It's often difficult for reviewers to separate their opinions of what a game should be from the target audience's opinions of what a game should be, and this leads to reviews that aren't really for a game's target audience, but for the reviewer's preferences. Fortunately, this will not be a problem for this review, as I am Mega Man 9's target audience. An oldschool gamer who wants the classic Mega Man simplicity and challenge without any of the fluff we see in many modern games. If you aren't someone who deals well with extreme difficulty in a video game, or needs super high res graphics and orchestrated soundtracks to enjoy games, then you can stop reading here, because this game is not for you.
It's amazing what good art direction can do with 8-bit graphics.
However, this game is for those who are tired of all these pretty little modern games that rarely present a real challenge. Welcome to classic Mega Man. We'll start with the least important factor of this game: the plot. Dr. Wily is back again, this time he's managed to convince the world that he's reformed and it's Dr. Light releasing these robots on the world. Dr. Light is arrested and it's up to Mega Man to defeat (you guessed it) eight robot masters and finally Dr. Wily to clear Dr. Light's name. There isn't really any story delivered except the beginning and end of the game, and it's cheesy and silly, which is what fans expect from Mega Man.
After the story comes the music and graphics. Mega Man 9 comes equipped with 8-bit music and graphics. It is designed to look and sound exactly like its NES counterparts, and it absolutely does. The songs are upbeat and themed to match their stages or bosses. They are catchy and memorable, and designed to appeal to the nostalgic Mega Man fan. Likewise, the visuals are 100% 8-bit NES style graphics. Mega Man's sprite model is ripped right from the NES classics, and so are the menus and interfaces. Simple and functional is the message here, and it's exactly what the game needed. The game's visuals and audio are primitive by choice, and it works perfectly.
Plug Man tries to zap you with seeking electricity balls.
There are a very few modern features in Mega Man 9. The challenges (achievements for 360 owners) are a set of goals that you can try for that challenge your skill. The game also comes equipped with worldwide online leaderboards and time trials for those who want to test their platforming skills against the best and the fastest. Also among the more "modern" features of the game is the presence of downloadable content. On October 10th (the anniversary of Mega Man for those of you who aren't as nerdy as me), players will be able to purchase 2 new difficulty levels, a new stage, an endless stage, and the ability to play as (the very very cool) Proto Man. These downloads will range from 100 to 300 points each on Wii (or $1 - $3). It's assumed they will be available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as well.
Obviously Dr. Wily got some financial backing for Jewel Man's stage.
Ah and now ladies and gentlemen we've reached the one thing that really matters in Mega Man: The gameplay. Run, jump, shoot. Mega Man at the start of the game has nothing but his Mega Buster and the ability to call Rush who will provide him with a spring to leap off of and jump higher. As you defeat the robot masters, you gain new abilities such as Galaxy Man's blackhole bomb, which shoots out a controllable bomb with remote detonation that sucks in and destroys enemies. You can also buy items using screws that enemies drop such as extra energy tanks, a haircut for Mega Man, and useful items. Clever level design will make every stage a fresh challenge, and somehow after 9 Mega Man platformers the stages still manage to be unexpectedly original and nostalgic at the same time.
Most of the 8 robot master stages can be completed in under 2 minutes if you know what you are doing, but that's a big if. Plaything through Mega Man 9 is an extremely difficult, frustrating, and ultimately incredibly rewarding experience. The game will brutalize you with tricky jumps, puzzling enemies, and challenging bosses. The gauntlet at the end of the game even more so... but emerging victorious is all the more rewarding because of it. However, like riding a bike, once you learn a stage, you will never forget it. The first playthrough will take most gamers 4-6 hours, with the following playthroughs taking more like 30-60 minutes depending on your skill level. There is plenty of content to keep you coming back though with the challenges, leaderboards, and future DLC.
If creating your own black hole isn't cool, I don't know what is.
As a reviewer, the big question I have to ask myself when criticizing a game is "What can be improved on for the game's concept and target audience?" I then use those issues (along with the obvious fun factor) to make deductions on the game's score. When I asked myself that question after completing Mega Man 9, I came up with only one real complaint. The game has only one difficulty, and it's very hard. Harder than Mega Man 2 hard. While I personally absolutely loved the challenge, one lower difficulty setting would have been nice for those who can only beat Mega Man 2 on Normal mode. In the end though this is a nearly perfect package. It is a triumph of design that shines among and perhaps even above the games it was trying to remind us of... a true diamond among the Mega Man franchise, and a constant reminder that it really isn't the graphics, but the gameplay, that make a game worth owning.
(Played to completion on WiiWare; available in nearly identical forms on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN)
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