Game reviews don’t take place in a vacuum. To be frank it’d be nice if they did, because I’d probably be able to concentrate better without the constant howls of neighbourhood cats living their sordid secret lives under my kitchen window BUT I DIGRESS. While a number of external factors, such as hype and expectation (and neighbourhood cats) are always up for consideration, you have to take it on a case by case basis as to how valid it is to include these.
Game: Mighty No. 9
Publisher: Deep Silver
(Review code provided by publisher)
Another consequence of reviews not happening in metaphorical vacuums is that the reviewer is sometimes aware of differing opinions. Such is the nature of our site that our reviews are occasionally a little later than other places, mainly because *lifts curtain* this isn’t our main job. So I was fairly surprised to see Mighty No.9 coming in for as much flack as it has done while playing through it. As someone who was only vaguely aware of the hype brewing for this game, I don’t know whether this lack of serious expectation on my part played a role. It’s possible.
Mighty No.9 originally appeared on the radar as a Kickstarter campaign, presumably targeted at people with excesses of both disposable income and nostalgia, by the creator of the much lauded Mega Man. It’s cited as something of a spiritual successor to that series, and looking fairly interchangeable to it, to be frank. If you’re curious about such things, the game comes to you from publishers Deep Silver.
The thing is, if you go into Mighty No.9 treating it as just another game, born of however games usually come about, it’s not such a huge disaster. There are indeed some areas where it feels as though it could have aimed considerably higher, but on the whole this isn’t the great loss for Deep Silver that I was expecting from noted optimism-generator Twitter. Very much a hark back to those days of Mega Man, Mighty No.9 succeeds in being an enjoyable romp in its own right, even when separated form its obvious nostalgia shot.
The visuals during gameplay are not admittedly those you’d associate with the current generation of consoles. Everything looks somewhat fudged and blurry, like your TV screen needs a clean. But it doesn’t need a clean. Your TV screen is fine (as far as I know). Alas, the textures are broad and fairly plain, and nothing is as sharp as it really should be. I was similarly disappointed to find that many of the cut scenes, the intro in particular, consisted of static or barely moving images. There are also intermediate reels with moving 3D models, but these are again quite limited. In a game with such a cartoony look, not capitalising on this with some decent cartoony sections is a misstep.
Similarly, the sound mixing isn’t great. Admittedly, this probably isn’t the first thing buyers look for in a new release. Nevertheless, it is somewhat frustrating when the dialogue is drowned out by environment noise, or on the other side of the coin, dialogue covers up audio cues in the environment that you use to dodge attacks. It also seems they had a pretty small voice cast because some of the characters sound fairly undistinguishable from one another. Either way, there is something of a plot to justify the blasting, as you endeavour to control, and get to the source of, the other Mighty Number robots turning rogue and causing a nuisance. You pad through each level to locate these once peaceful droids and turn them good again, sort of like the Dog Whisperer but with a laser cannon. As one of the Mighty series yourself, you also need to discover why you haven’t gone rogue, too.
For literally the first time ever, I found that I had to rejig the controls to get on with the gameplay mechanics. With the default settings on PS4, you jump with X and shoot with Square. This makes doing the two together, which you have call for frequently, unnecessarily tricky, as your thumb has to skip between the two rather than just using another finger on the trigger buttons. I mean, that’s what the trigger buttons are for, isn’t it? Shooting? They may as well be called the Gun buttons. It’s easily solved, but I’m not sure why this happened in the first place.
Speaking of controls, the game features a nice mechanic called Xcelerate which is an integral part of getting through the levels. This is a sort of super-charged flying dash that you use not only to dodge and dart through narrow spaces, but also to harvest energy from wounded enemies. While this feels unnatural at first, the game quickly makes it apparent that you are going to need to do this fairly frequently to get around. Rather than being an annoyance, this gives playing Mighty No.9 a nice flow and rhythm, while also propelling you quickly through each stage. You can also pick up additional abilities from each other Mighty Number robot you defeat, such as firing ice, detonating small explosions, firing electricity and so on.
Gameplay-wise, even though Mighty No.9 is happy to throw plenty of platforming cliches at you, it doesn’t feel dated. It’s more of an appreciative nod to the genre rather than a reluctance to move forward. The level design is actually pretty good on the whole, and makes great use of a very limited move set. It’s surprising, upon going back over the stages once you’ve perfected them, how short the levels actually are. On your first few attempts they feel expansive, mostly due to how many attempts it can take to get through them. The game is not afraid to throw various opportunities for one-hit deaths at you, alongside the need for pin-point precision platforming ay regular intervals, and the prospect of getting through the levels on the first go seems pretty remote. Oddly, the game allows you to pick which order you do the stages in, although from my attempts, doing them in any order other than the logical one proved pretty difficult, so I’m not sure how much use this is.
Unfortunately, sometimes that pinpoint platforming crosses the line to becoming fiddly and frustrating, especially when you factor in those one-hit deaths that the levels are so fond of. While there are times when it feels maliciously so, the harder parts of the stages do at least heighten the sense of achievement when you finally conquer them. The bosses are a focus of each level, and while the process of figuring out their attack patterns is a familiar puzzle, it’s pleasing to solve them. Also, you can change the number of lives you start with from 3 to 9 if you’re struggling, or if just want to pretend you’re a cat for a bit.
In short, Mighty No. 9 is not wonderful. There’s some sloppy oversights that could easily have been fixed, while others that are less forgivable. But I still found a reasonable amount of enjoyment in it. I’m willing to concede some of this was probably aided because I was not involved in the Kickstarter, or any of the surrounding hype, in any way. The psychology and potential for disappointment when investing in a product that doesn’t even exist yet by way of Kickstarter is for another, much longer, blog.
If this were a full price AAA game, I’d be far more suspicious of recommending it. As it is, it appears to be arriving at a price level somewhat below that, and that suits what’s on offer. This is not going to radically change anything, except perhaps people’s willingness to contribute to Kickstarters, but as a fun diversion? After being initially disappointed by the lack of animation and slightly vexed by the controls and Xcelerate mechanic, I eventually found the fun in Mighty No. 9’s world. It’s a cheerful reminder of the pinnacle of side-scrolling platformers, and little more. But sometimes that’s enough.