It was one year ago at PAX Prime 2013 that Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune announced a Kickstarter campaign for Mighty No. 9--a project that marks the famed developer's return to developing side-scrolling action games. Mighty No. 9 is undoubtedly the spiritual successor to Mega Man, and given that Capcom was either unwilling or incapable of delivering the Mega Man experience that its customers were asking for, people were thrilled when Inafune stepped up to the plate. Famously, the Kickstarter was a runaway success, pulling in $3,845,170--an amount well above the initial $900,000 goal.
Now, a year has passed, and Inafune has returned to PAX Prime with the first playable demo of Mighty No. 9, and short of calling it Mega Man by name, it’s as close to the real thing as it gets. The recently released Azure Striker: Gunvolt for 3DS, developed by Mighty No. 9 contributor Inti Creates, shares many elements with Mega Man as well, but Mighty No. 9 is the true homage. Charming robots and spike-lined rooms stand between you and a robot boss waiting at the end of each level. Beck, the game’s hero, is a close analog to the original Blue Bomber; he's blue, he's cute, and he packs an energy blaster on his arm. But, there's more to Beck than meets the eye. Apart from blasting enemies, he can dash into weakened foes and absorb their powers to increase his own capabilities. This mechanic is the defining element of Mighty No. 9's gameplay, and understanding how to use it well is critical to your survival. Thankfully, Beck can dash infinitely, even in mid-air, and whether you're making calculated or desperate dashes towards safety, you'll be thankful for the opportunity.
Enemies in Mighty No. 9 emit an aura after taking a few hits, and the color of said aura determines what power Beck will acquire by dashing nearby. Red energy grants him stronger firepower that can penetrate and fly through enemies; green energy gives him a boost of speed; blue energy restores some of his health; yellow energy give him a shield. Dashing is a fun way to move quickly through a level, but it's also the fastest way to defeat enemies since you don't have to completely drain their health in order to defeat them. The boosts you receives are temporary, and the duration is determined by how fast you absorb enemies after they become vulnerable.
This applies to boss battles as well, but in a slightly different way. The one boss I fought behaved very similar to a typical Robot Master from Mega Man, in that he cycled through a few fixed attack patterns, making survival a test of memorization, patience and skill. But, actually draining his health is a more complicated affair that requires you to balance risk and reward. For every twenty shots or so that you land on a boss, they become vulnerable to Beck's dash. If you don't dash into them quick enough, only a percentage of the damage that you've done will be permanently removed. Act quickly enough, and the amount that you whittled away before dashing will be totally removed. You have to recognize what a boss is going to do, attack while protecting Beck, and then get up close and personal in when it matters.
If one thing can be said about Mighty No. 9, it's that it's a difficult game that not only rewards skill, but it demands it. I consider myself a well weathered Mega Man veteran, but I faced many deaths and challenging sections that made me stop and seriously consider how to proceed. This is a good thing. Not only do I get, effectively, a new Mega Man game, but I get one that manages to challenge me in new and thought-provoking ways. Might No. 9 is due sometime in 2015, and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the game, if only so I can see how good of a Mega Man player I actually am.
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