Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mega Man 9 (video game)

Platform: PSN, X-Box Live Arcade, WiiWare
Developer: Inti Create
Genre: Action, Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: September 22, 2008

There's been a bit of a "retro" revival lately. Sonic the Hedgehog attempted a middle ground between the modern day and the past with Sonic 4. But before the other blue hero decided to get back to his roots to win back his fans, Mega Man had the same idea. The main difference is that he went all the way, regressing back to his 8-bit heydey for this latest adventure.

Plot was never a focus in the Mega Man games and this one doesn't break the mold. Dr. Wily frames Dr. Light and Mega Man has to smack around some robots to clear his name. As expected, it's not much more than an excuse for our pixelated hero to fight eight more master robots - even including a female for the first time in series history - and traverse Wily's Super Deathtrap Castle to shoot him in the face.

Mega Man 9 is fanservice of the highest order. A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into recreating the classic Mega Man experience, right down to making an intentionally bad box cover* just to complete the illusion. The graphics, the controls, the music, the effects; everything has recieved painstaking attention to detail, to the point where the only evidence that 7 and 8 ever existed is maybe Auto and the item shop. That's the problem.

A lot of people more articulate than I have gone into detail about why nostalgia - and attempting to recreate things based around it - is a doomed effort. The Iceberg Lounge has a pretty good piece about this, so I'll just say "go read what he has to say" and I won't go into too much detail about that particular subject. But that's the gist of what we're looking at here; they've tried so hard to hit those nostalgia centers that they've taken the series ten steps backwards, to the point where the controls have regressed back to what we had in Mega Man 2.

That's not good for a game series and in fact it actually leads to stagnation. Quick, how many of you ever think of 4, 5 and 6 whenever Mega Man is brought up? Exactly. They were pretty good games, overall, but that was the period in which the series had begun to stall. Rather than jump to the Super Nintendo, the franchise stuck with the then-outdated NES and any improvements made were incremental at best.

See, video games have to keep moving and keep improving. Otherwise, they may as well be the equivalent of a mission pack extension of the older games. What would Final Fantasy have looked like if it never progressed past the first game? We'd have lost a lot of things, such as the job class to start. Why has the Katamari series begun to lose some of its cult fanbase? Because the series refuses to move forward in any meaningful way. Say what you want about 7 and 8 - and they had dumb ideas, like the soccer ball mechanic from 8 - but they were attempts to finally move forward instead of lingering in the past.

Which brings me back to Mega Man 9. It's about as perfect a piece of 8-bit gaming as you can find. It's fun, it's challenging and engaging. But it's so deeply rooted in the past that I wonder it maybe they've gone too far. They're shooting for one demographic here - the people who grew up with NES Mega Man games - and in that regard I wonder if they've forgotten other demographics exist. I've heard more than one story of a parent seeing Mega Man 9 as their own personal nirvana while their kid just didn't get what the big deal was.

If the series is to continue past Mega Man 10, I'm hoping they get back to moving forward again. If you must, keep the pixelated graphics. But man, at least evolve the gameplay a bit, even if you just end up bringing things back from the later games in the series.

The Score: 8 out of 10

A well polished game that is arguably too much of a blast to the past. It's a great game, but I can't help but feel like it's a step back for the franchise instead of a step forward. But if old school Mega Man is your thing, have at it. Just don't be too surprised that the game is basically Mega Man 2 with a fresh coat of paint**.

* This is an amusing thing to go ahead and replicate. Sure, everyone remembers the insanely bad cover for the first Mega Man, but that was the only one that was flat out wrong. Mega Man 2's had a lot of inaccuracies, but was far closer. Past that the cover art nailed the look of the characters.

** This is not necessarily a bad thing. Mega Man 2 is easily my favorite in the classic series, maybe even in the entire franchise. I'm not sure I wanted a remix of it, though.

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