It's been 12 years since the last proper Mega Man game was released and even longer since the classic 8-bit days of the blue bomber, but that hasn't stopped Capcom from bringing its mascot back in this retro revival. Fans of the long-running series will no doubt revel in their nostalgia over this game, but even if you couldn't tell your Rock from your Roll, Mega Man 9 will satisfy any itch you might have for a tough but immensely satisfying platforming adventure.
After suffering defeat at the hands of the justice-dispensing titular hero again, Dr. Wily has finally changed his ways and reformed for good. Unfortunately, the temporary peace caused by his retirement from failing to conquer the world does not last long as eight new robot masters begin a reign of terror. The new maverick robots were actually designed by Mega Man's creator, Dr. Light, and when Dr. Wily appears on television to claim his innocence, he shows video proof that his former colleague has decided to do what he could not. Mega Man, of course, refuses to accept that his benevolent creator would do such a thing, and it's up to you to prove him right.
Based on the gameplay mechanics of Mega Man 2, this latest entry is a complete throwback to the days of yore. Mega Man can run, jump, and shoot, but that's about it--there are no extra frills like the slide, the dash, or the charge shot. Your mission is to make your way through each of the eight robot master's levels and defeat them in one-on-one duels. Victory means you can copy their weapons for your own use. Because each robot master is weak against one of its peer's weapons, it's to your advantage to discover and exploit these weaknesses in a specific order. The real trick is actually figuring out this order, which isn't quite as obvious as you might hope. After all, where does Jewel Man or Galaxy Man fit in? And when Splash Woman gives you the Laser Trident, whose weapon do you use against Magma Man?
Of course, robot masters aren't the only ones with weaknesses. Mega Man himself is deathly afraid of heights, severely allergic to physical contact with other robots, and prone to sudden explosions when in close proximity to spikes or high-temperature blasts of heat. Each level in the game is filled to the brim with unfriendly native robots and environmental hazards that require pixel-perfect jumps and split-second timing to pass, making Mega Man 9 incredibly difficult and comparable to its NES predecessors. This isn't to say that it's impossibly hard, but it does require a healthy dose of persistence to conquer.
Mega Man 9 is the kind of game that makes the next move almost perfectly obvious, and while it may take several tries to figure out a boss's pattern or get the timing of a jump down, your success is entirely dependent on your own level of skill. This makes defeat that much more crushing, but more importantly, it makes victory that much more satisfying. To help reward you even further, the game has 50 built-in challenges that you can complete as you play and vary in difficulty, from the mundane (defeat a boss with only the mega buster) to the utterly insane (clear the game without getting damaged). If this isn't enough to keep your spirits high, you can use bolts dropped by fallen enemies to purchase extra lives, energy tanks, or even items that rescue you from falls and prevent death on contact with spikes.
One of the best things about Mega Man 9 is its presentation. If you're looking for fancy 3D graphics, high dynamic range lighting, and top-notch voice acting, you aren't going to find it here. What you will find are visuals nearly indistinguishable from those of Mega Man 2 on the NES, complete with purposely added flicker and graphical slowdown. These retro graphics, when coupled with the MIDI-style music and sound effects, complete the circle, bringing the series back to its roots. Though archaic by today's standards, the visuals work quite well within the context of the game, and the entire point of Mega Man 9 is to take things back to a simpler time.
Even after you complete Mega Man 9, there's plenty left to do between the built-in challenges and online leaderboards. Beyond that, Capcom plans on releasing two additional difficulty settings (making it even harder!), an alternate playable character, and two more game modes--all as purchasable downloadable content down the line. It's disappointing that these extra options are not included from the start--particularly the extra difficulty settings--but as a genuine Mega Man experience, it does make a certain kind of sense because none of these features were included in the older games this one seeks to emulate.
Mega Man 9 is a fun and exciting adventure that rewards those willing to persevere with some of the most satisfying victories they will have claimed in recent times. Whether you’re looking to relive the trials of yesteryear or just want a lot of bang for your buck, you should give Mega Man 9 a shot. It won’t leave you feeling blue.