Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Mega Man 9

(Yes, the screenshot is stolen from 1up. Deal with it.)

Mega Man 9 went live on the Wii Shop Channel at noon yesterday. At noon yesterday, I was downloading Mega Man 9. 

I started off with Concrete Man's stage. I did not get very far. The mini bosses (three of them) quickly reminded me of being six years old, trying desperately to make it past Quick Man's lasers without using the Time Stopper (which I would need for the boss). So I left, deciding I would come back later once I had a better weapon with which to smite them.

Next up was Jewel Man's stage. I couldn't keep myself from doing an awkward sitting-down dance to the music. Mega Man music is famous for being some of the best ever composed for video games. Mega Man 9 keeps the tradition alive. The limitations that come with the NES hardware (this time self imposed) seem to bring out the best in the Capcom sound team. Without going into too much detail, this time I managed to make it all the way to the Robot Master himself, where I was quickly turned to scrap metal.

The difficulty has not been spared. I did eventually manage to defeat the Robot Masters (and one Robot Mistress) and make my way to (spoilers if you've been in a coma for 20 years) Wily's Castle. Once again, it's broken into stages. Once again, if you leave, you start over. I am a Mega Man veteran. I've played and completed Mega Mans 1 through 8. Mega Man 9 reigns supreme as the single hardest entry in the series. And for that, I couldn't be happier.

Everything about Mega Man is an obvious throwback to the Mega Man games of the late 80s and early 90s. What could have been nothing but a scrap book of Mega Man memories, created to sell on nostalgia alone, has instead turned out to be a true Mega Man sequel. Of course, nostalgia does play a factor. Everything about this game screams "Play me on a Famicom." While the graphics were designed to be reminiscent of the original 6, only a few sprites have been reused. While the music was composed and arranged using classic NES bleeps and bloops, the soundtrack is (mostly) completely original and very well done. Play the soundtrack of this game with that of any other Mega Man for someone who has never played a Mega Man game before, and they won't be able to tell what's new and what's old. But (if they're a gamer) they'll love each and every song. 

Elements of the older level designs are mixed with new ones. The classic disappearing-block-over-bottomless-pit rooms make a return (and Rush Jet isn't always helpful any more), and no Mega Man game would be complete without at least one room lined with spikes. New to the party are blocks that teleport you back and forth between each other while shooting you 30 feet into the air, suspended platforms that swing back and forth like pendulums using Mega Man's own shifting weight, robots that fall out of nowhere to grab you and drag you into walls of spikes, and more. The level design is possibly the best it's ever been. Enemies are placed more as obstacles than individual challenges. That Mettaur may not do a lot of damage on his own, but when you land right in front of him, only to be knocked back into a pit of spikes, you'll know why he's there. Charged shots have been removed, forcing you to rely once again on your secondary weapons to get you out of sticky situations. Every trap, every obstacle, every enemy has been carefully placed to turn every instance into a unique situation to be dealt with individually.

A few aspects of the game may feel a bit recycled (Magma Man will feel right at home next to Heat Man, Flame Man, and Fire Man, and I think Splash Woman, as feminine as she is, has more than a little in common with Bubble Man, Dive Man, and Wave Man) but those things are intentional, and Mega Man fans should enjoy the throwbacks rather than rolling their eyes. The old parts say "This is a Mega Man game" while the new ones say "But it's definitely a new Mega Man game." 

If you appreciate a challenge or a healthy dose of retro goodness (or both, like me) Mega Man 9 is for you. Otherwise, go back to your interactive movies. Pansies.

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