There have been more than 150 Mega Man games released since the series' inception in 1987. That's a lot of Mega Man. With the franchise accounting for such a large part of Capcom's yearly sales, it's somewhat surprising that the company is turning back the clock for the Blue Bomber's latest adventure: Mega Man 9.
As soon as you see Mega Man 9 in motion, you'll understand the direction that Capcom is taking with the game: The graphics, the sound, and the gameplay are totally old-school. It feels more like some long-forgotten Mega Man on the NES than it does a new Mega Man in 2008. The story is told via a short, 8-bit-quality cutscene. Robots are running amok and Mega Man's creator, Dr. Light, is seemingly responsible for the mess. Or maybe not. Of course, the dude behind the mayhem is Dr. Wily, and it's up to Mega Man to blast through the game's eight levels and clear the good doctor's name.
Two levels were on display in Capcom's booth. One area that we were able to play was the cement level, which had trees in the background and small cement dams and flowing water in the forefront. Given that the controls are so simple--one button to fire, one to jump--we were off and running. Birds flew overhead and dropped rocks in our path. They were easy enough to blast, and we felt pretty confident as we went for our first jump...and died when an enemy popped up from the pit. And then we died again. And again. Yes, this Mega Man has the challenge that you'd expect, but it's not frustrating, which is key. You'll get a little further each time you play, and eventually you'll make it through. Undaunted, we continued through the level until we encountered big robot elephants that shot giant balls with their trunks. We blasted one, but fell victim to the next one thanks to his tricky bouncing-ball attack.
Not wanting to spend all of our time on one level, we had a go at what we were told was the "circuitry level." This area looked like the inside of some giant computer or electronic device, and there were lots of sparks traveling along the floor to bring the point home. This is where we encountered metabots, the little guys that hide under metal hats and pop up to shoot you when you get close. The first few weren't much of a challenge, but that changed when we had to try to shoot them while at the same time navigating bottomless chasms by jumping across rapidly vanishing and reappearing blocks.
Just as in the original game, each level has a theme and a robot boss waiting at the end. The music is similar to what was found in the early games, as was the scene that plays before each level with the boss in front and the stars in the background. Capcom isn't talking about the specific robots that you'll have to face, but we were told they would please series fans, and that the order in which you tackle them will be dictated by each boss's strengths and weaknesses.
Capcom is taking a bold step by sticking to the 8-bit formula of the early games, and the simple graphics, catchy music, and classic gameplay are well done and don't feel forced. The game looks and feels like the Mega Man you loved as a kid. Mega Man 9 is confirmed as a WiiWare game and is currently scheduled for a fall release.