Mighty No. 9 Is A Bad Game.
Listen, maybe you like Mighty No. 9. I don’t believe you, but sure. Maybe the weight of hope is the tape holding your face into a grin while you slip and slide through levels. Maybe you’re convinced that, no, Capcom’s wrong, a platformer just needed a few new mechanics in order to be relevant today.
I honestly hope you enjoy it, because I can’t stand this damn thing.
There’s a couple things I’m going to breeze right past:
Okay, this game was overhyped. Whomever decided to make fan art of Megaman high-fiving Beck thirty seconds after the Kickstarter launched, this is all your fault. The gaming press jumped on it. The community jumped on it. We all wanted this to be Megaman 2 again and it’s not and a lot of people are mad about that, and that’s not bloody fair. It’s a bad game, but it’s not a bad game because it’s not exactly what you wanted.
Guys, if this game felt finished, I wouldn’t have minded another six months in the kiln. Launch day patches for the Wii U? For the fucking Wii U?! I swear to Odin’s beard, I didn’t even know you could patch Wii U games.
Actual Problems: This Game is Just Plain Bad
Is it heartbreaking to admit? Yeah, but saying it out loud helps. Mighty Number 9 is not a good game. It’s a game I’d refund on Steam after about the first half hour of playing.
It is so, so incredibly important that you nail controls in a game. I can’t make it any more clear than that. Delay until it’s right, drop platforms, I don’t care. If your game doesn’t reliably control, do not ship that game. A lot of the buzz to come out following MN9’s release is that they tried to do too much on too many platforms, but that’s not an excuse. Sorry, Wii U, you’re getting pushed a year to make sure the controls are buttoned up for PC.
I have a lot of stuff plugged into my PC — a keyboard, a mouse, and a Razer Orbweaver, as well as a gamepad. So, why, then, is it that when I started up the game, the thing was… unresponsive? Why, while telling me that I should use a controller, did said controller not work?
The answer is that a lot of games take a shortcut most folks don’t know — they grab the first available “game controller” in Windows, and that becomes the “gamepad”. This is fine when you’ve got three peripherals, but when you’ve got something like an Orbweaver plugged in as well, it can take position one and bump the controller down the stack.
I get it — this is a “me” problem, not a “game” problem, you yell. And that’s true. But it also tells me that the developers were lazing out — 20xx, which is a game that has it’s own set of problems (but is at least fun), lets you choose a controller. Most major titles do as well. This tells me — at least, from what I’ve seen — that nailing the control input, at least on PC, was a “just do it” task, rather than a “really nail it” task. Considering the number of times I slipped on a platform, or missed something that I could reliably have jumped to, it reminded me at the outset of playing the game that controls just weren’t a major focus area. Unfortunately, given the reviews I’ve seen today from places like Polygon and Kotaku, my experience is far from unique.
A platformer that does not prioritize controls is a platformer that will not succeed.
Oh, man. I genuinely feel bad for picking on the art here, because it’s almost the lowest possible hanging fruit. The last few trailers were straight torn apart, justafiably. But the reality was that the art in game was no better. Our protagonist started out life in a picture that launched a thousand kicks:
I saw this picture and about cheered. This is a game I can back, I thought. Already we know so much about this character and his world — interesting stylized motifs across all these characters — check out that triangle thing? What’s that about? Why does everyone have a visor? This guy looks fast, and fun.
The problem is that what we got wasn’t just not that, it was about as far as possible from it:
This isn’t a character with dynamism, it’s a guy with tops for arms. He’s got a terrible case of shine combined with some real Popeye forearms; in additon to just looking… bulky and ugly, he quite simply looks like he wouldn’t work. There’s no way I could see that thing walking down a street, much less running, jumping, or dashing. It’s not proportioned correctly.
Pixel art has seen an incredible resurgence lately — between games like Undertale, Stardew Valley, and countless other examples of gorgeous, modern-yet-classic artwork, we’re finally at a moment where we can both have modern game design, and really enjoy the classic look. Pixel art could have saved this game, giving it a classic, close-to-Mega Man X look while still providing new mechanics and interesting gameplay. (One would imagine, as well, that doing so would make porting to different consoles significantly easier.)
Of course, both of those points are secondary to what I think is the biggest problem with this game:
It Doesn’t Know What’s Fun About Mega Man
“Fun is a buzzword for when you don’t know why a game’s good”.
But I loved playing Mega Man X. I still love the art from there, and from the NES-era Mega Man series. I loved how tight the controls were. If you died, it wasn’t a surprise. The game taught you the mechanics by playing it, not by explaining it. Egoraptor’s Sequilitis video is spot on, and instead of letting you learn by playing the tutorial level, it uses it for terrible cutscenes with wretched voice acting.
The new core mechanic added to MN9 is dashing, which — admittedly — is fun when it works right. But the graphical cue that tells you an enemy is ready to be dashed through is far too subtle — and often lost in the bland, monochrome backgrounds — meaning that nearly half of the time I’m left wondering why I can jump into some enemies and can’t jump into others. The game takes pains to explain wall jumping and shooting to you in the opening tutorial, which are moves that we’ve been doing for thirty years, but this new dash mechanic is given the barest of an explaination. Instead of telling me that I’m recovering Xel from machines that have gone “berserk”, how about you tell me why some of them are red and some are yellow? Or better yet, show me — give me a line of four red enemies, then some things to blow up with red powers. Are those better than yellow, or just different? Why am I doing this? The game provides no info until you’re back at base, talking to NPCs to get that data, which is the same as never telling you at all.
Dying in a solid Mega Man game never felt like a surprise, and never felt “cheap”; it felt like the natural next step, so you could learn, come back with more health, and try again, doing better this time. In huge chunks of MN9, death feels capricious; either because you thought you were doing the right thing by dashing but instead hit an enemy that wasn’t ready to be dashed yet, or because the controls decided you missed a platform. The levels of Mega Man were unique, often frustrating, but fun challenges of their own, and the bosses were the coda that rewarded or punished you for how you made it through the level. MN9’s levels feel like bland charge-and-shoot romps that end with boss battles of varying levels of frustration.
So that leaves us with one of the most-delayed Kickstarters I’ve been part of with a tire fire of a game. I don’t think it’s fair to say the community is at fault; we expected a game that would, at least, be fun — or look decent — or sound fine (Oh, right, the sound design is pretty crap too, but not bad enough to highlight) or two of the three, at least. Would people have been upset if it was just a rehash of Mega Man, with a new art style? Probably, but I doubt it would have been panned as hard as it is. People would have been livid if it didn’t make it out on all fourty-five consoles they promised at launch too, but you only get one chance to get a launch correct.
If a game is bad on all the consoles it’s released on, it’s bad. If it’s good but released on fewer, and that number grows over time — isn’t that better?
What does this mean for Bloodstained, the next mega-kickstarter to release including some of the guys responsible for this game? I don’t know. Already at the outset, from what we’ve seen, the art is appreciably better — and hewing far closer to the design than not. I think that’s probably a credit to Iga, who is more focused on the form of his game. I worry about the controls. I worry about if this game will ship before the heat death of the universe.