Have you ever felt that games were just too easy these days? Do you yearn for a simpler time when video games were more concerned with repeatedly killing your digital avatar and then gloating about it? Well then you will most certainly want to download one of the hardest, most frustrating and most enjoyable gaming experiences released to a downloadable service near you. That's right baby, Mega Man is back better than ever and he isn't taking any guff from you spoiled pansies with your infinite lives and continues.
Oh sure, there's a story here but we're not going to talk about it. Why you ask? Because it's a Mega Man game, not a Mega Man X or Zero game. Story is nothing but a flimsy excuse to get you from point A to point B while blowing up various robots along the way. Now don't misunderstand that, there is a story here and it's actually pretty amusing in a cheesy cartoon sort of way and that just makes it all the more endearing.
Mega Man 9 plays out just like the old Nintendo Entertainment System era Mega Man games did and the X games after that. You fight eight "Robot Masters" by traveling through stages full of hostile robots, environmental hazards and instant death spikes. Dying isn't a punishment in these games it's more of a learning experience. You die, you figure out how not to die to that particular situation and you try again.
While this sounds more frustrating than fun it just highlights exactly what Mega Man 9 is. This isn't just some cheap throwback to the old 8-bit days of video gaming this is a celebration of it and it suffuses every aspect of the experience.
The graphics are straight out of the NES days, sprite based and about as non-complicated as it gets. Mega Man himself only has two different sprites for his running animation; this is a veritable stone age of video games at work here. But you can see a lot of work went into this as well. Many of the problems that plagued older games due to hardware limitations are nowhere to be found. There's a robust color palette, slowdown is not an issue and some of the animations are just too smooth to have been done on an old console. Even if you're someone who salivates at the bloom ridden next-gen graphics we are accustomed to you should still be able to appreciate the simplicity of this graphical style.
The sound design follows this standard with the typical bleeps and such we have come to associate with 8-bit gaming. Just listening to the music and sound effects of this game are enough to send older gamers into nostalgia induced fits. And if you really want to giggle like a little kid look at the cheesy as can be box art it's being advertised with, go ahead we can wait. Does that bring back any memories or what?
Judging the game on its own merits still leaves a great game in front of us but there are problems. The biggest one is the fact that playing this game isn't really a matter of skill. Oh sure if you've got some awesome timing you can struggle your way through many of the stages but your typical means of progress involves lots of dying. Play a bit into a level, die to an enemy or environmental obstacle, memorize positions and try again. This is how you make the most progress and it stretches a game that could be beaten in less than forty-five minutes to at least a few hours of gameplay on your first play through.
Another big issue with this game is how they stripped out Mega Mans slide and charge shots. At first it seemed as if these were taken out to bring the game back to its oldest roots. But then on the other hand they kept the shop feature introduced in Mega Man 7 where you trade screws found in levels for items. It seems hard to figure out why they did this until you realize they're releasing downloadable content that includes Proto Man, Mega Mans older brother of sorts, who has both, you guessed it, a slide and charge shot in addition to some other tweaks.
It's pretty lame and it makes the game harder since it seems programmed to be played with the slide since many enemies are nigh impossible to dodge without it. This feels cheap at times and can be a bit annoying but you can easily learn to compensate for this.
All this said Mega Man 9 has a lot going for it. It isn't terrifically expensive but you can have hours of fun with it, trying to master the stages and the Robot Masters. You might think that you have what it takes to be a hardcore gamer but go ahead and give this a try, see if that really stands up. Capcom is pulling a serious number by reviving its old classics, first Bionic Commando Rearmed and now this, and it's bringing a whole new level of hard to a brand new generation of gamers.