Are you a glutton for punishment?
I’m going to say one thing, first and foremost, before I get into this review: Mega Man fans, this review is not for you. Reason one being that you’ve already all bought the game weeks ago. Reason two is my attempt to stall all of you long enough to put on my flame-retardant suit.
[image1]This review is for the rest of you, those who may still be on the fence, who may be wondering what all the fuss is over this diminutive guy in a blue suit, and who are considering purchasing the game from your console network of choice. Sure, you’ve all heard of Mega Man. At this point, who hasn’t? Even my parents know who Mega Man is. But for one reason or another, many people just never got around to actually playing one of his games.
Unfortunately for many of you, any introduction to this veteran gaming franchise at this point is going to be an exercise in frustration. Since the release of Mega Man 8 in 1997, the trends in game design have changed. Developers have realized that it’s generally better to have more players actually be able to finish the game. After all, someone who never managed to beat the first one may be less likely to buy a sequel.
But the Capcom team responsible for Mega Man was apparently kept in cryo-freeze for ten years, and the game that has emerged from their slowly thawing hands is nothing short of goddamned impossible. I don’t want to get into that quite yet, though, since once I do, there’s no coming out of it.
Mega Man 9 doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but then, it doesn’t intend to. The “original” Mega Man series is considered pretty sacred these days, and Capcom isn’t going to start messing with it now. Every gameplay system in Mega Man 9 has appeared before in a previous game – the ability to fight the eight robot masters in any order (a long-standing tradition), the store which Mega Man can visit to purchase special items, and even the use of a save system instead of passwords all have their precedent.
[image2]As for the presentation, Mega Man 9 is so unapologetically retro that I feel like I should be wearing a bandanna and saying “tubular”. The graphics and music are actually a significant step back from Mega Man 8, which was released for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. This new iteration is all 8-bit, baby. The game even allows players to turn on a mode where enemy sprites will flicker onscreen, a reference to the original NES having trouble rendering too many enemies onscreen at once.
Read that again. This game makes an extra effort to turn your cutting-edge machine into a system that you’d have to blow into to make it work. That’s either batshit crazy or pure genius.
After nine games in the series, you’d think Capcom would have the whole thing down to a science, and you’d be right. The very specific game structure of the Mega Man franchise doesn’t leave a lot of room for innovation, which allows Capcom to polish, and polish, and polish (and polish). Even for a first-timer, the game is intuitive, letting anyone pick up, play it, and understand what to do. The game’s menus are quick and painless, letting what needs to be done get done so you can get back to the action. Most importantly, controls are tight and responsive, which is absolutely essential in a game with so much death coming at you.
And believe me, there is a lot of death. Generally, as a game reviewer, I feel it’s my duty to finish any game I attempt to write about. Mega Man 9 took that little policy out behind the shed and shot it. After a solid two weeks of playing the game, I have successfully defeated two bosses… out of eight.
[image3]Now, I can appreciate a hard game. You may recall that my last two reviews also brought up the difficulty of those games (at this point, I’m feeling like a broken record). But there’s a fine balance with game difficulty. If a game is really, really tough but allows you to improve with each attempt, it will not only keep you playing but make it all the more satisfying when you eventually beat a boss.
On the other hand, I threw myself at Mega Man 9 over and over again for a good fourteen days with zero progress. I’m pretty sure that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity. It got to the point where I was dreading the next time I’d have to sit down with the game, and that is never a good thing.
The difficulty here comes from a design that essentially requires the player to memorize each level in order to beat it, and I don’t mean just knowing what enemies will appear in the next room. It’s the kind of thing where you need to remember exactly when to jump to avoid enemy A from jumping out of pit B and knocking you into spikes C for an instant D.
Of course, pretty much anyone can beat Mega Man 9 eventually. You could just play levels over and over again, all the while getting your ass kicked, until you find and collect enough bolts to buy enough items to beat all the bosses handily. There’s an industry term for that: grinding.
[image4]Really, though, there’s nothing wrong with the game itself, and it will appeal greatly to the legions of longtime fans. The franchise has always been difficult, and dying a lot has always been a part of getting through the games. Yet ultimately, Mega Man 9 is so difficult that it gives newcomers very little reason to pick it up.
One more thing: I have talked to a friend of mine, a huge fan of the franchise, who has told me that the game is supposed to be hard because it needs to provide more of a challenge for players who have gotten really good at Mega Man games. To anyone else saying the same thing: How many of you thought Guitar Hero III/Devil May Cry 3/Ninja Gaiden 2 got too hard? Yeah, you aren’t allowed to complain anymore.