Context! The one great failing of the retro gaming market is that these things aren't treated well. Rather than get a game on which you lavish time and attention, you're generally given 20 games of varying quality and spend maybe 10 minutes on each before shelving the disc with your other tired garbage.
Mega Man 9
$10 (800 MS points)
As a title on WiiWare, the Playstation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade service, this game demands your attention as a sole release and not as a cog in a compilation. Its 8-bit styling and intense difficulty are less of a fun diversion and more of a thinly veiled threat. Its charming demeanor and primitive looks practically call your manhood into question if you decide to put this one down. It's an astounding celebration of the past without feeling hokey.
If you played any of the NES games from roughly 1987 to 1993 or so, you know what to expect. The game's controls are basically Mega Man 2.5, as it retains the speedy ladder climbing introduced in the third game, but doesn't have the slide action. In addition to walking, climbing, jumping, and shooting, you can employ a number of power-ups to get through some fairly difficult levels. The game uses a d-pad and two buttons, so really, if you could handle the NES you can handle the fundamentals of this one.
No really-- it's hard. Unlike earlier NES titles in the series, this one really amps up the challenge a great deal. Like every game in the series, you play a little blue dude and you go up against a series of cybernetic adversaries, and then you'll eventually face Dr. Wily. (Spoiler alert-- like you didn't see this coming.) There's a fair amount of memorization, and in many respects this game feels like it has more in common with the likes of Contra or R-Type than Mega Man 2. You really do need to be on it to get through this game, and even if you're good you're going to die. A lot.
Mega Man's Style, Can You Handle It?
The big gimmick of this game is that it looks like a 1990 NES game. It really isn't fancy at all, and this basically works. The Super NES Mega Man 7 and the 8th title on the Saturn and Playstation weren't as fondly received, so #9 is a true return to form. This played heavily into its marketing and, I presume, reduced development costs. It's a great idea to try to make something like this in the modern era of gaming simply because it stands out from the pack. Older gamers will appreciate its unique look and old-timey bosses like the new Splash Woman or Concrete Man, but newer gamers raised on Halo will probably hate it. Still, it looks better than a surprising amount of games on the recent Sonic's Sega Genesis Collection, which we'll be reviewing shortly.
Extra Downloadable Modes
Not reviewed. In addition to the basic game, you can download higher challenge settings, special time-attack levels, and playable Proto Man. These extras will add about $10 to the total cost of the game package, but you don't need them to enjoy Mega Man 9 to completion.
Is it worth buying?
Absolutely-- if you know and love the NES. If you aren't already a fan of the series this won't change your mind.
This is truly a special game. Since its debut, no other company has actually produced a similar retro-sequel for any franchise, but that may change with the approach of E3. Younger gamers may not get it, but if you're pushing 30 as of this review, this is an experience well worth having. (If you have more than ten minutes of patience, consider getting the Xbox/PS2/GameCube Mega Man Anniversary Collection too. It has the previous 8 games on a single disc for about $10-$15 used, it's astonishing how well the NES titles hold up in terms of fun.)
What I'm really interested in here is the potential legacy. We haven't seen another 8-bit game since it dropped last year, but with any luck we'll hear about Mega Man 10 or if we're really lucky, a new Castlevania in NES style, soon. E3 is just around the corner after all.
April 21, 2009