Release Date: October 1, 2008
Capcom sure seems to be on a roll with bringing retro gaming to the modern generation. Back in August, we were treated to Bionic Commando Rearmed, which brought the classic gameplay to a modern-looking game. The result was fantastic, so Capcom also decided to bring old-school Mega Man into modern times. However, instead of modernizing the game, Capcom has decided to emulate the old with Mega Man 9, including the look, controls, difficulty, presentation and sound. Mega Man 9 feels like it came right out of 1989. If it weren't for the fact that the game reads, "Copyright 2008" on it and I'm holding an Xbox 360 controller, I would've thought I was playing an old NES game. Due to this, Mega Man 9 does a perfect job of capturing the nostalgia of playing older Mega Man games and caters wonderfully to that audience. To the rest of us, however, the experienced may be mixed.
If anyone has managed to miss every single Mega Man title out there, here's the premise: You are Mega Man, a robot capable of absorbing the abilities of other robots and using them to his advantage. Usually in the series, this means taking on the robots of the evil Dr. Wily. As with most Mega Man titles, Mega Man 9 pits you against eight evil robots that are causing havoc, and then you must face Dr. Wily in a dramatic and difficult showdown. To fight these robots, Mega Man must traverse a 2D platforming stage, fighting enemies, traps, mini-bosses, and difficult platforming to reach the evil robot. You must fight the boss, die several times until you figure out its weakness, and finally, after a significant struggle, emerge victorious. All of this is present in Mega Man 9, with the twist being that the evil robots all seem to be creations of Dr. Light. Mega Man, convinced this is Dr. Wily's fault, sets out to save the world once again. Clearly, the story isn't prominent in the game, and it doesn't need to be. All you need to know is that you need to move generally to the right, and anything on-screen can and will kill you, if given the chance.
While we haven't seen Mega Man in action since the late '90s with Mega Man 8, developers seem to have gone back to Mega Man 2 and 3 for inspiration for this iteration. The end result is a game that really looks and feels like it belongs on the NES. From the highly pixelated graphics to the pop-in issues, it all seems to have been intentionally placed to make the player feel like Mega Man 9 belongs on the NES. There's also an option that can be activated to make the game feel even more retro: Legacy mode makes sprite flickers more noticeable than usual. Finishing up the retro visual presentation is the complete and utter lack of widescreen support.
Making sure to keep the emulation of 1989 perfect, the audio presentation is just as retro as the visuals. Sticking to 8-bit MIDI sound, the beeps and boops all sound just as you would expect out of an old NES game; some are grating, and some are cool, but they all very clearly and loudly convey that something has happened. If there's one thing I can appreciate about the sound in Mega Man 9, it's the soundtrack. Every stage has its own unique music, and boss fights get music as well. For 8-bit sound, every single one of these tracks is a masterpiece. Each tune is infectious, heightens the action, and sets the theme for the current stage.
As with many titles from the NES generation, Mega Man 9 is a very difficult game. It's not as difficult as some of the other games in the Mega Man series, but compared to the majority of games released these days, Mega Man 9 is the kind of game that's going to chew you up, spit you out, and throw your controller at the TV. As you play, the game will get easier and easier until you reach the final few levels, but the first few levels are going to be agonizingly difficult. You see, when you enter your first level, you have nothing but your pea shooter, and you need to get through the level by sheer skill alone. Every time you beat a boss, you get access to its weapon, which may be extremely effective when used against another boss. From there, you need to head to another stage, hope the boss is vulnerable to this particular weapon, and struggle through the stage.
However, you'll eventually find the easiest order to do things in, and the stages become easier as you expand your weapons set. (The weapon you get from Galaxy Man and Jewel Man is arguably the most useful.) That doesn't mean the game gets easy, though. Mega Man 9 is difficult all the way to the grand finale. After you beat the eight main robots, you have to work your way through several levels of a castle, culminating in fighting all eight bosses in quick succession in a boss rush.
The fight against the final boss can be a tremendous challenge. Throughout the game, Mega Man 9 demands near-perfection from the player, asking for pixel-perfect jumping and timing to avoid the numerous death traps that litter each level. Much of the platforming revolves around trial and error, so you'll eventually memorize enemy locations and stick to very specific paths each time you try to get through the stage.
This is where the title's replay value kicks in. Mega Man 9 tries to appeal to the game perfectionist inside all of us, offering leaderboards and Achievements such as Time Attack so that you can challenge the world to see who can clock the speediest time through the game. While expected, it's a bit unfortunate that the leaderboards are separated for all three consoles on which Mega Man 9 appears.
Further adding replay value is a series of 50 in-game challenges, which range from the simple to the hardcore. Some challenges require that you kill 1,000 enemies or kill every kind of enemy, but the difficulty ramps up when you face challenges such as beating every boss using the mega buster, beating the game in under 60 minutes, or beating the game without dying. Of course, since this is the Xbox 360 version, some of these challenges also double as Achievements.
While Mega Man 9 does a fantastic job of emulating old, difficult games from the late '80s and early '90s, many people aren't drawn in by the nostalgia. The majority of gamers is going to take one look at Mega Man 9, wonder why somebody would release such an ugly-looking game with such simple audio and crushingly difficult gameplay, and never look at Mega Man again. This definitely caters to the hardcore gamer who wants to experience the original Mega Man titles again. Mega Man 9 does a fantastic job of this, and for at $10, it's a steal.
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