Review:Mega Man 9 (XBLA)
Guantanamo Bay for thumbs.
Over ten years after number 8, Mega Man 9 has just been released on XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare. Based on the NES games, the last of which (Mega Man 6) was released fifteen years ago, Mega Man 9 is the definition of retro. Do NES games have a place in today’s market? Or is it just trying to cash in on nostalgia?
If you’ve never played a Mega Man game before then nostalgia doesn’t come into it, and you probably don’t even know anything about it. I’d like to point you towards our Mega Man 1-8 feature, but I’ll explain briefly here too. In Mega Man games you play as the titular Megaman who is a blue robot boy with a gun for a hand. Generally Dr Wily creates eight Robot Masters with which to take over the world, and Dr Light (creator of Megaman) sends you to defeat the Masters and eventually Dr Wily. The gameplay consists of moving from left to right jumping and shooting until you reach the boss room where you take on one of the Robot Masters. Upon defeating the Robot Master you gain his weapon which gives you an advantage against a different Robot Master. Mega Man 9 is no different.
Now, I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of action platformer type games. Contra, Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes, and of course the original Mega Man games, I love them all. Needless to say I was looking forward to the release of Mega Man 9 and the fact that it’s based on the NES versions was the icing on the cake. Throw in the cheap price point (800 Xbox, 1000 Wii, £6.99 PS3) and things were looking great. Then I turned it on and died (in game).
Then I died again. And again. I’m no slouch when it comes to Mega Man games, and this game was kicking my arse all over the shop. Instant deaths mostly, Mega Man 9 is full of them. I had started with Concrete Man’s stage, so I moved onto another to see if I could complete that. I couldn’t. I tried another, and failed again. I couldn’t believe it, the game was throwing tricks at me that I wouldn’t expect from any of the other games until later levels. Still I was enjoying myself so I persisted. Once I’d learnt the levels they weren’t as much trouble and it’s actually quite short once you get the hang of it, it’s just a shame that the learning curve is nigh on vertical, even for fans of Mega Man games.
Anyone who hasn’t played any Mega Man game previously doesn’t stand a chance initially, and due to the lack of any gradual build up in difficulty most won’t get hooked enough to continue playing. It’s a shame, because this is up there with the best Mega Man has to offer.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about how Capcom have managed to recreate the feel of the original NES games. Visually the game is spot on, and looks surprisingly very good. Mega Man 9 is proof that good quality 2D doesn’t age badly. Everything is colourful and full of character just as you’d expect if you’d played any previous Mega Man games, and the boss designs are very good (bar maybe the rather goofy looking Galaxy Man), there are some decent sized sprites and it all runs smoothly. The sound effects are the same as from the old games, but it’s the music where Capcom have outdone themselves. Mega Man 3 has the greatest music in my opinion, others say Mega Man 2, and now there is a third game to add to the mix. Some of the tunes in Mega Man 9, especially later in the game, are truly excellent. Forget that it’s 8-bit, just like with the 2D visuals, good music doesn’t age. It’s here, as well as in the level design (difficult though it may be) that it is obvious that Capcom took great care to create a game worthy of the Mega Man name, to stand alongside 2 and 3 as the best in the series.
Now this is a tricky review given the games intentional lack of appeal to all but the hardest of hardcore 8-bit platformer fans and blue bomber zealots alike. The gameplay is frustratingly unforgiving with every screen covered with instant death spikes and bottomless pits and enemies that respawn if you backtrack too far off screen. So if like you’ve lost a little of your old school gaming edge and have gotten soft in this ‘next gen’ age of quicksaves and rewind-o-time gimmicks prepare for a full on anal assault the like of which you’ve not felt in fifteen years.
MM9 is frustratingly hard and as such will probably only appeal to those late twenty and early thirty somethings that grew up with the Mega Man series on the NES (and the number of those in the UK must only be in double figures). Almost anyone else won’t see past the draconian graphics and only one checkpoint per stage but is that such a bad thing?
Now I’m decidedly NOT one of those select few but I still have to respect a game that sticks to its principles so well. When I die I know it’s because I wasn’t quick enough shooting an enemy or remembering where the ladder was and that I won’t make the same mistake on my next go but given that this happens hundreds of times throughout the game you’ll most likely lose all patience and just give up. If you can stick with it you’ll get rewarded but don’t expect anything more that some on screen text an a short but sweet animated sequence and another catchy Mega Man style tune.
Secondary Score: 6/10
In fact, Capcom seemingly based this on the earlier versions of the games, as Mega Man has lost a few moves he had gained. The slide move from Mega Man 3 is no longer here, which I think is a shame as it made Mega Man far more manoeuvrable, and now Mega Man’s gun (the ‘Mega Buster’) cannot be charged by holding down the ‘fire’ button. This isn’t really detrimental to the gameplay as the levels have been designed with these limitations in mind and Capcom were obviously following popular opinion by creating a game as close to Mega Man 2 as possible. Certain things have been kept though, such as story sequences, a save feature, a shop where you can buy lives, power ups and other things using ‘bolts’ and the characters Rush, Beat and Eddie return to help Mega Man through the levels. It’s an amalgamation of the previous eight games, and it works well.
Capcom seem to be a fan of achievements too, as every version of the game has ‘Challenges’ which are little tasks to complete during the levels. Some are easy (kill a 100 enemies) and some are seriously difficult (complete the game without getting hit), and are only for the super hardcore, since as far as I’m aware there is no reward for completing these challenges. Which kind of leads me on to my next point.
There is a black mark on this game (as well as the difficulty, if you are so inclined), and that is that Capcom have pulled a Namco. Capcom felt that just releasing a straight forward Mega Man game wasn’t enough, and as well as the Time Attack mode which is already in the game you can download new modes, characters and levels, at a price. The low price of the full game and the fact that a lot of people won’t get the most out of that makes it seem fair enough, but the downloadable content is the magic size of 108KB, meaning it’s already there in the game, you just have to pay to unlock it. I’d have personally much rather seen the new modes earned by completing the game or beating specific challenges, as would have been the case in previous generations. Still, mixed feelings about that one as this isn’t a full priced game, so to get all of that content for £7 would have been very generous of Capcom. It’s just a growing trend that we at Peoww would like to discourage.
Mega Man 9 is a triumph of gameplay over graphics and fair play to Capcom for trying something different. It proves that old school 2D game types still work and should open the door for other original, big name games to be made in the same vein, and not shoehorned into 3D. The difficulty will put off many but the reward is there for those with the patience and ability, and although the downloadable stuff should be frowned upon it’s not enough to mar the experience. This will be remembered as one of the best Mega Man games ever made.