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If you weren’t around for Mega Man’s heyday (waaaay back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, around 1990), all this commotion about an archaic, unsophisticated platformer may make about as much sense as the robot elephants that populate Concrete Man’s level.
The confusion is understandable - Mega Man 9 is an old-school 8-bit NES game through and through, with pixel-perfect jumps, one hit kills and crushingly difficult boss encounters that’ll shred wrists from here to Japan. It does absolutely nothing to court new players, opting instead to cater directly to fans and longtime gamers who tire of recharging health meters and forgiving checkpoints.
And that’s precisely why we love it to death.
Gameplay is dead simple: choose one of eight bosses, make it through their level, acquire their weapon, then figure out which boss is weak against your copycatted arsenal. Along the way you’ll have to make perfectly timed leaps, avoid spikes that shatter Mega Man when one pixel is out of line and tackle enemies that are dead set on pushing you into one of a hundred different bottomless pits.
If all of that sounds endlessly frustrating, you’re going to want to pass. You’ll stare blankly at the seventh Game Over screen in 20 minutes and wonder how the hell anyone else can get past this goddam jump, let alone beat the entire game. However, gamers who love a challenge, anyone who slaved through Mega Man 4 and 5, all of you are going to eat this up and love every single second.
Mega Man 9 perfectly apes Mega Man 2, which is widely considered to be the best of the bunch. You can’t charge a buster shot as in 4 onward, nor slide as in 3, but honestly we don’t miss those (in our eyes) unnecessary perks. The comparison continues even into the sound effects and music, with a couple of tunes lifted directly from the 1989 classic.
Replacing the lost moves are new treats that make the game a hell of a lot more playable. You’ll deal with the store the most, a piece borrowed from Mega Man 8. It’s loaded with helpful items that make the bastard-hard levels a bit more manageable; boots that protect you from spikes, a Beat call that pulls you out of pits, a half-damage token, stuff like that. There’s also a punishing set of achievements to complete that’ll put even the absolute best players in their place. Example: beat the game without dying. Ooookay.
Before we award the score, we should point out that like every other difficult game, the more you play the easier it gets. We started out cursing Mega Man’s name into Satan’s armpit, but within a couple of days (and about 30 Game Over screens) we beat the entire thing without a lot of fuss. And then proceeded to beat it again two or three times just because it’s that rewarding. We imagine we’ll play it all over again when the first wave of DLC, Proto Man, arrives next week. It’s hard to put into words why we’re playing it over and over, it just has that intangible “something” that so many NES/SNES games of yesteryear seemingly invented and then failed to pass on to the PlayStation/N64 generation.
Buy it, finish it, love it, because if this takes off we’re going to see a renaissance of new-old games. And if that happens, a whole new batch of gamers will grow up learning why rock-solid gameplay, not tera-flipping flop-bib shaders, make games truly exceptional.
Sep 22, 2008