The industry has been shaken up by the emergence of the crowdfunding model in recent years, and it would be disingenuous to say that there haven’t been some crowdfunding success stories. Pillars of Eternity is amazing, for instance, as are Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin. FTL: Faster than Light even sparked a sort of roguelike revolution in indie games. That doesn’t mean that it always works, or even that it mostly works; sometimes the biggest crowdfunding stories just end with a big, wet fart…kind of like Mighty No. 9.
Let’s not get into the development history behind Mighty No. 9. This piece would end up spanning several websites, because it’s been an absolute disaster and one of the biggest reasons to be skeptical of the crowdfunding model. A quick summary: Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune asked for money, people gave it to him because he asked, he proceeded to take an unprecedented amount of time to make a Mega Man clone that’s been received poorly, to say the least. Instead, let’s focus on what we have now: it’s a video game. Not an especially inspiring video game, but not the worst one you’ll have played either. The problem is that we were sold a revolutionary masterpiece, not “a pretty okay game.”
Mighty No. 9 follows Beck, the titular Mighty-series robot, who definitely isn’t Mega Man. He works with a pair of professors, neither of whom are named Light, and he’s out to stop the other Mighty-series bots who have all gone crazy in a plot that’s definitely nothing like Mega Man 1 through 11. Beck is uniquely capable of Acxeleration, a ridiculously-named dash attack that allows him to defeat enemies and absorb the Xel that makes them up; doing this to the other Mighty robots allows him to use Rexelection, emulating their unique powers and abilities. Okay, I admit it, it’s Mega Man.
Except it’s not, because unlike Mega Man, you can’t just defeat enemies with Beck’s standard weapon. Enemies, including mini-bosses and bosses, cannot be killed outside of using Acxeleration. Shooting enemies will stun them, leaving them vulnerable to your dash attack; you can use it to wipe them out and gain points based on how quickly you did so.
Extra points and health boosts can be earned by keeping up a chain of “perfect” kills where you charge through enemies immediately after landing a stunning shot. During boss battles, if you don’t charge through your opponent quickly enough after rendering them vulnerable, they’ll rapidly regenerate the damage you’ve done. Boss weapons are typically more powerful and tend to keep enemies stunned for longer, but switching between them is awkward and you’ll still need to dash to actually defeat anybody. The best turned out to be the freeze ray, which greatly increases the amount of time you have to dash through a defeated foe in order to earn maximum points and keep chaining combos.
If this sounds kind of awkward and non-intuitive, you’re right! The added step when it comes to actually killing enemies means that it’s also pretty far divorced from how Mega Man played. The idea seems to be encouraging a speedrun playstyle a la Azure Striker Gunvolt, a game that handled the two-step enemy-slaying idea in a much more polished way. Expect to take plenty of hits early on from accidentally touching an enemy you’d thought you had killed with your gun.
The concept works a bit better in boss fights, since you’ll have to time your damage so you don’t accidentally stun an enemy when they’re out of reach, but those have problems of their own; bosses don’t have invincibility frames after being hit as they did in Mega Man, so in many cases it’s easy to just tear them apart by getting up close, blasting away and dashing through them as soon as possible. In another spot of annoyance, Mighty No 9 clings to the antiquated lives mechanic used in Mega Man games, meaning that enough failures will force you to restart the stage you were working on. Those stages aren’t even particularly great; one is literally just a giant looping hallway that you have to go through until you’ve shot a boss enough times, upon which point there’s a quick, disappointing battle against said boss and then it’s back to the stage select screen.
Mighty No. 9 has gotten plenty of criticism for its graphical style. The game was originally pitched as looking like a cel-shaded Mega Man game, but in reality it’s closer to the polygonal X titles seen on the PlayStation 2 later in the series. That includes the fact that it looks like it’s running on the PS2, really. Stages, backgrounds and enemies alike all look fairly uninspired, and while the game runs well that’s probably because it’s not really doing anything taxing. The Mighty robots also lack the charm that defined Mega Man’s bosses; they attempt to make up for it with terrible voice acting and catchphrases, which probably doesn’t work as well as Comcept had hoped.
Truthfully, Mighty No. 9 isn’t a terrible game. It’s fun for what it is and it’s inexpensive; I’m giving it a Yay rating because while it can be frustrating, it’s worth playing. It’s just that in 2013, nobody said that Kickstarter was a platform for making games that weren’t terrible. It was supposed to be a way to bring a new golden age to gaming, an age where creators wouldn’t be tied down by those nasty ol’ publishers. After multiple delays, what we’ve learned from Mighty No. 9 is that having a publisher ensuring that money is spent properly, that deadlines are met and that unrealistic ambitions are reined in just might be a good thing.
We’re left to conclude that what worked in the past worked for a reason – and in the end, Mediocre No. 9 becomes an indictment against the crowdfunded model as a whole, because that’s the exact opposite of what we were meant to take away from the whole mess.