In September of 2008, it had been over a decade since Mega Man 8 was released, putting the classic series on hold. The X and Zero series completely took over the 2D side-scrolling formula (with a less-than-stellar entry that had 3D segments), the ZX series concluded after just two entries, and the Battle Network games were being released as strategy-spin offs. Upon the completion of Mega Man ZX Advent, Inti Creates once again worked with Capcom to pay homage to the original series, as the classic games were becoming popular thanks to services like the Wii’s Virtual Console.
This is how Mega Man 9 was born. It was to be a “back to its roots” take on the series, complete with an 8-bit aesthetic. It’s exciting, it’s well-crafted, but is going back to the basics the best bet for the Blue Bomber?
Dr. Light clearly isn’t being framed here (Story)
It has been a while since Dr. Wily’s last defeat. The world has seen a period of peace once again. Suddenly, robots around the world have started to go crazy and they all share two things in common: they were built by Dr. Light, and their expiration date is coming soon.
Shortly after, Wily interrupts all television programming to show a clip of “Dr. Light” confessing to using the robots in a plot to take over the world. To counter this, Wily gave his bank account information on the air and claimed that donations would help him build a robot army to counter Dr. Light’s.
Not long after, Dr. Light is arrested by the police. Once Mega Man defeats all 8 of the new robot masters, he finds a memory chip that shows that Wily told them about their expiration dates and promised that he could help them. He reprogrammed the robot masters to rise about against their human masters.
Wily was once again hiding out in his castle, where he expected Mega Man to arrive and thwart his plot. Upon confronting and defeating Wily, the mad doctor warned that he had Dr. Light in a cage, and that the policeman that arrested him was a fake. He had to choose whether to save Dr. Light, or capture Wily. Before making this choice, Proto Man appears and warns Mega Man that it’s obviously a trap. However, Mega Man believes that he can’t take the chance of the real Dr. Light being in danger and instead choices to free him.
Proto Man was right, the Dr. Light in the cage was a fake. It shorts out and electrocutes Mega Man, causing him to go unconscious as Wily makes his escape. This robot was the Dr. Light from the video Wily showed at the beginning of the game. Proto Man, disappointed in Mega Man’s naive demeanor, still rescues his brother before the castle collapses on them.
After being found innocent of all wrongdoing, Dr. Light is freed and returns to his lab. He then finds a new purpose for all of the robots scheduled for demolition.
What’s new in Mega Man 9?
Mega Man 9 is difficult to talk about in the retrospective because its whole focus was on hitting that nostalgia button. He’s back to his 8-bit self, but this included removing several of the mechanics we’ve grown accustomed to such as charging the Mega Buster and sliding. This means that the game will play similarly to an incredibly-smooth Mega Man 2.
But eight robot masters and Wily’s Castle isn’t the only thing Mega Man 9 brings to the table. It’s technically the first classic Mega Man game to feature achievements in-game. These achievements can be as simple as beating one of the Robot Masters in under a certain amount of time, but they can be as difficult as beating the entire game without getting hit once. Completionists tremble at the mere thought of completing all of these challenges. (Add to the fact that the PS3 and 360 versions have these as trophies and gamerscore, and you’ve got an added challenge.)
There is also a Time Attack mode where you can see how fast you can complete each of the Robot Master’s stages. There’s even a special stage and bosses inspired by the gameboy entries exclusive to this mode, but that’s not initially unlocked. When the game was released, the only way to access it was to buy it.
Mega Man 9 was unfortunately released in the era of Capcom’s rampant abuse of customer-loyalty with disc-locked DLC. There are several bonus modes in the game, but you originally had to pay a few dollars to unlock each of them. The justification is that Mega Man 9 was just $10 when it was released. Fortunately, the Mega Man Legacy Collection 2’s version of the game had all of the DLC included, and some of them are interesting.
One of the additions are two new difficulty options, Hero Mode and Superhero Mode. Instead of just upping the damage produced by enemies, there are now more enemies scattered around each levels, making it a jolly-romp through Deathsville each time. There is also an endurance mode where it randomizes the stages you’ll go through and keeps track of how long you survive.
Finally, there is Proto Man mode, a mode where you play as Proto Man, who retains all of Mega Man’s moves from Mega Man 4-6 with a bonus shield for whenever he jumps. While he does take more damage and can only fire in bursts of two, he’s a good choice for fans that wanted more moves at their disposal. And this marks the first time we can play as Proto Man in a classic Mega Man game.
How does it hold up?
My biggest gripe with Mega Man 9 was just with the concept of removing content from a game in order to have players charge for it later as DLC. Besides this, Mega Man 9 is pretty solid compared to even the recent entries in the series. There is a legacy mode that allows you to turn on screen flickering, but without it, the game runs smooth, and the Robot Masters all have interesting designs.
They’ve even added their first female-representing Robot Master to the cast, Splash Woman. At its release, this turned a few heads at first, but was widely accepted with many wondering why it hadn’t happened sooner.
If you’re running through every game in sequential order, there are a few issues with Mega Man going back to his basics. The idea of sliding under enemy attacks has become second nature, and attempting to do so in the main game only leads to pain as Mega Man will stand still, watching helplessly as the attack heads towards his perfectly, human-looking head. Proto Man mode is nice to give this back to you, but you’re losing out on access to the store and taking more damage as a result.
In addition, the ability to switch weapons using the shoulder buttons has been removed as well. This was an unnecessary redaction, as the shoulder button switching was a quality of life change thanks to controller evolution. We didn’t lose these buttons, so having to pause to change weapons breaks the pace of the game.
Otherwise, Mega Man 9 was a huge success. It can be compared to Mega Man 2 primarily (after all, its level-intro music and victory theme are taken from there), but it has the level design quality from some of the best Robot Masters in the series.
Best Robot Master: Galaxy Man
Galaxy Man’s stage is a stage of risks and innovations. The whole aesthetic is space, which can rarely be seen as a bad thing, and all of the enemies are space-themed as well. Despite being inspired by classic Mega Man games, the vertical segments in this stage aren’t actually terrible. Which, after playing through 8 games back-to-back, is one of the most pleasant surprises. Instead, while on a ladder, there are slow moving UFO enemies in a line that are manageable.
The two biggest risks in this stage are teleporters that launch you upward from the exit point, and the Bunby Catcher, an enemy that grabs Mega Man and runs off in a direction, causing whatever is in their path to hurt you instead. The Bunby Catcher is used in several creative ways. Shortly after you’re introduced to it, you’re pushed to the right in a segment of platforms and perils. You can still jump while you’ve been grabbed, meaning that brief portion of the stage is basically an auto runner. Completing these sections through reaction alone feels good.
It can also be used for completely malicious purposes. Later on, there is a segment where a Bunby Catcher will come down and grab you, but you pass that point on the screen three times. The second time you pass it, there is a spike wall to the right. Meaning, if you forget that his trigger area is there, and you fail to bait him into coming down, you’ll probably die. However, since you were taught about the hazard far in advance, this feels much more justified than a cheap death.
Galaxy Man’s arena is a large vertical arena that gives him plenty of space to fly around in. His main attack is the Blackhole Bomb, which pulls you in while he teleports to the center to hurt you by… existing? Since you can outrun this attack, it’s actually possible to quickly turn around, shoot him, then turn back around to keep running. Nothing about this fight feels unfair, and his special weapon, the Blackhole Bomb, will allow you to suck up any small enemies nearby when you use it, including bullets.
Worst Robot Master: Jewel Man
It’s a trope at this point. Every Mega Man game has a Robot Master that surrounds itself in its weapon, and then that weapon is fired in some way. This goes all the way back to Woodman’s Leaf Shield. Jewel Man is no different, and his Jewel Satellite functions similarly before it jets off to attack anyone that dares to cross its diamond-studded path.
The stage itself takes place in a jewel mine. There are several minecart enemies that like to explode when you kill them, but the most frustrating part of this stage comes in the form of a swinging platform. On this platform, you have to run back and forth to make it swing, which doesn’t sound bad, until you come across several sections with spikes. It’s far too easy to run into these.
Immediately after one of these death-pendulums is a sub-boss that is… just a rock. From here, seemingly random rocks will fall from the ceiling until the boss himself drops down. If you’re on the ground when he hits, you’re stunned then run over. He’s a pain, it’s a ton of waiting and dodging, but he’s not anything too difficult.
Jewel Man’s fight is ridiculously easy when you figure out his trick. He’ll shoot four jewels around him, which launch towards you if you wait long enough or hit them with a buster shot. Every time you jump, he’ll jump in reaction. This means you can easily bait him into jumping over you with a short hop, as he’ll always give his 100%. Even without the Gravity Bomb (which does a massive 5 pegs of damage each hit), Jewel Man is a push-over.
Mega Man 9 was a bold move by Capcom and Inti Creates, and it was one that was met with critical acclaim. Going back to the basics is just what the series needed at the time, and it was the best way to think about the series going forward. Compared to previous entries in the series, there isn’t a single “terrible” Robot Master in the game, even if Jewel Man’s stage was slightly annoying.
After its success, Capcom knew that they struck gold. Fans liked this old look for Mega Man, and they knew that they wanted more. Just over a year later, Capcom wondered if they could make lightning strike twice. But, will fans warm up to another oldschool entry with Mega Man 10, or would they quickly become sick of the 8-bit aesthetic?