Go for it, if you like a real arse kicking.
It’s not every day that you see a big game developer create the next game of a well-established franchise by going all the way back to its roots, even if that may have been twenty years ago. This is exactly the route Capcom has taken with Megaman 9, and while it might feel to some like a simple effort to make nostalgic gamers drool, the end result is a very solid game with the additional ability to draw in some new fans to a series they might not have touched otherwise.
The plot is fairly standard as always – the menacing Dr. Wily is back again and manages to blame Megaman’s creator, Dr. Light, for a tirade of robots destroying the city. Wily asks for donations to complete his own army of robots to combat those supposedly under Dr. Light’s power. As Megaman, it’s your job to find out what Wily is up to and put a stop to his madness. Then it’s straight to the level select screen to choose which of the eight unique robot masters’ stages you take on first.
The gameplay feels like it slots in just between Megaman 2 and 3 – there’s no sliding mechanic or charge shots, but Megaman’s robot-dog companion Rush is back to help out in some of the game’s trickier situations. Probably the best part here is the level design – every level is designed with specific points which make use of each of the various powerups Megaman gains along the way, so if you come back to a particularly tough level after you’ve completed another, you’re likely to find more than a few areas for shortcuts and new tricks. The weapons are quite balanced, and while there are a few standard shot weapons like the Magma Bazooka and the Laser Trident, others have all sorts of unique properties. Hornet Chasers will be able to fetch out of reach items for you. Tornado Blow will allow you to jump higher or activate propeller platforms. Concrete Shot lets you block certain hazards from harming you, as well as acting as a small stepping stone. They’re all very creative and certainly very fun to use.
The difficulty curve is quite steep, so be prepared to take more than a few game-overs. It’s alright when there’s an easy save system and items you can stock up with from the shop, but none of this can really ease the frustration factor after you’ve failed a level several dozen times in a row. The problem is that the frustration, aside from robot masters and minibosses, rarely stems from tricky enemies placed within levels to gradually wear you down, and instead from instant death zones spread throughout each stage. Lots and lots of bottomless pits, killer spikes and all sorts of other tricky traps, most of which require you to play through the particular level several times to learn just what is out to get you, but once you’ve played through the game once, the difficulty of each level will fall quite dramatically since you know all of its secrets. The game does make you want to come back again no matter how many times you’ve had your ass handed to you, but the fact that you’re almost guaranteed to fail, regardless of your skill level, on your first few trips through a level comes off feeling a little annoying.
However, the unforgiving difficulty is a small price to pay for an otherwise great platformer which remains very faithful to the classic Megaman series on the NES. The graphics are all done in true 8-bit style and if you’re really going for that classic feeling, you can turn on features like sprite tearing if you like. The sound effects might be simple copy-pastes from the NES titles, but the music really blew me away. It slots in wonderfully with the classic Megaman tunes and is such a memorable soundtrack overall that it’s incredibly tough for me to get the songs out of my head and stop humming them in my day-to-day travels.
It’s unlikely that Megaman 9 will take players more than a couple of hours to beat, regardless of their skill level. Even so, Capcom have made sure to keep fans satisfied with a few new modes to try, including a Time Attack challenge for players to see where their skills rank up with the rest of the world. There’s also a number of challenges to give the die-hard fan an excuse to play through the game again, or twice, or five times in a single day. Challenges such as beating the Robot Masters with the Mega Buster only, or beating the game without continuing, or dying, or taking a hit. There’s no real reward to most of these, but they’re still a neat addition. What I didn’t find so cool was the fact that Capcom had decided to put a number of extra modes up as extra downloadable content instead of including them in the package, content players had to pay for if they wanted to play as Proto Man or go through an endless stage to see how far they could get.
I really appreciate the direction Capcom took with Megaman 9 in the end, yet find it quite amusing that a developer can breathe a certain freshness and new life into a franchise and attract new fans to that franchise by going back to what they started with twenty years ago. Nevertheless, Megaman 9 is a great platformer which I found quite hard to put down, although for others this will depend on your preferences, patience and peace of mind. If you’re okay with getting your arse kicked over and over again by all sorts of sneaky traps in some of the cruelest ways possible, then definitely give it a try.