Mega Man 9!

Mega Man 9 is shaping up to be precisely as awesome as I had hoped. If you wish to remain unspoiled in regards to this awesomeness, you best stop reading right now.

First off, they’ve nailed the old-school Mega Man look and feel and sound. One could imagine an alternate universe where this game came out after Mega Man 2. Except for being able to save your game instead of scribbling down grid passwords. And the challenges ranging from easy (kill a robot master using only the Mega Buster… yeah, that’s how you have to kill the first one) to nigh-impossible (beat the game without taking damage!). And the online leaderboard for speed-running the game. And the hooks for downloadable content. But hey, the menus for all those things are downright 8-bit.

The plot is, well, nobody plays a Mega Man game for the plot, and Mega Man 9 delivers what you’d expect, with the right amount of ridiculousness in the no-seriously-Dr.-Wily-isn’t-the-villain-this-time-honest!-ness. Eight of Dr. Light’s robots are running amok, and Dr. Wily insists that he’s finally reformed right before Dr. Light turned evil (and if you donate money to Dr. Wily’s Swiss bank account, you can fund development of something to stop Dr. Light’s robots!). Apparently everyone swallows this, and it’s up to Mega Man to blast some sense into the robot masters after Dr. Light’s arrest. (Why the police apparently have no qualms about Mega Man, clearly Dr. Light’s deadliest creation ever given his undefeated record against dozens of Dr. Wily’s robots, running free while all this is going on, has not yet been addressed.)

The level design has been pretty good, putting new and interesting spins on the classic elements. Anyone who’s ever played a Mega Man game knows that eventually they’ll come across two things: disappearing blocks over spikes and/or pits, and multi-screen drops through spike-lined corridors. I’ve played two levels so far, each fairly arbitrarily chosen, and I’ve already seen both.

Plug Man’s stage has several disappearing block sections, and manages to find new tricks with them that previous games never tried. I wonder how many players will fall to their doom when a block suddenly appears in front of the platform they were trying to jump to. Nice. (In fairness, you could very much see that coming if you bothered to watch the pattern before you started jumping around.)

Splash Woman’s stage has the spike drops. Early on, you land on a platform in the middle of the screen. The left drop has no spikes, the right one does. You get to choose which one to jump down. Choose wisely, and you can get a 1-up. Later on, you have to go up a series of spike-lined rooms, relying on platforms that slide across the screen to reach the next ladder. In a way, it’s like a block puzzle mixed with a spike drop, in reverse. I haven’t gotten past the third screen without wimping out and using Rush Coil to avoid the pair of spikes deviously placed in the dead center of the room, but I’m sure it can be done.

So far, even when there’s clearly inspiration from a previous game, there’s something new in the implementation here that keeps it from being the series of retreads that Mega Man 7 wound up as. Again in Splash Woman’s stage, the part where you have to ride bubbles to the top of the screen is straight out of Wave Man’s stage in Mega Man 5, but this time (a) it’s underwater, so you can jump really well, and (b) enemies shoot out at you from the sides of the screen.

The attention to detail is pretty nifty, too. Get hit by an octopus’s ink blob in Splash Woman’s stage, and Mega Man stays covered in ink until you switch to a different weapon. You can also buy a “book of hairstyles” from the item shop on the stage select screen to take off your helmet… until you die. There’s also a “book of costumes”, which I haven’t tried yet, but from its icon I’m assuming it dresses Mega Man up as Roll. (For the record, there are also items available which are actually useful, if you’re in to that sort of thing.)

The robot masters themselves haven’t disappointed so far. Plug Man’s shots travel along the floor, up the wall behind you, onto the ceiling, and then drop down right above you head, so you have to keep your eye both on what Plug Man is doing and the shots you’ve already dodged once. Splash Woman swims to the top of the screen while fish move across the screen, and then she drops tridents on you. The Mega Buster is much more effective against hear than Plug Man’s weapon.

Another great nostalgic thing: Splash Woman and I managed to kill each other simultaneously, just like the first time I won-for-all-intents-and-purposes-even-though-the-game-didn’t-count-it against Cut Man way back in the original Mega Man. And just like then, Mega Man 9 counted it as a death rather than a victory. On my final life. Game over.

Count yourself sort-of-lucky, Splash Woman, for your days are numbered. Specifically, numbered 1, since tomorrow night it’s go time.