Get equipped…with retro greatness!
In anticipation of Megaman 9’s release, I blew through MM2 and MM3 the week before. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played them in years, I completed them without much effort. Shocking for me, since when I was younger, they both caused me great angst, cursing, and controller throwing. And yet, here I am, crushing both of them with the expertise of a speed runner. I was worried; was Megaman truly not the great challenge I once thought it to be? And will the same translate into the 9th edition? My fears really became heightened when I first began playing Megaman 9. I began with Galaxy Man’s stage, since I had heard through the grapevine that he was the “first” boss that should be conquered. I sped through the stage and downed Galaxy Man on the first try. Without losing a single life. Now I had real doubts about the “challenge” that MM9 was going to deliver.
And then…the game knocked me right on my ass.
No, Megaman 9 is not easy by any means. As a matter of fact, it may just be the most difficult entry in the series. And fans of the series wouldn’t want it any other way. It is Megaman in it’s truest form: 8-bit graphics, a funky classic soundtrack, challenging (and on occasion downright brutal) level design, and the usual “rock-paper-scissors” boss structure. There’s cheap deaths, frustrating mini-bosses, and the Megaman “Game Over” screen. Lots and lots of game over screens. Capcom did fans a great service with this game.
For those of you who have never played a Megaman game (and if you’ve been born since like 1990, why haven’t you?), here’s the gist of what to expect. Megaman is a good old action platformer. You run, you jump, and you shoot. The game is divided into eight different stages, playable in any order you choose. Each one is designed in the theme of the evil Robot Master who serves as the stage boss. As you defeat each of the Robot Masters, you acquire their special weapon to use for yourself. Each of the Robot Masters is weak against a particular weapon, so the trick to the game is figuring out the correct order to progress through the levels. When the dust settles, your final challenge awaits in the person of the main villain throughout the whole series, Dr. Wily (and no complaining about spoilers, did you really expect it to be anyone else?).
Let’s get the graphics talk out of the way. The biggest source of contoversy leading up to the game’s release was the fact that the Megaman development team elected to go back to the old 8-bit NES graphical style. Some gamers adored the choice, some thought that Capcom felt like being lazy, wanting to make the game for cheap so they could profit heavily on it. Whether or not you are a fan of the design choice is something that’s going to be in the eye of the beholder. I personally think that this is truly how Megaman should look. I never got into the series after it left the NES, becuase the Super Nintendo iterations just didn’t look or feel right. This is a return to form, and one that I believe will be welcomed by most.
The difficult level design is probably the most distingushing charactersitic of the series, and Megaman 9 does nothing to fall short of the standard set by the previous games. There’s a ton of the usual fare to test your platforming skills: bottomless pits, instant-death spike traps, dissappearing block puzzles, and well-placed enemy spawns. There’s even some new wrinkles added, like the rotating cylinders in Tornado Man’s stage. And as usual, there are only two stage checkpoints: one in the middle, and one right before the boss room. The bottom line is, before you even reach the boss chambers, you’re going to die, you’re going get game overs, and your going to burn through continues. The saving grace is that there is no more archaic password grid in the game, the game has save files like any new game on the market.
The other defining aspect of a Megamn stage is the awesome music playing over the gameplay. MM9’s soundtrack doesn’t quite reach the stratosphere of Megaman 2’s, considered by many to be the greatest gaming soundtrack ever, but it has it’s share of classic tracks. So much so that I wait with baited breath for The Megas to jump all over it. Quick aside, if you love Megaman and have never heard of The Megas, check this out.
Roll, Rush, Eddie, and the rest of your support team are back to help you on your quest. While traversing the levels, you’ll come across bolts that you can collect and trade in at a between-stage item shop where you can purchase things from extra lives and energy tanks to an extra costume that lets you play the game helmet-less. The game progresses the background story through many rendered 8-bit cutscenes. The cutscenes were pretty slick at first, but got quite repetitive as the game went along; the story has never been an important component of the Megaman series.
The other big new feature that was added to the game presumably to extend the replay value is the 50 in-game challenges. Like in most games, the easy challenges will be achieved just by playing through the adventure (kill 100 enemies, fire your Mega Buster X amount of times, etc). The challenges ramp up to crazy in a hurry, my favorite one being the “Gamer’s Day” challenge: achieved by beating the game five times in one day. To put it simply the most hardcore of Megaman players will likely beat 50-60% of these challenges. I’m not sure I want to meet the person that beats all 50 of them (and that person is out there somewhere).
There have also been a few downloadable add-ons announced for purchase at a later date. The biggest one allows you to play as Protoman (Megaman’s cape-wearing brother), the other ones allow for some online leaderboard positon jockeying, like seeing how far you can make it in the “endless level.”
The bottom line is that this is a great Megaman game, one that will be argued by some to the best in the series. If you were a fan of the Blue Bomber in the NES days, you are going to love this game for sure. If you hated the Megaman games back in the day, nothing in Megaman 9 is going to make you change your mind about them. If you are one of the unfortunate souls who have never played a true Megaman adventure, and you enjoy games that push your skills to the limit, this one may just be worth your $10. Megaman 9 was created for the gamers that have held the torch for the series throughout the years, and it’s as good as we could have ever hoped it would be.
Classic 8-bit graphics aren't anything we've never seen before, but I wouldn't want it any other way.
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Traditional Megaman level design: hard. But in a fun way.
The vintage soundtrack isn't the best MM score ever, but it's pretty darn good.
It will take casual gamers a long time to master. Add-ons and challenges will likely only appeal to long-time fans.
The best Megaman game in the past 15 years, fans shouldn't miss it.