Alright, now were to the good stuff. The best stuff. The Mega Man 9 stuff.
BZ: The intro to Mega Man 9 is too long and has terrible music.
It’s interesting looking at how the graphics have evolved since Mega Man 6; if anything, this game looks far simpler, often opting to have solid-color backgrounds instead of the more intricate detailing seen in the latter half of the original NES series. Loki suggests this is a conscious design decision to make the game feel more like the early games; with the Mega Buster and the slide gone, it’s hard to disagree. We also note early on in Splash Woman’s stage that the game reuses the spiny ladders from Mega Man 1 and not the bordered ladders from 2 on.
The portion of Splash Woman’s level that mimics Mega Man 5’s
I like Splash Woman’s battle. It’s the right amount of difficulty and it makes you really pay attention to what you’re doing. The pea shooter does an adequate amount of damage to feel like a viable option, and it’s adjusted well enough that you don’t miss the Mega Buster at all.
And in the level itself is a room ripped from Wave Man’s stage in 5 where you ride bubbles upwards. But this time the path has some spikes. It’s as if the game is saying “yes I’m like the old ones, but I have teeth.”
Loki: Concreate Man’s stage (along with having awesome music) also does an excellent job of introducing concepts in a harmless way at first an then upping the ante, just like 6. The game gives you a latter to avoid the first elephants attacks and introduces the lifts that fling upwards on solid ground before you have to make your way over a pit using them.
BZ: Galaxy Man’s level continues to be excellent. The music is fantastic and captures the spirit of the old games extremely well. Between the pincer enemies that rocket you forward and the teleporting tubes, this level is jam-packed with interesting gimmicks. Loki remarks that the game feels somehow crunchier than its predeccessors, and I agree: very, very subtle adjustments have been made to the pea shooter, for example, that make shooting and blasting enemies more satisfying than ever before. It’s slightly easier to fire off three shots at once now as well.
The stages also have very distinct color palettes. Where 6, for example, was reuisng the same orange, green, and purple color palette for every stage, every stage in 9 thus far feels distinct and has its own mood. This doesn’t save Jewel Man’s stage from being hideous, though.
Loki: Yeah, that purple is back but I kinda like it. If only for the fact that this is the only stage in the game that looks like this and the color is a part of its identity.
BZ: The rhythm or rapid firing is much easier in this game.
Loki: The whole play control is tweaked. Jumping and shooting have never felt so good in a Mega Man game. By far this is the best game in terms of satisfying play.
BZ: Love the spike wall in Jewel’s stage. You’re introduced to the pendulums and within one screen you’ve gone from simply swinging to having to figure out how to get past the spike wall in one screen. Brilliant design.
Even dying is satisfying in this game. This is the best game in the series hands down.
Loki: I don’t know if I would have agreed with you yesterday, but after playing all of them in a row I can agree. This is the best Mega Man.
BZ: No matter what 10 is, if it uses this engine it’s going to be good.
Loki: Upon navigating the spike pit with the pendulum in it BZ says “I love how the ideas in this game are taken to an interesting conclusion. In 5 Gravity Man’s stage is cool but it doesn’t explore the concept nearly enough. All the interesting ideas, the great robot master designs/battles, and tight play control this is the most FUN Mega Man.”
BZ: Starting Plug Man’s level: This level is hideous!
Loki: I like it! The green isn’t that same shade from the earlier games. It’s this lime green shade that I find really appealing. I can’t quite explain why but I love the way this level looks.
BZ: The block puzzles in this level aren’t just simple memorization like the ones in the rest of the series. They’re easy to navigate but the game will trick you into going onto a platform or something and then have a block push you off. It’s a great twist to the old series trope. I don’t know how I feel about these Mega Clones though. They really don’t do anything.
Loki: They chase after you, what do you want?
BZ: I guess the rest of the game set the bar too high. I was expecting some clever trick.
BZ: I die on the spinny platforms on Tornado Man, and Loki takes over. The music here is absolutely amazing. Loki says people have compared the spinny platforms to the lifts at the start of Guts Man’s stage, but neither of us see it. The lifts are, in a word, janky. It’s also great how the platforms here make use of three frames of animation to simulate 3D. This would have blown more than a few minds back in the NES days.
The weapons in this game are also fantastic. Literally every single weapon is useful in the game proper and not just in a specific situation (or not at all, as was the case with many of the earlier games). Jewel Satellite takes the concept of the shield, used in almost every prior game since 2, and makes it useful for the first time ever. Leaf Shield in 2 would shoot every time you moved; the subsequent shields would dissipate when struck by an enemy, making them almost useless. Jewel Satellite remains when you run into most minor enemies but not the stronger ones, making it ideal for running through areas of the game that throw myriad tiny enemies at you but preventing it from being game-breaking by killing larger ones. Laser Trident passes through shields and fires quickly, but can’t hit enemies on the ground and doesn’t do as much damage as the game-breaking Metal Blade in 2. Concrete Shot does its fair share of damage and is useful in creating platforms. The list goes on, but the special weapons in this are truly the best the series has ever seen.
Tornado Man’s stage also has a variation on Cloud Man’s theme, featuring different weather patterns. They’re used to much better effect here, with rain that initially pushes you back but then pushes you forward and snowflakes that, rather than being window dressing, herald the beginning of some icy platforming. The stage eventually pulls it all together to great effect when it mixes gimmicks, seamlessly blending the slowing rain with the spinning platforms.
Magma Man’s stage is possibly the least impressive so far, as the only major gimmick it has going for it is the Quick Man style lava death pillars. It’s still a solid stage with a gorgeous mini-boss in the flame-covered dragon (the Black Hole Bomb is one of the most sensible mini-boss weaknesses in the series), but if I had to rank one stage as being the least impressive, this would be it.
This game also heralds the return of the staggered boss arena to the 8-bit style. It’s great to see the environment playing a role in the robot master battles again.
Hornet Man’s stage is a visual atrocity, but it’s a blistering romp through some truly vicious level design. The extending vines are an incredible bear, but the reward of manipulating the cannonball robots into destroying the ground below you in the following room is worth it.
The Hornet Man battle itself has an extremely logical weakness: the boss shoots out three hornets to contend with, and the proper weapon is the Magma Bazooka, which fires in three directions and destroys the minor enemies in one three-pronged shot. It behaves the way the boss weaknesses should: by succumbing to the properties of the weapon rather than an arbitrarily assigned damage variable.
Loki points out a fun tidbit once the eighth robot master is defeated: in the cutscene showing Wily talking to the robot masters, Hornet Man, who we battled last, is not present. This is because the scene comes from the memory chip of whichever robot master you ended the run with, and as such, you view the scene through their eyes.
The Wily levels are thus far making consistent use of the special weapons. The platforms that require Tornado Man’s weapon to lift are particularly impressive. Also worth mention is the magma pillar puzzle further in, which looks like there’s a pattern to it, but is deceptive as such: the trick here is actually to use Rush Coil at the earliest possible second, bypassing the danger before it even begins to fire. Further still, the stage combines the pendulous platforms of Jewel Man’s stage with the teleporting tubes of Galaxy Man.
The boss is also impressive, consisting of a series of four platforms with an enemy on each tier. Each rung has a large spiked ball that the enemies constantly push forward, but can be repelled with pea shooter fire. The bosses themselves are not susceptible to regular attacks; rather, the spike balls must be pushed to the far right, where they collide with the enemy and deal damage. If the ball reaches the far left of the stage, it returns to the left, but upgrades the bosses’ firepower in the process. With all of these elements at play, the battle becomes a constant and engaging tug-of-war, forcing you to constantly watch all four tiers and manage your time and fire accordingly.
As Loki points out in the next stage, this is also the first of the NES-styled games to use a different theme song for each and every Wily stage. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all catchy and driving pieces of music.
This stage also continues to throw new gimmicks at you. Most notably is a series of trick platforms which Mega Man will fall through. Rather than simply leaving this (infuriatingly) up to the player to discover, the stage hints at the proper ones by having a searchlight robot shine his light on the fake platforms at the start of each room. This provides you all the information you need to successfully navigate, but it forces you to remember the layout to do so.
Later in the level, these same searchlights return, only to completely subvert your expectations by creating fake platforms rather than revealing them. It’s a brilliant variation on a theme that keeps the level feeling constantly fresh while still allowing it to retain a sense of coherence.
Loki: BZ’s having some trouble with the lasers that you need to plug up with concrete blocks. I guess 9 plays homage to the MM trope of resource management in the Wily stages with this section. A moment ago, struggling against the devil blobs, he admired their design. “They’re a neat twist on a classic boss. Plus, I love how it’s both the Yellow and Green Devils.”
During the boss gauntlet he remarks again on the seamless way that the weapons are designed perfectly to exploit the bosses weaknesses. “This feels like the perfect expression of what a Mega Man game should be. That this is what Capcom has been striving for the best twenty years.”
The music on the final boss is nice and dissonant. It does a lot to distinguish this from the rest of the Wily capsules. The dinosaur design is great too. And the game does something no other MM has ever done with the egg volley. It’s almost like something out of Zelda.
Much to our chagrin, we die on the second form of the Wily tank for two Game Overs in a row, and we decide to hit Google and see if this game lets you return to the shop screen without kicking you back to Wily 1. When we can’t immediately find the answer, we decide to just try it and see if it works. Three energy tanks later, we’re watching the opening Wily UFO cinematic as the map screen reappears with none of the routes highlighted. We’ve just been sent back to the start.
We decide to end the game here. Loki remarks that he’s a little ashamed we didn’t beat it, but at this late hour, we simply don’t have the time to run through the Wily stages again. 10 is calling us, and Loki is an old man in need of eventual sleep.
I want to cap off this glowing, sparkly love-fest of a blog entry by ranting for a minute about how terrible this design decision is. This has always been a sticking point for me in Mega Man games: why let the player save (or password) their progress through the easiest segments of the game but force them to play the much more grueling endgame in a single sitting? This is especially troublesome in 9, which features not only a shop, but segments in the Wily levels themselves where you can find bolts: the game is respectively providing overarching incentive and immediate encouragement to hit the “Stage Select” option at Game Over. It’s a criminal design flaw to goad the player into exiting the level and then to punish them so cruelly for doing so, especially with no warning. I imagine this must be even more offensive to Mega Man first-timers who have never once experienced this phenomenon. This is a mystifying lapse in judgement in a game which is otherwise the shining high point of its series.