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Mighty No. 9 Review – Modern Robotics

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After all the delays and all the drama and all the prom night tears of anime fans, we’ve finally gotten our articulated robotic digits on the long-awaited Mighty No. 9. Billed not so much as a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series, but as a complete rehashing from the original creator with new technology and no Capcom hanging around to get their grubby hooks in it. The real question now is: does Mighty No. 9 live up to that lofty pedigree?

The simple answer is: yes it does. Mighty No. 9 is Mega Man in all but name, which is fantastic news to old school fans of the series like myself. There are some fresh ideas here, but the game translates all the running and gunning and robot smashing/assimilating from Mega Man to a new, bright, shiny package.

The premise of Mighty No. 9 (sing along if you’ve heard this one before) is that the robots of Whateversville, U.S.A. have suddenly started to run amok. Unfortunately, this means that the brilliant Dr. White’s creations – Mighty Numbers 1 through 8 – have succumbed to whatever has infiltrated their programming. They’ve each staked a claim on a section of the city and are running rampant, causing chaos and destruction wherever they go.

For some reason, however, Mighty Number 9 – affectionately called “Beck” – and his sister, “Call” (a nice shout out to the original series’ “Rock” and “Roll”) were unaffected by these strange goings on. So it’s up to Beck to rush to the city’s rescue, arm cannon a-blazin’.

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The story sounds pretty standard, but you can’t really call Mighty No. 9 a reboot of the Mega Man series. None of the original characters are back again, this being a completely new universe (thanks Capcom), and the game does a decent enough job giving itself its own identity. You can’t really call it a rehashing of the old series for this reason as well. The story has a few interesting twists and turns that keep it fresh, even to long-time fans of Mega Man, long after the novelty has worn off. Just when you start to get bored and think “been there, done that,” a new piece of information is thrown at you that makes you scratch your head and wonder what’s really going on. There are more than a few loose threads that don’t really get cleared up and seem to have no real purpose, but overall, the story works very well.

We’re not talking Shakespeare here, of course. The story is more like a decent Saturday morning cartoon – complete with charming and competent voice acting all around. If you’re not already invested in the game’s mechanics or the legacy of Mega Man itself, the story probably won’t sell you on it. But it’s definitely a nice icy topping to this nostalgia cake.

As for the mechanics, while most of the basics have been ripped wholesale from the old Mega Man formula – you move to the right, you fire your blaster, you get new abilities from the boss characters (more on that in a moment) – there is definitely a new emphasis on speed to keep the game moving right. Mega Man was not a fast game. It was ponderous, made moreso by Rock’s rather sluggish pace and clumsy mechanics. While Beck doesn’t really move with much more agility than ye olde Blue Bomber naturally, his version of Megs’ slide dash, called “AcXelerate,” sends him speeding forward – on the ground, in the air, even straight down, as many times in a row as you want – allowing you to traverse the landscape with a great deal of speed (sometimes at the sacrifice of precision).

Beck’s dash has another feature as well: weaken an enemy enough and Mighty Number 9 can dash through them, absorbing their “Xels” and powering himself up. Generally this manifests as simply a boost to your score, which will be rated at the end of the stage with a pithy letter grade. However, you will occasionally gain short-lived powerups from these wild dashes, and if you absorb enough, you’ll gain an “AcXel Recover,” which function like Mega Man‘s e-tanks, which are absolute necessities as enemies do not drop health or other powerups anymore.

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The overall effect of these added mechanics create a frantic and somewhat more mobile game than its predecessor, but once you get the hang of it, it feels really good to use. Getting into the rhythm can create a flowing, seat-of-your-pants experience from the start of the stage to the end, and the addition of points and grades, as irritating as I personally found them, is bound to add a lot of replayability to the perfectionists who can’t put a game down until they’ve gotten the highest ranking on each stage. Add this to the additional challenge modes you unlock, including a race and co-op mode, the latter of which has one player playing Beck and the other Call, and I think this is a game fans will be playing for a long time.

The stages are all bright and colorful and well-designed with Inafune’s brilliant design work front and center. Like the original Mega Man series, the game will never present a challenge to you that it has not given you ample time to learn how to deal with it. You’ll often face a challenge in a much safer setting early in a stage before you’re asked to do something trickier with it later. And while most of the stages are pretty stock-standard “run right until you find a boss and shoot it to death” (and I say that with the utmost love), there are a few truly brilliant twists, like the stage in which you must hunt down a robotic sniper in a government building by following the direction of his shots, or the stage in which you’re hopping from car to car in moving traffic.

These stages help break up the monotony of some of Mighty No. 9‘s more by-the-book levels – the obligatory fire and ice levels, the latter of which doubles as an underwater stage (joooooooy), are the biggest offenders here. Overall, I never got too sick of the stages…which is nice because you will probably be playing them a lot.

The other thing Mighty No. 9 translates from the old Mega Man games is the steep difficulty curve. While it does retire a few of the more notorious challenges – no one will be mourning the loss of the disappearing block puzzles over lava anytime soon – there are plenty of reflex-based puzzles that will have you controller-hurlingly frustrated. And Infaune’s obsession with insta-kill spikes is back in full force, with some truly insidious sections that had me ready to put the game down several times.

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At the end of the game, there were only a half-dozen sections that forced me to replay them to the point of frustration. Unfortunately, another carry-over from the old Mega Man games, the goddamn lives system, means that if you fail enough on a certain section, you’ll have to replay the entire stage again just for another crack at it. And stage design being what it is, the most difficult sections often come at the end, meaning there will be times when you will have to replay the entire stage several times.

While this never got the point of being a deal-breaker for me (though I did invent more than a few clever new cursewords), I’m an older gamer and indoctrinated to seemingly-unfair difficulty curves. Someone who doesn’t share old-school sensibilities about difficulty in video games may be caught off guard on some of the game’s trickier sections, though I still don’t feel like it ever becomes too problematic.

Insta-death spikes and out-of-the-blue reflex challenges aside, Mighty No. 9 is a very well-designed game, and this translates into its character designs too. One of the best parts of getting a new Mega Man game was seeing what the team came up with for new robot masters. This time around, the stage bosses are called “Mighty Numbers,” Beck’s “siblings” in the way that the original six (or eight, depending on who you ask) robot masters were Rock’s, and they’re all quite well-designed both visually and mechanically with a special trick pretty much required to beat each boss (though I do look forward to all the no-hit, buster-only runs of the game that will undoubtedly show up on Youtube in the months to come).

The best part is that they actually play a part in the story once you free them from whatever is causing the robots to go haywire, not only giving you advice on how to beat certain stages (and giving you a hint as to which Might Number weapon the boss will be weak against), but also appearing to help you in tricky spots. It’s a subtle change but a nice one, giving each of the eight Mighty Numbers their own personality and presence in the story.

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Of course, defeating each of the Mighty Numbers will give you their weapon. In Mighty No. 9, these are represented by new forms for Beck, which go beyond simply a new color scheme and give him new visual features and abilities. While some of the abilities simply give Beck a new way to shoot enemies, most of these forms are quite useful and add new mechanics to the game. Even better, while these forms do have weapon energy like in the Mega Man series, the energy recovers over time (since enemies don’t drop power-ups) and when you absorb enemies’ Xel, meaning with some good planning, these weapons are effectively unlimited (except on bosses, unfortunately).

Unfortunately, I found a few of the abilities to be vastly superior to the others, and outside of a few sections of the game where a specific ability is required to proceed (most of these are done quite cleverly, fortunately), I mostly stuck with the same few forms, which is good, because switching forms is a royal pain in the ass. You’d think with all the practice Infaune had with this that he’d have it down to a science, but there is no quick and comfortable way to cycle through Beck’s special forms. You use the left button and left shoulder button to go up and down the list and have to push Y to activate the weapon when you reach it. While this may seem like a small thing, in the heat of battle, it’s difficult to pick the weapon you want with any precision.  Undoubtedly the team left out the pause menu selection to keep the game moving quickly, but I feel like it would have been an excellent addition to the game all the same.

At the end of the day, Mighty No. 9 delivers exactly what was promised: an old-school Mega Man game in everything but name with enough newness that old hands won’t feel like they’re treading the same tired game they’ve played a hundred times and newcomers to the series won’t feel like they’re playing a game that’s 30 years old, but not so much as to tarnish that nostalgic feeling of coming home. I only hope that good ol’ Rock is watching down from wherever old IPs go and beaming with pride as his father carries on his legacy.

Let’s just pray he didn’t see that awful ad.

Mighty No. 9 was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher

Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates| Publisher: Deep Silver |  Genre: Action Platformer | Platform: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita | PEGI/ESRB: E 10+ | Release Date: June 21, 2016

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Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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