With Mighty No. 9 originally being pitched as a spiritual successor to Mega Man, and with one of the lead developers behind the blue bomber, Keiji Inafune , spearheading Mighty No. 9, it’s no wonder it’s a gruellingly challenge platformer which allows you to tackle its main stages in whichever order you fancy, and with each pitting you against a robot boss whose elemental powers become yours once you’ve defeated them. However, whilst the spirit of Mega Man is clear to see, the execution is woefully lacking.

Mighty No. 9’s difficulty could be forgiven if it was the result of strong level design like it’s 8 bit inspiration, but unfortunately each of the 11 stages are mediocre collections of enemy encounters and frustrating, unfair deaths. There’s a severe disconnect between the mechanics and the level design that works against the pace you want to platform at. Jumps and ladders are spaced apart far enough to make every leap a nuisance, and the dash the protagonist Beck possesses becomes hazardous to use as it frequently leaves you dangling above deadly falls or face to face with ill placed enemies and their projectiles.

Moreover, as you complete each stage you face a boss which, once defeated, grants you their abilities, but with stage selection left down to you, the level design is never given the chance to create a set-piece around these abilities. As such many of them are reduced to one-off uses against very particular enemies or bosses, with the wider uses for the ability completely underused.

Mighty No 9 1

Additionally boss fights are utterly unfair. Often a boss will throw random attacks at you rather than a pattern you can eventually learn, and on the few occasions a pattern is present, once you knock the boss down to 50% health, they shake it up and add an instant kill to their repertoire. Fortunately you can increase the amount of lives you have – deep in the options screen ala classic 8 and 16 bit games – to nine, but even still you’ll be very lucky to get through a level on your first attempt.

Of course the Mega Man influence in Mighty No. 9 is blatant, with Beck the friendly robot called to action by Dr. White to fight his fellow ‘Mighty’ robots who have been mysteriously corrupted. Eight main stages, with several more late-game stages unlocked afterwards, challenge you to defeat each robot, which possess powerful elemental abilities that put your default peashooter to shame. It very much feels like Mega Man initially and looks a great deal like how you’d imagine a modern Mega Man to look, but under the surface is a poor imitation. The meticulously crafted levels of Mega Man are nowhere to be seen here, meanwhile, the music is uninspired in both its modern form and its chiptune alternative. Furthermore, the difficulty is entirely a product of frustrating instant kills from bosses you can’t reliably predict the pattern of, or poor layout in the levels.

Mighty No 9 2

Unfortunately the multiplayer component doesn’t fare much better, offering challenge stages for two players to complete together or race through competitively. But the netcode made finding another player nightmarish and maintaining a stable connection rare. Additional challenge levels are also available for singleplayer, and offers a set of objectives-based stages for you to test your skills, but it feels entirely tacked on.

However, it’s not a complete write-off. The dash mechanic – which falls apart as a platforming aid – is part of an interesting approach to defeating enemies. After a few hits an enemy will become dazed, and dashing through them collects their essence which grants you points and boosts your stats temporarily. Additionally, in boss fights when one of the Mighty becomes dazed, dashing through them banks the damage you’ve inflicted on them. It’s a neat way to encourage you to be thoughtful about how you deal with your foes.

Mighty No 9 3

Furthermore, as poor as Mighty No. 9 seems when compared to Mega Man, it still achieves a level of polish that can be described as mediocre overall; not great but certainly not terrible either. The controls are pleasantly responsive, the visuals bright and welcoming, and there’s an undeniable nostalgic charm to its ridiculously over-the-top voice acting, terrible script, and challenging platforming action.

Indeed, Mighty No. 9 is not what its Kickstarter backers were hoping for. An obvious disconnect between the platforming mechanics and the level design, poor level design in general and all the frustrating deaths that come with it, as well as equally frustrating boss fights, all make Mighty Number 9 a game that’s impossible to recommend but also impossible to fully condemn.

Thanks to Xbox and ComCept INTI Creates for supporting TiX