Monday, May 13, 2013
Review - Mega Man 9 (Wii, PS3, 2008)
Mega Man 9 is an 8-bit styled sequel to Capcom's long-running sidescroller series that attempts to take Mega Man back to his roots. Mega Man 8, the previous game in the mainline Mega Man series, was released in 1997, and the most recent 8-bit installment was 1994's Mega Man 6. The idea of a new 2D NES type Mega Man so many years after Mega Man 6 was an exciting prospect, and Mega Man 9 delivers on its promises perfectly.
Mega Man 9 is styled after the gameplay of Mega Man 2, so our hero has no sliding ability, no Charge Shot, and only two simple abilities for his robodog Rush to use (Rush Coil and Rush Jet.) While I miss being able to slide, I am very happy to see the Charge Shot go, since later Mega Man titles relied too heavily on keeping your thumb on the fire button for 90% of the game in order to stay charged. MM9's enemies are balanced well, in that none of them are absolute damage sponges and most have a weapon that works particularly well against them.
What really sets this game apart from previous Mega Man titles is how absolutely useful almost every boss weapon is, both for fighting enemies and for platforming. In older Mega Man games, I rarely felt the need to use powers earned from defeating bosses except for extremely specific circumstances or for taking down other bosses. I almost never used the majority during regular gameplay. In Mega Man 9, I use most of them constantly. Concrete Man's Concrete Shot is great for creating platforms that make otherwise pixel-perfect jumps more generous. Galaxy Man's Black Hole Bomb can be guided in order to take out enemies in troublesome spots and works extremely well on armored enemies. Splash Woman's Trident can be used as a replacement for your standard shots. Hornet Man's little buddies are great for retrieving hard to reach items. Tornado Man's whirlwinds are another tool that makes certain jumps easier. Jewel Man's shield is the most useful shield in the series and trivializes many enemies. Plug Man's spark attack is fine for getting enemies that are in hard to reach places, but the hornets and black hole both work better for that. Magma Man's flame shots are the only power that I never really bother with.
Taken on their own, without using power ups, the stages in this game are pretty tough, though not out of the ordinary compared to some traps in Mega Man 2. There are several jumps that require absolute perfect precision and some enemies that can be pretty frustrating. What makes this work so well is that with your power ups, almost every one of these trials can be made quite a bit easier. Aside from one awful spiky jump in Jewel Man's stage (negated if you already have Rush Jet) and a couple in Wily's first and third castle stages, all of the rooms in this game feel fair, and feel more like puzzles than standard platforming challenges. Figuring out the best power up to make an area easier is very satisfying, and this game has tons of those moments. When I first played it, I found Mega Man 9 needlessly frustrating, since I tried to play it as a normal Mega Man game, conserving all power ups for boss fights. Once I realized that this is absolutely not the way the game is designed to be played, I completely fell for it.
There are still some cheap deaths in this game, specifically the couple of really nasty spike traps mentioned earlier and a few enemies that are hard to avoid if you don't know they're there. Some pits have small enemies that jump out of them, but once you know where they are, they're not a threat. Jewel Man's shield allows you to completely ignore them, but otherwise, you should just carefully edge up to bottomless pits before making a jump just to make sure it's safe. There are some real trial and error spots, but they're not horrible if you just take it slowly.
My favorite skill-based games are ones that reward you for taking it slow rather than ones that rely entirely on fast twitch reaction. There's a reason why Zelda II, Contra, and Dark Souls are among my favorite games. Mega Man 9 is definitely a game meant to be played slowly and carefully, which may turn off some fans who would rather sprint through stages. You CAN sprint through this game, but not without learning it well first. You can also readily buy extra lives, energy and weapon restoratives, and items that negate damage from falls/spikes. This game is certainly not easy by modern standards, but it gives you a lot of options and I honestly think that because of all of the powers/items it throws your way, Mega Man 9 is an easier game than the first three installments of the series. It's only frustratingly hard if you refuse to take advantage of the options it gives you.
This game looks and sounds great. It looks perfectly like an NES Mega Man title, which, as a lot of weirdly broken Mega Man fan games have shown, isn't as easy as it sounds. The soundtrack is among my favorite in the series, and its end credits theme is wonderful. There's more story here than in the other 8-bit Mega Man games and it's not very interesting, though the idea of robots rampaging because they want to extend their lifespans beyond the designated five-year period would be interesting in a more story-driven game (or, you could just watch Blade Runner.)
There are a few bits of DLC available for this game. A new stage can be purchased, as well as an endless stage mode and new difficulty levels. Players can also download a playable Proto Man, who gains the ability to slide and charge his shots, but at the cost of receiving more damage when hit. All versions have an internal challenge/achievements system, though the PS3 version does not have Trophy support (the challenges are still there, they just don't convert to Trophies.) Having spent time on both the Wii and PS3 versions, there's no real difference between the two, though DLC is a little more convenient to purchase on a PS3. Go with whichever version's controller you prefer. The Wii remote held sideways definitely makes it feel more like you're playing on an actual NES set up.
I'd love to play a dozen more modern 8-bit Mega Man games, but sadly there was only one more released, 2010's Mega Man 10. MM10 is not nearly as tightly designed as 9 and features far less memorable or useful powers. It's still a fun game, but a definite step down from 9. As far as I'm concerned, Mega Man 9 is the pinnacle of power up design in an 8-bit Mega Man game, and is absolutely worth playing. Although Mega Man in general is on hiatus right now, I'm at least happy that this console generation managed to give us one of the best games in the series.