Wii Fanboy Review: Mega Man 9

The retro-styled Mega Man 9 could easily have been a cynical cash grab from Capcom, a hastily-thrown-together game that was just good enough that the NES fans who bought it wouldn't be outraged. But, while it was no doubt conceived as just such a low-budget, high-profit project, Capcom and developer Inticreates went far beyond the Mega Man tribute album it could have been.

Instead of a pretty good game that reminds people of Mega Man, they've created a real Mega Man game that compares favorably to the very best of the series. For ten dollars.


Mega Man 9 has famously been conceived as a stylistic continuation of Mega Man 2. That means, for one thing, that the visuals aren't just 8-bit, but more simplistic and less cluttered than the later 8-bit Mega Man games. It also means that the bosses go back to basic elementals -- no Yamato Man or Tomahawk Man or any of the other outrageous designs that came out of kids' imaginations. Mega Man is also back to basics: he can't charge his weapon, he can't slide, and he can't turn his robot dog into armor.

Without sliding and charging, Mega Man games are much twitchier. You always know how to get through a situation -- by running, jumping, and/or shooting, of course -- it becomes a matter of practicing until you can. The levels, from Tornado Man's rotating platforms to Plug Man's disappearing blocks to Jewel Man's diabolical swinging-bridge-over-tiny-gap room, are gauntlets designed to test your platforming skills, with enemies placed mostly as obstacles. Cleverly-placed spike traps and just close enough jumps abound.

Of course, once you complete one of these stages you must face the boss. While we do have GameFAQs now, that doesn't change the fact that Mega Man 9 may be the first game in the series for which first-time players can jump in without the correct boss order being common knowledge. It's new enough that you may be forced to take on a Robot Master with the Mega Buster. Although even with the appropriate weapon, it's not a matter of just spamming an attack and winning. You still have to avoid the bosses' movements, which are pattern-based as always, and take a few deaths to learn. As always.

All of this is presented in a completely authentic NES style that looks just like it came out of 1988. Each level has a different theme built out of various patterns of tiles. The enemies are (optionally) flickering sprites of robot animals with googly eyes. Mega Man, is, of course, the sprite we've known and loved for years. The music, one of the most celebrated aspects of the entire series, is as good as the rest: more than a careful imitation of the Mega Man style, it's a real Mega Man soundtrack that will inspire fan covers and recreations for years. I want to mention standout tracks, but they're all fantastic. Galaxy Man's theme is a Dr. Wily Stage 1-level work of catchy brilliance.

The only negative I can think of isn't really a negative to me, but will be for some players getting into Mega Man for the first time: the difficulty. Mega Man 9 is harder than any original Mega Man game since the first. Inticreates has channeled the hardcore nature of their Zero series and applied it to the classic Mega Man style, which means deviously-placed enemies and instant deaths. You will die hundreds of times. You may not finish the game. It is important to know this.

For people who do finish the game, replayability comes in the challenges -- a set of 50 Achievement-like goals whose progress is tracked in the menu. They range from those that will be unlocked in normal play, like "Defeat one boss with one pixel of health remaining," to the ridiculous, like "Clear the game without getting damaged" and "Don't miss with the Mega Buster and clear the game." Taking those on is a lifetime commitment. And if that's not enough, there's DLC.

I have to stress that I don't just love Mega Man 9 because I played Mega Man 2 in 1988 and it imprinted strongly on me. That's part of it, of course, but there's more to it than that -- the difference between nostalgia and appreciating a classic. Mega Man 9 isn't just amazing because it reminds me of 1988. It's amazing because it proves that what worked in a game then can still work now, when developers make an honest effort. This is a game made by people who have played the hell out of Mega Man, and isolated the essence of the series. The result is something that is more pure fun than any Mega Man game since 3.

Final score: 110,000,000/10 9.5/10

[Note: We're giving away a copy of the game right here, if you're so inclined.]

If you're actually crazy enough to be on the fence about which WiiWare game to buy today, we've got plenty of other WiiWare reviews. If you're so crazy that you want to go to the store and buy something when you could be playing Mega Man 9, we can help with that too.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.