You are not prepared.
Of the entire multi-tiered Mega Man franchise, the original NES games are the most devilishly difficult. The original game is by far the most brutal, but that’s not to say that the next five games are not also hard, because they are. You will die, and you will die often. Sometimes, you will wish you never bought or played the freaking game, but you always come out beaten, bloodied, and exhausted, but happy. Your twitch skills as a gamer have improved, your ability to tackle new situations by prioritizing has changed, and you have made Dr. Wily your bitch (several times). Mega Man 7, the first SNES outing, was difficult but not that difficult, and Mega Man 8, an interesting Sega Saturn/PlayStation game, had some tough bits but was ultimately very easy by comparison to its predecessors. Enter Mega Man 9, the first sequel to the original NES series in fifteen years. Developed by Inti Creates, the same team who’s been churning out the Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX games, Mega Man 9 brings back series creator Keiji Inafune with the goal of getting the original series back to its roots to the tune of Mega Man 2 and 3—widely considered the best Mega Man games ever made. They succeeded brilliantly in imparting on this WiiWare title the look, sound, and feel of those old games, even going so far as to include optional flicker and pop-up graphical effects (real gamers play Legacy mode!). They also added the difficulty of the series’ original title, and maybe cranked it up a few notches. Mega Man 9 is, by far, the most difficult game in the series, and gamers who have not experienced Mega Man in the past should heed such a warning.
As MM9 opens, Mega Man’s hometown is under attack by rampaging robots, even though Dr. Wily has been put behind bars. Dr. Light, Mega Man’s good-hearted creator, is blamed for this new threat. Mega Man, Roll, and Axel take it upon themselves to clear their creator’s name and restore peace to the city. Naturally, this involves choosing one of eight new Robot Masters and battling through brilliantly designed, but punishingly difficult, levels with the Blue Bomber.
Not completely abandoning the gameplay changes that accompanied MM7 and MM8, MM9 features "screws" as currency, which some enemies drop. You can save them up and spend them at Axel’s shop, where interesting items like the Energy Equalizer and Damage Shield are found. Some items are kept for the entire game (like those two), while others, like the Shock Absorber (survive falling on spikes) or Beat Rescue (survive falling in a hole) are one-use-only items. Axel’s shop is also where you’ll get most of your E Tanks and extra lives, although certain stages are liberally sprinkled with 1-ups. You can even purchase the option of playing the game without your helmet. Unfortunately, Axel’s shop ties into the game’s overall plotline. Yes, aside from an opening scene and an end scene, MM9 has a formal story. I found the story pesky and unfulfilling. Mega Man games have never been known for their strong writing, and that’s the one place where MM9 doesn’t feel like an old Mega Man game. This could’ve been remedied by some less-than-perfect "translation," but the writing is spot-on and uses big words. Unfortunately, this is uncharacteristic of the old games.
The rest of the game is identical to previous NES Mega Man games: Choose a stage, battle your way through, and end up fighting a boss. More than ever before, figuring out the boss order is tantamount to success—especially for speed runs—because many of the Robot Masters are brutally powerful and mucho challenging to survive with your Mega Buster (pea shooter) alone. Just like the best of the old games, each stage has its own unique properties. Jewel Man’s stage has swinging platforms; Tornado Man forces you to fight wind, rain, ice, and deadly rotating platforms; Magma Man requires you to dodge quick-beam-like lava flows; and perhaps worst of all, Plug Man’s stage features those cursed disappearing blocks. Like the MMX games but unlike the NES Mega Man games, almost every stage in MM9 features a mini-boss. These mini-bosses can be easy (the flower droid), brutally difficult (the rock monster), or just plain awesome (use Tornado Man’s weapon on the fire dragon). Most of the expected Mega Man level trappings are still here, including precarious jumps or lava or spikes, enemies that suddenly pop out of bottomless pits, enemy spawn points in the worst possible places, and sections that require ridiculously precise timing.
New to the series are achievements—lots of ‘em. Doing specific things, like speed runs, beating the game without your helmet, or firing over 500 shots with your Mega Buster, net you achievements, which as far as I can tell don’t unlock anything. They’re more for bragging rights than anything else, although this is one area I wish the Wii version of this game (it’s also available on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network) featured a gamerscore. This is ironic, considering that you might get the most out of a version of the game not originally targeted for it! One wonders if the achievements were thrown in there specifically for the XBL/PSN crowd. They’re still fun challenges to complete, though, even if you can’t really brag about them online.
Inti Creates has certainly succeeded in making MM9 look like the old games. They built the entire game from scratch, without using an NES emulator or mock-up engine. This is a stunning achievement, folks, because MM9 is so well thought-out that it really feels more like a Virtual Console game than a WiiWare game. It’s like Capcom finally got around to releasing a Mega Man game that never made it Stateside. All of the sound effects, musical tracks, and even general pixel mappings are stunningly well done. Considering what Inti Creates was trying to achieve, one cannot help but admire the graphics. And as I said before, they even added screen flicker, graphical pop-up, and a few instances where the framerate skips around. These are not poor design consequences—Inti Creates had to program those bugs into the game itself. We’re talking a sick level of dedication, here, and it pays off. While the music never rises to the brilliant crescendo of MM2/3, it’s certainly among the best in the NES series.
Capcom will be bombarding us with a hoard of DLC specifically for MM9, including the ability to play as Proto Man, extra difficulty settings, and even an extra stage. My gripe here is that it’s all going to cost a little extra. Proto Man, for example, will cost $2 to play as. Some of this is warranted, some of it not. The extra difficulty settings should’ve been in the core game. Even Proto Man could’ve been an unlockable character. But at least we’ve got options, and a way to expand on an already-awesome game. Merely as a technological achievement, MM9 is kickass. Gamers who’ve never played a Mega Man game before might be crushed under the sheer weight of the game’s monumental difficulty, so they might want to grab the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for training. Nostalgic gamers and Mega-fans should pick it up immediately, though, because it’s well worth twice what Capcom is charging.