Mighty No. 9 Review

*Review based on the Playstation 4 version of the game*

Mighty No. 9

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Mega Man has been MIA for years now, with the franchise seemingly disappearing after the release of Mega Man 10 in 2010. Aside from the Blue Bomber’s appearance in Super Smash Bros., Mega Man has become something of a video game hero of yesteryear. It makes sense then, that when a hopeful spiritual sequel was revealed on Kickstarter back in 2013 under one of Mega Man’s original creators, Keiji Inafune, it gained a lot of attention. Not only did this game, dubbed Mighty No. 9, reach its crowdfunding goal within the span of two days, but it also promised to be a worthy successor to the Mega Man franchise, filling the large gap created when the series came to an abrupt halt.

But that was then, and this is now. After numerous delays, production issues, broken promises, laughable marketing, and a subsequent failed Kickstarter for a spiritual spinoff a la Mega Man Legends by Inafune, reaction towards Mighty No. 9 went from excitement to skepticism. Sadly, said skepticisms weren’t misplaced, because the final result of Mighty No. 9 is a decidedly mediocre disappointment.

In concept, Mighty No. 9 looks to have all the trappings of the franchise that inspired it: It features a robot protagonist (named Beck) who runs and shoots his way through different action-packed sides-crolling stages, which are selectable in whatever order the player feels like. There are eight other robot bosses that need to be defeated in order to gain their abilities, with each robot’s power being particularly useful against another like a game of rock, paper, scissors. And the game even tries its hand at a Mega Man level of difficulty.

Problems arise, however, when it becomes apparent that all of these connections to Mega Man are all incredibly superficial. In execution, Mighty No. 9 rarely understands the finer points of the Mega Man formula that made it work so well.

Mighty No. 9The most immediate issue with the game is the gameplay itself. Beck runs, jumps and shoots like Mega Man did, but he moves more sluggishly, and his jumps feel awkward. The level design feels similarly dumbed down, with much of the so-called “challenge” feeling outright cheap and unfair. The placements of one-hit kill obstacles are far more ridiculous than you’d ever see in Mega Man. While the Blue Bomber often faced similar obstacles, there was a sense of strategy with how to overcome them. They felt like intelligent traps that required the player to think. In Mighty No. 9, there were multiple instances where I felt luck played a more prominent role in whether or not I made it passed certain obstacles than strategy or skill. Then there are segments where you have to make your way through with a ridiculous accuracy, as going too slow means you’re stuck until the trap or platforming obstacle resets itself, and going too fast can lead you to losing one of your precious extra lives. It simply breaks the flow of things.

On top of that, the levels themselves feel largely uninspired. The majority of Mighty No. 9’s stages feel like they’re just marking a checklist of features from Mega Man titles, without having any distinctly creative means to prevent them from feeling like rehashes.

That’s not to say that the gameplay and level design are all bad. A new dash attack is added into the mix, which allows Beck to absorb weakened enemies to rack up points and combos, thereby getting through the level quicker and earning the player a better grade. Another fun addition that feels like it could have served as part of the evolution of the Mega Man series is that the boss robots whom you defeat may appear in subsequently played stages, where they may change up the environment by eliminated an otherwise devious situation or two.

Mighty No. 9Meanwhile, two of the stages – one placed on top of the speeding vehicles of a highway, and the other inside of a more open-ended area, where you must continuously avoid the sniper fire of the boss and track him down -bring a nice change of pace to things.

On the downside of things, even Mighty No. 9’s good points come with a not-so-good flip-side. The Dash, for example, can be repeatedly used in midair, rendering many platforming challenges moot. Most of the abilities you get from the bosses end up being largely pointless, except when up against their assigned boss, and the ice ability obtained from the fight against Mighty No. 2 practically breaks the combo system, as freezing enemies allows the dash to grant you full points from an absorbed enemy without really trying. The moments where defeated bosses help you out is a good idea in concept, but they feel underutilized in execution. Even the two more creative levels I mentioned are among the shortest in the game, while the more uninspired ones tend to drag on and on.

In the game’s defense, it does at least try to give its characters some personality, though it only succeeds so often. I did like the aforementioned sniper boss, Mighty No. 8, who bears a resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name character, and wishes to become the first robot president of the United States. I also liked Mighty No. 6, a helicopter robot who thinks of himself as a newsman reporting from the sky. It’s cheesy, but I got a few chuckles out of it.

That charm only applies to some of the characters, however. Beck himself lacks any discernible personality traits other than “he’s the main character,” and the human characters (of which there seem to be too many) are entirely forgettable. And then there’s Call, Beck’s answer to Mega Man’s Roll, who just falls under the anime archetype of the girl robot who acts more like a robot than the other robots. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be cute or something, but it just takes away the potential for another actual character.

Mighty No. 9The cherry on top of this sundae of disappointment is that it just isn’t very pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint. While the original Kickstarter pitched a striking, hand-drawn visual style in the vein of Mega Man 8 brought up to date, the actual game looks like a throwaway 3D action game in a 2D perspective. 2.5D games can look great, as is evidenced by titles like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but in terms of both art direction and graphics, Mighty No. 9 is certainly no Tropical Freeze. Not by a long shot.

Even the music, one of the most revered traits of the game’s Mega Man lineage, is largely forgettable. It’s not a bad soundtrack, but when you consider how often the tunes of Mega Man would get stuck in your head in the best way, and Mighty No. 9 looks to emulate the series so closely, the fact that I can’t even hum any of the game’s music by heart is a big letdown.

In the end, Mighty No. 9 has some moments of fun, and even some novel ideas that, in concept, sound like they could have made sense as an evolution of the Mega Man formula. The problem is that, in execution, Mighty No. 9 continuously stumbles. Its better ideas feel underdeveloped, and its lesser ideas feel like cheap, lazy knockoffs of its inspiration.

Thinking about what Mighty No. 9 originally promised and what it ended up being is so disappointing, it may leave you crying like an anime fan on prom night.

 

5

Red Ash’s Kickstarter Troubles

Red Ash

Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s Kickstarter campaign for Red Ash – a “spiritual successor” to the Mega Man Legends sub-series – isn’t doing so well. It’s likely that it will reach its funding by the end of the campaign, but only just. However, people are now beginning to question whether it will end up getting funded at all.

This is in a stark contrast to Inafune’s last Kickstarter attempt, Might No. 9 (the spiritual successor to the original Mega Man series). Mighty No. 9 was an immediate, roaring success, being funded within two days of its campaign’s launch, and is often credited with popularizing the recent trend of crowd-funded games.

One would think Red Ash would have had at least a little bit of the same impact. After all, Mega Man Legends has a pretty strong cult following, and countless people were disappointed with the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3. With Inafune’s previous success with Mighty No. 9, along with fans’ demands for a follow-up to Mega Man Legends, you’d think that Red Ash shouldn’t have had any problem reaching its goals. But it has. Red Ash struggled to get even halfway to its initial goal, and it’s safe to say that the stretch goals are a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

This is a shame, since I think, overall, Red Ash looks like a promising concept. In fact, it’s only the second Kickstarter game I have personally backed, the first being Yooka-Laylee (I do fiercely regret not backing Mighty No. 9, Bloodstained and the new Toejam and Earl though). At the same time, there were some hugely questionable decisions with this campaign that have obviously played a part in Red Ash’s troubles. Here are my top five reasons why I think Red Ash has had so much trouble getting off the ground.

 

5: It’s maybe not quite Mega Man Legends enough?

Okay, so this first reason is actually about the game itself, not the project. This reason is also more speculation based on my personal impressions, so I can’t speak for everyone here.

Honestly, I love the look of Red Ash’s characters and the idea of its world, but it also doesn’t really feel like Mega Man Legends. It looks like a fun, anime-inspired concept, like Mega Man Legends was, but it itself doesn’t feel like Mega Man Legends itself. Since its position as a spiritual sequel to Mega Man Legends was Red Ash’s major selling point, the different vibe from the game might have been off-putting for many.

I know it’s a spiritual sequel, so it can’t be exactly the same. Nor would I want to see Keiji Inafune just recycle the same exact ideas for a supposed new IP. But with Mighty No. 9, the connection to Mega Man was obvious. It simply said that if you love Mega Man, you’ll love Mighty No. 9. But I don’t see that here. Perhaps Red Ash would be more reminiscent of Mega Man Legends if we had more complete information on it. But with what’s been shown so far, it’s hard to make the kind of connection I think Keiji Inafune was aiming for.

 

4: Two Kickstarter campaigns at the same time

Here’s where things boil down to the Kickstarter campaign itself. Or should I have been typing campaigns throughout this whole thing? Because Red Ash has two of them. The main Kickstarter is for the game itself, the second is to help develop an animated mini-series based on the game.

Keiji Inafune is one of my favorite people in the video game industry. I love his creations and I love his passion for his creations. I understand why he wants to turn his creations into big franchises that encompasses different media. I get that, and I respect that.

"The anime based on the game! .....That isn't even funded yet."
“The anime based on the game! …..That isn’t even funded yet.”

The sad fact though, is that this wasn’t a good opportunity to jump headfirst into franchising his creation. Mega Man Legends was never Inafune’s best-selling property, and it had the Mega Man name attached to it! So when making a spiritual successor that has no direct connection to a previous work (other than some reused character names from Mighty No. 9), and with crowd-funding playing a big role in its production, it may have been better to hold off on the animated series until after Red Ash proved itself worthy to branch out into the world of animation.

If you’re at a place where you need crowd-funding to help a project, I think that should be enough of a sign to not get ahead of yourself. It’s true that Mighty No. 9 has now been announced to have a feature film and an animated series in the works, but those were announced after Mighty No. 9 proved to be a success. The Red Ash campaign thought it would be in the same boat as Mighty No. 9 from the get-go, but that was always a gamble.

I know if I want to see an animated series based on a game, I kind of want to love the game first.

 

3: Too soon

There’s also the factor of Kickstarter-fatigue to consider. In the last two months alone, Kickstarter has seen three record-breaking video games: Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Shenmue 3. All three games fill different gaming demographics, and most gamers who are willing to give their money to back these projects probably already gave a good amount of cash to at least one of them, if not all of them. Frankly, this just seems like poor timing.

Not only are a lot of gamers’ wallets probably running on empty, but after three big success like the aforementioned titles, people may have just been burned out on the whole “Kickstarter games” thing. Red Ash could have used more time to reignite people’s interest with the platform. Which brings me to my next point…

 

2: Mighty No. 9 isn’t out yet!

This seems to be the primary source for most of the finger-waging aimed at Red Ash. Mighty No. 9, the last Kickstarter game by Keiji Inafune and his Comcept studio, won’t be released until this September. Although Mighty No. 9 looks promising, people kind of want to actually play and love the game before they dish out more money to the same studio. You have to deliver on one promise before making another.

This further displays the poor timing of the Red Ash Kickstarter. Way too soon after a series of record-breaking Kickstarter campaigns, and too soon before Mighty No. 9’s release.

After all, Mega Man Legends was what it was because of Mega Man’s legacy. Red Ash hopes to have a similar essence with the legacy of Mighty No. 9, but it isn’t even out yet. You can’t hope to build on one game’s legacy when that game hasn’t made its full impact yet.

 

1: No gameplay!

"This sole piece of concept art is as close to gameplay as we've seen of Red Ash."
“This sole piece of concept art is as close to gameplay as we’ve seen of Red Ash.”

Here is the big one, as far as I’m concerned. If you’ve watched the Kickstarter video, you’ll see some rough ideas for cinematics presented in black and white concept art, some nice character sketches, and a bunch of people talking about ideas for the story and world of the game, with a few not-so-subtle hints about Mega Man Legends.

But no gameplay.

So they have a Kickstarter campaign for a video game, but the only hint of gameplay we have is a vague promise that it’ll probably be similar to Mega Man Legends. But how similar? What’s the same and what’s different? Will it be fun?

You can’t just ask people to send money for a video game without giving them any information on the actual game and expect it to be very successful. Let’s compare this to Yooka-Laylee which, from the get-go, showed some pretty detailed gameplay. Sure, Yooka-Laylee will see more polish and touching up in the year+ until its release (this wait will kill me), but with Playtonic’s Kickstarter, they showcased a basic idea of what Yooka-Laylee will be, how it will look, how it will sound, and how it will play. They mentioned some elements of the world of Yooka-Laylee, but their campaign was ultimately all about the game itself.

There’s just so much that’s still so vague and mysterious about Red Ash, and people don’t want to give their money to a rough idea. They want to invest in a video game.

 

There are some other problems with the Red Ash Kickstarter that I haven’t mentioned, but plenty of others already have. The sad thing is Red Ash should have been the next Mighty No. 9, Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained or Shenmue 3. But it isn’t even close to being comparable to any of them.

This is a crying shame. Mega Man Legends is a cult classic that holds a special place for many, and it’s a series that deserves to be continued, whether through a direct sequel (I’m a dreamer) or a spiritual one. There’s so much that should be right about Red Ash, and I really, really hope it gets funded. But if it doesn’t, it won’t be all too surprising at this point. The campaign has just been too sloppy.

One has to wonder how this all ended up so rushed. Keiji Inafune and Comcept worked wonders with Mighty No. 9. They had it all planned out, and it paid off big time. But with Red Ash, it seems they just jumped head first into Kickstarter before they had anything worthy to show (other than some cool art).

Red Ash should have been something special, and I would love to see it become a franchise. But it should have happened over time, after it had a great game to build on. Now we might not even get the game we want.