Capcom generated a lot of buzz earlier in the year when they announced that their legendary hero would be returning to a simpler time; one that was basically created as if decades of hardware evolution were stricken from the record. Mega Man 9 was to be a return to form for the Blue Bomber. For a brief moment, at least, it would strike down thoughts of Battle Networks and multiple-cart DS releases. All of the X games past 3 or 4. Making fans forget the “hard times” seemed like it would end up being a fruitless task, but Mega Man 9 does all that and more, and it seems safe to say that, for now, our hero has officially returned to form.
From the opening “cinema” to the title screen, Capcom performs some kind of horrifying voodoo on anyone old enough to have spent a great deal of their childhood beating the first few Mega Man games over and over (or at least trying to). There’s an intangible quality to it that can best be described as a rudimentary form of time travel, softly lifting the player in the air only to plop them ass-first into a six-sizes-too-small pair of faded pajama pants.
This musty air of nostalgia also raises some concern, though. Just as it has the power to act as a siren song to long-time fans, one could also imagine it acting as a repellent to the newer generation of players. It’s so stripped and so back to basics that it doesn’t even feature many of the upgrades and mechanics that appeared in earlier entries in the series proper. There’s no charging your mega buster, no sliding, none of that stuff that made each subsequent iteration seem a little fresher than the last. One could even argue that it isn’t as full-featured, visually speaking, as some of the Mega Man games that fell closer to the dying days of the NES.
Yet despite the fact that the aesthetics are archaic by today’s standards, the level design is anything but. This is really where any previous issues go out the window, because Mega Man is about two things: stages and bosses. That sounds like a no-brainer, but a Mega Man game with poor level design—even one with merely passing level design—can be an abysmal experience. Capcom knows this, and there’s a lot of visible care in every flame-filled gap, disappearing block, and rotating platform.
Even throughout its prerelease days, there was near ceaseless chatter about Mega Man 9‘s difficulty. That’s where the clever design comes in, challenging the player with a sequence of screens in each robot’s stage that seem nearly impossible in the first few attempts. Controllers will be thrown, “CHEAP” will be screamed, and lives will be lost again and again. Underneath that seemingly brutal chicanery, however, lies a series of quick lessons that covertly make the player better and better. After just the first grueling hour of play, repeated attempts at stages become second nature, and it doesn’t take as long as one would think to completely master the platforming gauntlets.
The bosses are pretty typical of a Mega Man game, both in appearance and in their patterns. It’s kind of awesome to play a new classic MM without any established guides for which boss to start with, though, as most fans have grown up knowing the proper order for easily taking care of one Robot Master with the weapon they earned by defeating another. Some of those weapons are actually pretty handy in the stages, too, like Hornet Man’s item-seeking Hornet Chaser, or Galaxy Man’s Black Hole Bomb.
And all of this leads to Wily’s Castle, which is where Mega Man 9‘s true challenge lies. While saving between each Robot Master stage adds a breath of fresh air to the proceedings, you really need to stock up before playing the four consecutive final stages. And once you’re done with that, you can try for one of many insanely difficult achievements, or plop down a couple of bucks on Endless Mode (or something more wasteful in the ever-growing DLC lineup). Heck, even with the asking price for bonuses like Proto Man and such, the game is an absolute bargain at ten bucks.
All of the aforementioned action swings jubilantly to the tune of an exceptional soundtrack. It completes the full throw-back package, and there are some really impressive beeps and boops within its chiptune framework that stick to the style of the original Mega Man games, boring deep into your skull like all good NES music does. As far as I’m concerned, Mega Man 9 is a must download for anyone that values this type of experience. I also can’t recommend it enough to those that aren’t familiar with the series. It’s one of the best and most precisely crafted examples of why the platformer will live on forever, just like Mega Man himself.
System: Wii, 360, PS3