Mega Man 9: The Blue Bomber Returns!

October 2, 2008

Capcom’s blue bomber returns to his roots in Mega Man 9, the first new installment to the original series in over a decade. Rather than opting for a modern update, the title instead strives for an authentic, 8-bit experience. Does the classic action formula still shine, or is Mega Man becoming rusty?
Set shortly after the events of Mega Man 8, several of Dr. Light’s robots have mysteriously gone berserk. Dr. Wily appears before the masses during a broadcast and accuses the illustrious inventor of foul play. With the public demanding justice, Mega Man swears to clear Dr. Light’s name and expose the true culprit. The story is classic 8-bit fare and at points intentionally mocks itself, but the series has never been known for its strong narrative, and Mega Man 9 is no exception.

As in previous installments, players navigate eight different stages filled with numerous death traps and enemies, culminating with a robot master encounter. There are also some mini-boss battles thrown into the fray in a few of the stages. The item shop makes a return, allowing players to purchase various enhancements with the screws accumulated in each level. Capcom is also planning downloadable content, such as a playable version of Protoman, for a nominal fee. However, we strongly believe these features should have already been included as bonus content rather than forcing players to shell out more dough.

Other than the standard mode, a new time attack mode allows players to blaze through each individual level as quickly as possible. Best times are recorded and can be compared to other players via an online ranking system.

Throughout the course of the game, numerous challenges can be accomplished as well, ranging from defeating a measly 50 enemies to the insane notion of beating the entire game without taking any damage. These two new features provide serious replay value for the dedicated, and should be a staple of all future titles in the franchise.

There’s no side-stepping the fact that Mega Man 9 is a beast. With the exception of seasoned Mega Man pros and speedrunners, Capcom’s latest outing will be a brutal reminder of how difficult games used to be. Much of the challenge comes from throwing numerous obstacles at the player that require impeccable skill and reflexes to overcome. There’s also a fair share of cheap death traps, which are just as annoying now as they were back in the originals. Whether it’s a well-placed enemy, vanishing blocks, fierce winds, or lava flows, expect to die numerous times before successfully completing any level.

One of the eight robot masters awaits players skilled enough to reach the end of each level. Though most of the robot masters are very difficult to overcome with the standard buster cannon, it’s unfortunate that utilizing power-ups can reduce the battle to mere seconds, eliminating any semblance of skill. In fact, several bosses can be overcome by button mashing the power-up ability, and it’s a shame that things weren’t rebalanced to account for it. This is a true hardcore game that will test the very limits of your skill.

Mega Man 9 features impressive sprite work and animation. Everything is within the technical limitations of the original NES, but that hasn’t stopped Capcom from pushing the envelope in a few places with some nice attention to detail. One minor issue is the rather bland appearance of some of the later levels in the final stretch of the game. The soundtrack also delivers retro tunes on par with some of the best in the series. In comparison to contemporary games with visual bells and whistles, Mega Man 9 falls well below the standard. Its intent to recreate an authentic, eight-bit experience, is an admirable one, and it succeeds.

Mega Man 9 succeeds in delivering an authentic retro experience, but that’s not to say it’s flawless. The length of many levels falls short when compared to previous titles in the series, and rather than pushing forward with a revamp like Bionic Commando Rearmed, Mega Man 9 instead focuses on recreating some fond memories. Still, it’s a solid buy for retro gamers, Mega Man fans, and those who complain modern gaming has gotten too soft.