|Frustration and fun aren’t two concepts you’d expect to see side-by-side, particularly when it comes to videogames. However, one thing the Mega Man franchise is renowned for is it’s extremely difficult gameplay. If a title in the series isn’t as difficult as the last one, fans will feel disappointed. To many, this will seem odd – why would people want a game to be so difficult? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but Mega Man 9 seems to get away with it.||
Perhaps the biggest factor is the way in which it’s more an action-oriented game of trial and error than anything else – you could see a ’Game Over’ screen ten times in a stage and keep going, as every time you repeat a stage you learn why you failed and how to do it right next time around. It feels like you’re actually earning your victories and this makes it oh-so rewarding when you finally clear each stage. This applies to boss fights too – these battles have always been the highlight of the series, and to beat each one requires a pinpoint strategy and knowledge of their ’pattern’. You may die several times before you work out how to dodge their attacks which again, makes victory all the sweeter. The subconscious knowledge that you’re learning from your mistakes as you play is what will keep you going through this treacherous game and ultimately, what sets it apart from any other series.
With this iteration, Capcom have returned to the series’ roots, not only in the 8-bit graphical presentation, but also in the actual gameplay mechanics. The slide from Mega Man 3 is no longer present, and neither is the charge shot. There’s no hiding the fact that the title is indeed a fan service and the publisher has made no efforts to convince anybody otherwise. The few differences that do exist (The presence of achievements and online hi-score tables) don’t impact the core gameplay in any way, rather add longevity to an 8-bit game attempting to shift units in gaming’s current narrative-driven and sophisticated state.
Gameplay-wise, this stands up as one of the best, if not the best, in the series – the level design is fluid yet challenging and the pacing is extremely consistent throughout. The platform sections are just as fast-paced as the boss battles and while both may be unforgiving, there’s no escaping the fact that they are fair. The game also possesses a ’one more go’ quality that makes progression feel a lot less rigid, with continues available – the only penalty being having to start the stage from the beginning rather than half-way or at the boss battle. Admittedly, this can become incredibly infuriating when it happens numerous times – you may make it to the boss of a stage with one life left, only to have it swiftly taken away by a boss you’re completely unprepared for, forcing you to play the whole level again.
There’s no denying that only the most persistent of gamers will get everything from Mega Man 9. One criticism is that the achievements are difficult – normally, this would be acceptable but these are obnoxiously difficult. One such example is a challenge that asks you to clear the game without taking any damage, which as many Mega Man fans will know, is nearly impossible.
If there’s another thing that Mega Man games are renowned for, it’s their soundtracks. Mega Man 9 is no different and if you’re a fan of 8-bit music you’re in for an absolute treat. Particularly good tracks are Concrete Man, Hornet Man and Tornado Man, which are actually some of the best in the series. The classic sound effects are also all present and correct, adding to the nostalgia factor of the title.
Visually, the game is as faithful as can be, recreating the NES experience flawlessly. There’s even an option to turn sprite flicker on or off, but it should be left on to fully recreate the experience of the originals. Considering the visuals are all doable on NES hardware, some of the scenes in the introduction particularly are extremely well done. There’s not much that can be said about the graphical presentation that hasn’t already been said, though – it’s unmistakably old-school and all the better for it.
Overall, the game stands as a resounding success, minor flaws aside. Many fans see the exclusion of Bass (Aside from a cameo during the game, presented as a schematic) somewhat as a betrayal on Capcom’s part, but it could be said it was intentionally done to preserve the likeness the game bears to the originals. It’s clearly fan service, but it’s hard to begrudge it for this when it is such a solid entry in the series. If you have a Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and have a love for old-school platforming, there is simply no excuse not to invest in this game. It’s as much a return to form as we could have asked for and it’s just, to put it simply, that good.