Mighty No. 9 might not bear the Mega Man name, but there's no escaping the fact that it's a spiritual successor of the classic side-scrolling series. You run, jump, and shoot at enemy robots through a series of 2D levels, and for every boss you defeat, you gain a new ability to use during the rest of your journey--that's not to mention longtime Mega Man producer Keiji Inafune is at the helm. It's a cartoony and light-hearted adventure, and if you enable the chiptune soundtrack, it's bound to trigger nostalgia for anyone who has fond memories of Capcom's blue bomber.
There's more to Mighty No. 9 than elements of Mega Man, however: you're encouraged to be fast and efficient. You could argue this is just an echo of the Mega Man X games--where skillful dashing was required in order to complete certain levels or to reach secret areas--but Mighty No. 9 rewards quick and nimble play in a new way by allowing you to absorb particles from damaged enemies that temporarily enhance your speed, armor, and power. These boosts have an immediate and tangible effect, and the more you play, the more skilled you become at both acquiring and using them.
Mighty No. 9's sense of speed evokes intermittent exhilaration and its nostalgic elements can be charming, but these spurts of joy aren't enough to carry the game in the face of its standout issues. Its levels are are too basic and leave you hungry for something new and exciting; the biggest threats are instant deaths from pitfalls and spikes. As long as you play smart and with a measure of patience, it's very hard to fail.
There are a total of 12 stages in story mode, with four that unlock after you finish the initial eight. These eight levels can be tackled in any order you wish, but don't mistake this open-ended level selection as a true callback to Mega Man's punishing structure, where you had to decipher the "correct" path through stages and ultimately bosses. Mighty No. 9's bosses can all be defeated using your default weapon with reasonable effort, and thus you rarely feel compelled to explore your weapon upgrades out of necessity. The last four stages are an exception, where particular obstacles demand the use of one weapon or another, but at that point, you have no attachment to your newfound tools, and thus only a vague sense of pride in your progress.
At the end, you have no attachment to your newfound tools, and thus only a vague sense of pride in your progress.
The real challenge lies in earning high ranks; killing groups of enemies in a specific way that earns you accolades is an ever-present objective. Marks are determined by factors like how much damage you take, how many enemies you kill, and how efficient you are at absorbing their energy. There are also discrete challenge stages with rules and victory conditions that force you to think on your feet, putting your reflexes and problem-solving skills to the test. Sadly, there aren't enough of these--or variety of rulesets--to sustain their budding allure. Perfecting your reflexes is a fun pursuit if only because of the rewarding feelings you get from chaining together attacks and dashes in a fast and stylish manner, but it's nothing more than a convenient way to spice up Mighty No. 9's typical action.
Despite its traditional gameplay, there are some noticeable efforts made to modernize the experience; everything is modeled in 3D, including cutscenes where the hero Beck and other characters plan actions and analyze the overarching conflict. At best, the game's 3D models look like sharp and expressive recreations of classic game art, but Mighty No. 9 mostly feels like a compromised effort, failing to deliver either contemporary flair or classic whimsy. Given this, it's more maddening that some levels exhibit a surprising amount of slowdown, though it becomes clear why certain lighting and particle effects are used sparingly; the game isn't optimized to support them throughout.
The aforementioned cutscenes are particularly disappointing, with characters that simply sway in place as they talk through static mouths. You can choose to hear dialogue in either Japanese or English, but expect to switch to Japanese regardless of your habitual preference; the English voice acting is too slow and abrasive to stomach. The best moments that relate to Mighty No. 9's characters or plot come during levels, when allies pop in to offer encouragement and dismantle basic obstacles. These cute moments show signs of promise, but Mighty No. 9 doesn't encorporate its thoughtful touches into the bigger picture.
Mighty No. 9 is an inoffensively average game sprung from the memories of the past, with little to show for its position in the present.
For a game that's meant to bear the legacy of a classic series, Mighty No. 9 barely succeeds. It may rouse excitement from time to time, but by and large, it lacks a pervading sense of artistry, both in its level design and presentation. Platformers--and even Mega Man-like games in particular--are readily available. For one to stand out and leave a mark, it has to do something novel that speaks to the player and the conventions of the genre; something to spark wonder and excitement. Mighty No. 9 is an inoffensively average game sprung from the memories of the past, with little to show for its position in the present.