This is the definition of fan-service.
First things first, I’m a huge Mega Man fanboy. The series is one of my fondest memories from my early years as a gamer. I spent hours memorizing the patterns of enemies, the platforming sections, and those unforgettable bosses. I find myself humming the various themes at random times. Anytime I start to think I’m crazy for this, I realize that there are legions of gamers just like me. People who still know the weaknesses for bosses they haven’t fought in years. Mega Man is an icon for most hardcore gamers, both because of the series reputation for difficulty and for its nostalgic charm.
However, it’s no secret that the series has grown increasingly stale and overly diluted in the last decade or so, and the Blue Bomber was in desperate need of a shot in the arm (or Mega Buster, as it were). What could Capcom do to recapture the spell the original games held over the gaming populace? Turns out in this case, the best step forward was a huge leap backwards.
Mega Man 9 takes the series back to its roots with 8 bit graphics and sound, a huge departure in this era of old school remakes and HD fidelity. The concept wouldn’t work if it was done halfway, and from start to finish, the game drips with legitimacy. The menu’s are all in 8 bit style, and the music feels at once familiar and new. The story is a classic throwback to the era, involving a “reformed” Dr. Wily blaming Dr. Light for an attack by a series of robots. Of course, Mega Man leaps to Dr. Light’s defense and sets off to again save the world by destroying the eight master robots.
Of course, the series has always been about spot on gameplay, and Mega Man 9 is no exception. For newcomers, the game boils down to picking the master robot you wish to go after, completing a stage themed around their power, and fighting the robot himself (or, for the first time, herself) to the death. Each master robot will give Mega Man a variation on his/her own weapon when defeated. Each weapon serves as a weakness to another one of the 8 robots, and half the fun is discovering which weapon each boss is most susceptible to.
The gameplay on each stage varies from difficult, to punishing. The game illustrates an important difference between games from the 8 bit era and the current generation. In the current gen, many enemies are spawned into the game to give you something to kill. Sure they can kill you as well if you let them, but they primarily serve as moving targets. In the 8 bit era, enemies were put in place to kill you. Sure you could kill them too, but they were strategically placed to cause your demise. This change is potentially jarring to new school gamers; however old schoolers will feel right at home after a quick “I’m a sissy now” adjustment period.
The game does add some current gen perks as well. The Xbox 360 version features some brutally difficult achievements, and all versions have various challenges to complete that range from beating the game without losing a life (!) to beating the game five times in one day (!!!). An online leaderboard is also available, as is a time trial mode. These additions are a great way to add replayability to the game, and great incentive to really learn the patterns of the bosses and stages.
Overall, this game is a dream come true for an old school, 8 bit gamer like myself. From the difficulty level, to the nostalgic graphics and sound, it’s everything I could want from a new Mega Man title. The difficulty and visual style may turn off some gamers who didn’t grow up on the original titles, but regardless of your background you owe it to yourself to play this game. My hope is that the success of this game will spawn more 8 bit style games in the series, because for the first time in a long time, the Blue Bomber feels right at home.