Let's be completely honest with ourselves: if your heritage of video games begins and ends primarily in the realm of polygons and textures, chances are high that Mega Man 9 is going to seem rather foreign from a conceptual standpoint. It lacks much in the way of checkpoints, relies on tile-based sprites for its visuals, and has a difficulty curve which hasn't been witnessed in platformers for years. The length of the journey is less than that of an average first person shooter and, to top it all off, there isn't that much depth to it. In short, you're in for a very major historical lesson if this is your first real dive into the world of retro video games. For the rest of us, though, Mega Man 9 is a great game though and through, faux antiquated nature or not. It has a lot of the flaws its brethren did in the late eighties and early nineties, but the gameplay and other departments still hold up surprisingly well. Mega Man 9 is actually something beyond a $10 nostalgia trip.
If you're familiar with any of the other main Mega Man games, the premise of both the story and the gameplay is essentially the same. Dr. Wily is up to no good again and you have to go through eight robot masters to reach the one man behind yet another devious plot. It's all simplistic, but when considering that one doesn't really need that much motivation to get up and start shooting like a madman with that arm cannon, it nevertheless suffices. Each level has a theme depending on the boss at the end. Splash Woman, for example, has an underwater lair whereas Hornet Man's domain is flowery. Nothing is terribly original, but it's also the game's way of poking fun at its respective series which is naturally strained for creativity at the ninth iteration.
Despite the lack of complete newness thematically, the levels themselves are all great. The designs are tight and fun to navigate and while there is a high probability that Mega Man will die numerous times until reaching the end, the game makes sure nothing is overly brutal. Saves are very thankfully implemented into the game and you can also keep all of the major items you pick up and reuse them during new continues. The layouts of the levels also aren't overly complicated, making it a relatively easy manner to become acclimated to each course in just a few runs. Considering the challenges which lie ahead, too, that's a necessity.
To make the journey a bit easier, the game features a shop where you can spend bolts, Mega Man 9's currency, on various items and unlockables. While most of the things for sale are only really useful in specific situations (it's possible to beat the game without getting anything), one handy thing which the shop does have is an energy tank. Mega Man is fairly hearty, but in the heat of battle, being able to call upon a stock of energy tanks to completely restore his health is extremely handy.
Battles in the game are largely a matter of wit as you try to figure out what weapon works in each dilema and some even have nice perks which aren't combat-related. Mastering the different suits is almost a must for the end-level skirmishes. Since Mega Man once again inherits each boss' weapon upon defeating them, a major key to fighting them and getting out in one piece is figuring out which bosses are weak against what weapon. It's possible to take them all on with only Mega Man's modest default gun, but only those who are insane or desperately want the achievement points will consider doing it. For the rest of us, exploting weaknesses is a perfectly fine and rewarding option of its own.
In addition to the boss' booty, Mega Man can also summon Roll, a robotic dog with a few different functions. While Roll isn't particularly necessarily until the last few levels of the game, he can make especially difficult passages more bearable. Whether it's simply riding aboard him to breeze through an especially harrowing passage or using him as a trampoline to reach a higher elevation, he can be really useful in specific contexts. Outside of those, though, there's no particular reason to bring him out and will as such just inhabit two slots on the weapon selection screen for the majority of the game.
The really great things about Mega Man 9 are what lies beyond the gameplay. While it's not exactly a meager NES or Famicom ROM strapped to a proprietary emulator, it is nevertheless designed to work within the contraints of that era's consoles. For example, you know that the developer really cared about making Mega Man 9 belong with decades-old games when it deliberately includes a feature which allows one to toggle sprite flickering on and off, an unavoidable quirk of many games from the old days. Everything works beautifully and functions like a game from several generations ago. The graphics are modest, yet still colorful and spunky. The controls are simplistic; you only need to know how to operate two face buttons and the Start/Back Button combo. Menu navigation is an easy matter since there is virtually no clutter whatsoever. Almost none of the technical stuff would completely bring the NES to its knees, but Mega Man 9 still proudly vaunts the system's capabilities.
If there is one decidedly retro aspect of the game which is superb, though, it is by and far the soundtrack. The Mega Man games have always been famous for going really far with only the MIDI format, but Mega Man 9 does an especially great job with its music. There isn't a single weak piece and there are a number of them which are really excellent. By the game's end, it's entirely possible to have more than one favorite out of all of the game's medleys; they all really are that high in quality. A good amount of the fun in the game's levels can actually be derived from listening to the music alone and helps make the game as a whole really memorable.
It's true that Mega Man 9 isn't necessarily for everyone. In all likelihood, those who didn't grow up with Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, and its ilk will probably find it hard to understand the appeal of the game. After all, this is something which is deliberately very hard and eskews a lot of modern gameplay conventions in favor of what older generations of players were once accustomed to in their early years. But if you can get past that or if you still have a love for the grandfathers of today's games, there's a lot that you'll like. It's a trip down memory lane which doesn't overwhelm you with the familiar; it simply accents those things rather nicely. Mega Man 9 is thusly a resounding success on all fronts because of that fact and as such makes it an easy purchase on your local console download service.