game ran smoothly for me after an update. I also did not have many problems with the framerate or anything like that. And as always, off-TV play is a nice touch.
Ultimately, Mighty No. 9 is just not worth the price. It has a satisfying set of mechanics, but that is all it has going for it. The visuals are atrocious, the music unmemorable, the story painful, and the level design mediocre. This is not a game that deserves all the attention it is getting. It’s not a horrible game; but neither does it deserve much of your attention or cash. Gamers truly craving an action platformer may want to consider it, but most should take a pass on Mighty No. 9.