Mega Man 9 Review & Repair
Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 8:12AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in B.E.S Repair Shop, Classical Game Design, Review

Mega Man 9 is my favorite Mega Man game along with Mega Man X. This is probably due to the fact that I've recently beat these two Mega Man games since developing my critical-eye. Regardless, there's a lot to be said for Mega Man 9, a game which just barely qualifies for the retro-evolved genre. The game looks old school and plays just like Mega Man did when I was a kid gathered around TV with all the neighborhood kids trying to come up with a strategy to defeat Gemini Man. Because MM9 is practically an NES, so much of the experience should already be quite familiar to us. For this reason, I only want to touch on a few points in bullet point essay style.

 

 

 

ADJUSTABLE DIFFICULTY
 


Many claim that Mega Man 9 is a very difficult game. I do not think it is for many reasons. Starting with a base made up of the default weapon, the M Buster, and a few lives, the difficulty in beating the game can be adjusted to a very fine degree. Players always have the option of...

 

 

  1. collecting lives before going into more difficult stages
  2. collecting energy tanks to refill one's health instantly
  3. using powers to more easily overcome enemies and tricky platforming sections
  4. using the powers that each boss is weak to
  5. spending bolts to buy additional lives, energy tanks, M tanks, and other power ups including Beat, Spike Shoes, and the 1/2 damage power up.
  6. farming enemy respawn points to refill health and weapon energy

Also, the more you play, die, and continue, the more bolts you'll accumulate. With more bolts, the player has more buying power to adjust the difficulty of their experience.

 

LEVEL DESIGN


The levels in Mega Man 9 are masterfully crafted. They have the perfect balance of difficulty, enemies, length, original elements, simplicity, and organic unity.

 

 


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POWERS THAT POWER UP

Fleshing out a quality game after starting with a limited core design is a skill that Capcom uses very well. By adding a balance of abstract mechanics, extra modes, and unique level/enemy elements, Capcom is able to develop rich game ideas instead of flopping in undynamic, static redundancy.

 

To understand how the core design of Mega Man 9 is limited, we need to first look at the core mechanics and compare them against Mario and even other versions of Mega Man.

 

 

Mega Man's Base Abilities

 

Ultimately, Mega Man must be able to defeat the vast majority of challenges with MOVE, JUMP, and SHOOT. After all, these mechanics make up the core/base of the game and are inexhaustible. When a game isn't very dynamic (mechanic dynamics, interplay, counterpoint), instead of emerging as a vehicle of expression, such games usually move in the opposite direction toward optimization. While this is true for MM9, the design of Mega Man's (mostly) optional acquired powers give the player a vehicle of expression while dynamically changing the paths and strategies available to the player. It is these powers that give MM9 design layers, dynamics, variation, and depth.

 

 

The Powers

 

 


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The limitations of Mega Man's moving and shooting abilities are apparent. But with every boss Mega Man defeats, he gains the use of one of their abilities. Each ability enhances some combination of Mega Man's moving, shooting, and defensive abilities filling up a unique design space. Starting at the top middle (12 o'clock) and going clockwise...
  • Plug Ball: Travels quickly along the ground, walls, and ceilings. In the air, this attack shoots straight down, which is unlike any other Mega Man attack.
  • Magma Bazooka: Shoots a triple spread attack. The fastest of two projectile attacks that can travel diagonally up or down. This attack can also be charged.
  • Hornet Chaser: Up to three can be fired at a time. They will slowly chase down any enemy on screen flying through walls to get to them. These hornets also have the ability to retrieve items from the field and bring them back to Mega Man.
  • Concrete Shot: A fast projectile that quickly arcs downward making it difficult to aim. This projectile also stops against walls, ceilings, and enemies. Once it hits something, it solidifies into a brick of concrete that players can use as a temporary platform.
  • Black Hole Bomb: A two stage attack that sends out a slow moving target and then activates forming a black hole that draws in enemy fire and enemies. Setting up this attack requires a little patience, knowledge of the level, and timing.
  • Laser Trident: This attack fires and travels very quickly in a straight line, and has the ability to cut through enemy defenses because nothing stops it. There are also special obstacles that can only be destroyed with the Laser Trident.
  • Jewel Satellite: Activating this power creates a shield of jewels that circle the player that reflect basic enemy attacks. These jewels can also completely eliminate weak enemies upon contact infinitely without any additional energy consumption. A collision with a stronger enemy will cancel the jewels. The ring of jewels can be launched as a projectile.
  • Tornado Blow: This handy attack sweeps all enemies and their attacks up and off the screen forever. The wind that sweeps away the enemies also floats Mega Man upward extending the height of his jump.
  • Rush Coil & Rush Jet (not depicted): These two abilities give Mega Man a super jump and the ability to fly a jet around for a limited time. Rush, the dog, can safely stand on spikes allowing players to access some areas safely. When Rush Jet collides with a platform or wall, he disappears leaving Mega Man behind to deal with situation.
On top of the platforming, offensive, and defensive changes these powers bring to Mega Man's basic abilities, they also have decay. Let's face it. The player is quite over powered with access to all of these abilities, but with every use the powers consume energy. Without energy for a specific power, Mega Man can't use it. Use powers haphazardly and excessively, and soon you won't have anything more than the basic abilities.

 

The decay goes a bit further. When players die and respawn, the energy/ammo they consumed on the previous life doesn't reset. In this way, dying and poor playing isn't completely remedied by having lots of lives. If you use all of a power trying to defeat a boss and fail to finish him/her off, then when you go back to fight that boss, you'll have to battle without that power. This is most apparent in the final assault on Dr. Willy's fortress. Players have to fight through 4 large levels and 11 bosses before getting a chance to fight against Willy's 3 stages. If you mismanage your power at any point in this gauntlet, you'll have a hard time replenishing your supplies.

The way these powers are designed, it's no wonder that enemies drop refilling power pellets less often than energy pellets or screws. It's also no wonder that the shop only lets you by one M Tank which refills all of Mega Man's power supply and health.

The design in Mega Man 9 is so clean and apparent that we all can learn something about game design from it. The game is simple. The controls are tight. And the player can make it as hard as he/she wants. The first play through is long and filled with learning and the kind of refinement that requires a determined will and self discipline. Then each subsequent play through gets easier and easier. With convenient speed running options Mega Man 9 is more concentrated on its best qualities than the other 8-bit brethren.

"With these powers....I have the power... to do it better....to do it faster." ~me

 

ROBOT REPAIR

Approaching a repair of Mega Man 9 is tricky. After all, the game was intentionally design to reflect the design of the Mega Man games from the NES era. Most of the suggestions I could make for the game would invariably counter its original aim and goals. As with any repair, upholding the spirit of the game is key. It is not the job of the repair man to make a new game, but make the game that already exists better, cleaner, and communicate its ideas more clearly.

 

With that said, these are just a few ideas that I have for Mega Man 9. Some are repairs. And though some are changes, I think they're interesting enough to post.

 

  • The ammo bars for Mega Man's powers should be quantified for the powers that consume lots of "pixels"/ pellets with a single use. Tornado Blow and Jewel Satellite are two examples of powers that take a chunk out of their ammo/power bar. Because of the way the power bar is divided into pellets, it's difficult to gauge how many more uses of a power are left. This is a simple fix to help player count their bullets so to speak.
  • Like Bionic Commando Rearmed, Mega Man 9 should contain a puzzle mode or challenges that are short levels focusing on the unique properties, nuances, and intricacies of Mega Man's powers.
  • Though the random drops from destroyed enemies has been in the Mega Man series since the beginning, considering the possibilities of taking this design element out of the game can lead to some refreshing design alternatives.
  • To balance not getting health drops from enemies, it would be interesting if Mega Man could get small health bonuses by destroying enemies with the M Buster at close range. When gunplay is at the core of a game, I always like design elements that define the space between a gun and the target in interesting ways.
  • To refill the ammo for powers, it would be interesting if Mega Man could interact with specific enemies and/or the environment. How about standing under a rushing waterfall to refill Splash Woman's power? Switch to Magma Man's power and draw in energy from lava pools or flame attacks. Having more unique interaction with the level would give players more reasons to travel back to old levels while preserving the conservation design of the powers that already exists in Mega Man 9.

 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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