By Tyler Lubben / September 12th, 2014
It’s becoming painfully obvious that there is a distinct lack of good 2D run ‘n’ gun titles coming out these days. Sure, right now I’m pretty well occupied by Azure Striker Gunvolt, and I appreciate Nintendo and Sony releasing old Mega Man games to strike my nostalgia bone, but new titles just aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. However, Mega Man godfather, Keiji Inafune, and Comcept are still working to deliver on the winning combination of running, jumping and blasting through hordes of enemy robots with Mighty No. 9, their upcoming action platformer starring a brand new fighting robot named Beck. After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, an early Beta trial of the game is now available to a handful of players. So, with a working product now in the hands of the public, how is the game shaping up?
Things did not start swimmingly for me, as the first thing I did after firing the game up was to try to decipher the keyboard controls (as is often the case with PC platformers). After some time, I realized that Mighty No. 9 has one of the strangest default control schemes of a platformer that I’ve ever seen. While there are multiple potential layouts using the Arrow, Z and X keys, it seems that the intended combination is to use the WASD keys for movement, Space Bar to jump and the Left and Right Mouse buttons for Beck’s attacks. It was a pretty unnatural way to do things, so I ultimately gave up and switched over to my PC gamepad, which was much easier to configure to my liking. But enough about my travails in controller frustrations, how does the game itself work?
On the surface, Mighty No. 9 seems very much like the Mega Man clone that some people have accused it of being. With Inafune playing a major role in the game’s development, you can’t help but draw comparisons. Beck explores environments on a 2D plain and shoots enemies with his arm-mounted cannon. At the end of the stage, Beck takes on a boss whose health he must whittle down to defeat, after which point he completes his mission. It’s a formula that we’ve all worked through countless times. Don’t cry foul yet, though, as things aren’t quite as copied and pasted as they may initially seem.
One of the first things that players will notice is that levels appear to be a bit more story-driven than they was seen in most Mega Man games. Not that they’re bogged down with cutscenes or anything, but dialogue occurs throughout this demo with both Beck’s friends and his foes as they encourage and taunt him, respectively, as he pushes forward. A few times, players can even see Mighty No. 2 in the background, playfully flying around on her water jets and, at one point, even helping Beck advance by freezing gun turrets in the background impeding his progress. Though adding new story elements is a fun addition, what most players are here to see how the gameplay works.
While it is still possible to simply pump enemy robots with pellets and just move on, that is not the best use of your time. Mighty No. 9 seeks to offer a bit more of a visceral experience in combat, tasking players with weakening enemies with their blaster, then, when the enemy’s special Xel energy begins seeping out, Beck can charge into the enemy to dispatch them immediately and absorb the energy. Charging can be done to the left or right either on the ground and while airborne, and even straight down when in the air. Different foes also have different types of Xel that will give Beck a variety of temporary stat boosts as he absorbs them, such as an increase in running speed or the ability to shoot through enemies and obstacles. Players will also receive greater bonuses not only for charging enemies quickly after exposing their Xel, but also for blowing through multiple robots at once.
Fighting the boss of the demo stage, Battalion (otherwise known as Mighty No. 5), works much the same way. Battalion’s health bar appears at the bottom of the screen, and will slowly run out as Beck deals damage. Like the enemies that Beck fought along the way, Battalion’s Xel energy will become exposed after he has sustained enough damage. At this point, Beck must charge into Battalion, or else his Xel energy will be reabsorbed; regenerating his lost health. Charging into the boss while he’s in the state will permanently knock out the regenerating damage. As such, it appears as though boss battles will involve constantly jumping between avoiding the boss’s attacks, whittling down their health and blocking their ability to regenerate. At the end of the fight, Beck absorbs Battalion’s power, but, unfortunately, the demo ends at this point, so players are not given the opportunity to play around with any new powers.
It’s hard to judge Mighty No. 9 on its graphics very much at this point. As the game is still quite far from its full release, there is a noticeably lack of polish to the environments and characters. What was there, though, still did the job quite well. Explosion effects from shooting enemies and obstacles are nicely detailed, and I liked the way that particles of Xel energy would hover around vulnerable foes. There’s also a bit of physics programming involved, as some enemies will fall apart after taking enough damage, the pieces of which would then roll realistically to the ground. Plus, there’s a nice blur effect that occurs whenever Beck charges. It really all just makes me wonder what the finished product is going to look like after all the kinks are ironed out.
The sound, too, while fairly minimalistic at this point, still felt just right. The title screen, in particular, had a very distinct Mega Man X5 vibe to it. The sound effects also fit well with the setting. Beck’s blaster has a nice punch to it, and the clashing noise of charging into enemies is nicely metallic with a positive reinforcing sound effect that really makes you want to rack up as big a score as you can.
I was happy to be given the opportunity to try out Mighty No. 9, even at this early stage. It may be fairly bare-bones at this point, but it did a fantastic job of scratching that itch left behind by Mega Man withdrawal. It may seem like just a rehash of everyone’s favorite blue robot, but the new gameplay features and slightly heavier emphasis on story do a great job of making it feel unique. If this is just a fraction of the fun to be found in the final product, I think Mighty No. 9 is going to do just fine in the action platformer community. Definitely make sure to keep an eye out for this one when it releases in the spring of 2015.
ComceptImpressionsKeiji InafuneMighty No. 9PC