Release Date: September 22, 2008
As a franchise, Mega Man has done quite well since its original debut. There have been countless spin-offs and sequels in every genre under the sun, from platforming to RPGs to sports games. Yet, as far as it has developed, the original Blue Bomber has sort of been left to languish. After mediocre sequels on the SNES and PSX, Mega Man had to take the sidelines to characters like Zero, X or Lan Hikari. When it was announced that Capcom was were working on Mega Man 9, the fans' hearts leapt … and then they showed the first screenshots. Mega Man 9 didn't just return to its roots as far as gameplay, it was a full-on 8-bit NES title. Mega Man fans met this announcement with a mixed reception, with some utterly pleased at the return to the Blue Bomber's origins, and some fearing that Capcom was trying to make a quick and cheap cash-in game to prey on gamers' nostalgia. Now that Mega Man 9 is in our hands, we can confirm one important thing: This is no cheap cash-in title, but a fine addition to the Mega Man legacy.
At its heart, Mega Man 9 is pure, unfettered Mega Man fun. The basic gameplay is based on Mega Man 2 with a slight dash of Mega Man 3 thrown in for flavor. Mega Man only has his default abilities: jump, run and shoot. There are no sliding or charge busters to be found here. He gains access to two Rush abilities, beginning with Rush Coil and earning Rush Jet roughly midway through the game, but don't expect much else in the way of power-ups. The good news is that the weapons you earn from defeated bosses in Mega Man 9 are, for the most part, significantly more useful than they usually are in a Mega Man title. While I found some abilities more useful than others, every weapon, except maybe for Magma Man's Magma Bazooka, saw fairly consistent use once I got them, although I tended to favor the Jewel Satellite and the Laser Trident over anything else.
The level design in Mega Man 9 is generally quite good, although not every level works out that well. Splash Woman's stage, for example, left me a bit cold, but Galaxy Man's was fun from beginning to end. For the most part, though, the levels are quality stuff. Each screen has its own unique design, there is no feeling of repetition, and the game ensures that each level feels distinct and interesting. That isn't to say that there aren't some potential problems, although not all gamers may feel this way. Mega Man 9 goes all-out in being a NES game, and that includes some rather cheap instant-kill areas. There are a few areas where you will die because you didn't know in advance to hold left as you entered a stage or were not aware of an enemy who literally spawned out of nowhere. Learning to sneak past these challenges is part of the fun of Mega Man games, but if you're not fond of dying, and dying often, Mega Man 9 is not a game for you. With that said, it certainly isn't as punishingly aggravating or difficult as some of the more poorly designed Mega Man games, and you'll never encounter anything as aggravating as the final areas in Mega Man X6.
Mega Man 9's difficulty level falls in an interesting place. If you're the sort of gamer who runs through Mega Man 2 at least once a week for fun or can beat the entire franchise using only a buster, Mega Man 9's difficult may not seem overly high to you. It's harder than Mega Man 2, but not quite as bad as some other Mega Man titles. If you're a more casual gamer or a less-skilled player, however, Mega Man 9 may seem surprisingly difficult and unforgiving to you, particularly some of the instant-kill spike areas. Still, the difficulty rarely reaches the level where it seems unfair, and Mega Man 9 balances on that precipice where you just know you can beat the boss if you try again one more time. There are a few particularly nasty foes, such as the twin bio-devils, but they're fairly few and far between. However, if you're not a fan of NES' "try and try again" style of gameplay, Mega Man 9 may not be for you.
One of the new features in Mega Man 9 is the addition of the shop. A holdover from the SNES Mega Man 7, the shop is run by Mega Man's sister, Roll, and their trusty robot friend, Auto. When you're adventuring through the eight robot master's stages, you'll find Screws from time to time, which function as money. At the shop, you can buy a whole collection of one-use items, such as 1-ups, E-Tanks, single-hit anti-spike shields, or even an item that lets you take off Mega Man's helmet. The shop is a rather interesting feature in that it is completely possible to beat the game without ever once visiting it. All it does is provide you with extra 1-ups and E-Tanks, which you can actually find in stages. In short, the shop exists to provide a handicap to players who need the assistance. Some hardcore Mega Man fans may complain about this feature, but for the less skilled players, it's a good way to provide a handicap without making the game overly easy.
Hardcore gamers may not care about the shop, but they're most certainly going to be interested in the game's 50 different Challenges, which are basically like Achievements. In the Xbox 360 version, some of the Challenges even double as Achievements. The Challenges in Mega Man 9 are not for the faint of heart. Some of them are fairly simple, such as simply clearing the game or defeating a large number of enemies, but the real meat of the challenges involves some of the most difficult experiences a gamer can face in this day and age. Among the heavy-duty challenges are quests such as "complete the entire game without dying," "complete the entire game without missing a single shot using only the Mega Buster," and "complete the entire game without getting hit once." If you're utterly convinced that you've mastered Mega Man 9, these exist entirely for you to show off, doubly so because the game's online leaderboards show which Challenges you've earned. Of course, completing all of these challenges isn't something even 10 percent of gamers will be able to do, but thankfully, they're also completely unnecessary for anything but building your ego.
In addition to its main game, Mega Man 9 also features a number of bonus modes that are either available or going to be available as time progresses. One is Time Attack, which challenges you to defeat stages in a short period of time, with the best scores being posted to the online leaderboards for people across the world to compete against. Coming later this year is also the addition of various kinds of Downloadable Content. The Downloadable Content will allow you to pay a small number of Wii points in exchange for higher difficulty levels or new modes. The first of the new modes that we know about is Proto Man Mode, which lets you play as Mega Man's older brother, who plays closer to a Mega Man 3 version of Mega Man, including the Charge Buster and Slide, in addition to his trademark shield. However, he also gets knocked back farther by enemies if he gets hit, so it's a bit of a balancing act. While it is a bit annoying to be nickel-and-dimed for Downloadable Content like increased difficulty levels, the quality of the content seems to be high enough that it will be worth it.
As far as the visuals are concerned, Mega Man 9 is an NES game. During the entire time I was playing, I never felt like it was anything but some sort of lost NES game. There are tons of amusing little touches and graphical flair that would only exist on an NES, and there is even an option to turn on sprite flickering to keep the illusion intact. If you're the kind of gamer who is unable to enjoy the simplistic sprites of a NES game, then Mega Man 9 probably isn't going to do much for you since it's such a throwback. Still, as far as capturing the nostalgic feeling of using a new NES cartridge, no game I've ever played as come even close to Mega Man 9. Even the music is full of solid 8-bit instrumentals that provide some of the better tunes in Mega Man history.
Although Mega Man 9 for the Wii came out this year, it should be right at home among the other NES titles. As far as level design and overall game quality go, it is one of the better titles in those regards. The difficulty curve is fairly solid, although gamers who aren't used to the unforgiving quirks of NES-era gameplay may end up wanting to throw their controllers a few times. It may be short, but it is fun and challenging enough that you'll end up replaying it over and over, especially with the addition of challenges and Downloadable Content. Mega Man 9 isn't just a cheap attempt to cash in on nostalgia … it is a new Mega Man game, and one can only hope that Capcom's inevitable future attempts at 8-bit revivals are even half as successful. If you've got any of the three next-generation systems and a fondness in your heart for Mega Man, there is absolutely no reason not to spend the $10 for this game. Your inner child will thank you.
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