The Apathy of Mighty No. 9

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As with many game releases, I often hold back for a while in order to get a more accurate and less charged point of view. I had heard of the infamous “Mighty No. 9”, helmed by Keiji Inafune. While he was not the creator of the Mega Man franchise as is often believed, he certainly was a major part of it.

There is a certain element of modern folklore to Mighty No. 9’s development history. Indeed, many can easily recount Mighty No. 9’s rise and fall.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Capcom virtually demolished the Mega Man franchise after Keiji Inafune’s severance, relegating the property to cameo appearances (which varied from extremely unflattering to being fairly well-received) and an abysmal mobile game with gameplay so stripped down that it was easily replicated within 24 hours, minus the card game aspect.

So fans were eager to back Inafune’s Kickstarter, the spiritual successor to Mega Man known as Mighty No. 9. But how was that going to play out?

I was a large fan of Mega Man in my childhood, particularly of the X series, so I was looking forward to it. But, I did not back the project on Kickstarter due to my wariness of crowdfunding.

It appears that was a prudent decision. After spending some time with the game, I can safely say that the criticism levied against it is warranted. Perhaps even a bit more than what has been brought upon it.

If I were to describe Mighty No. 9 in one word, that word would be “apathy”. The game exudes an all-encompassing indifference to both itself and the player. From the level design to the art direction to the game’s story to the basic gameplay mechanics, everything appears to be phoned in. The main theme of the game, along with the rest of the soundtrack, feels like a placeholder track meant to be discarded once the superior tracks were implemented. It’s as if someone forgot to tell them that they needed something with a bit more punch.

A Robot Unloved

This can be applied more broadly to every aspect of Mighty No. 9’s development. Questions would arise while playing that could be easily answered by “Because they didn’t care.”

Why is there such a dependence on conventions like insta-kill spikes and bottomless pits designed as lives sinks? Because they didn’t care. Why does the Water Works level have an area that can be easily skipped by repeatedly tapping the dash button? Because they didn’t care. Why is the process of switching weapons needlessly complex and time-consuming as compared to the PSOne “X” games? Because they didn’t care.

Other aspects, such as how the Ray DLC removed the conversations between the Mighty Numbers entirely instead of programming additional dialogues reek of this apathy. I say this because I played the later Mega Man X games, and even the universally reviled Mega Man X7 was able to integrate that feature into the game.

Since I love to read and write, the narrative of any piece of media is something I take particular interest. The apathy of the game is definitely present in the narrative, and even on the game’s accompanying website.

The story description that is placed on the site reads like this:

In the year 20XX —- In a world where robotic engineering has greatly advanced.

World panic caused the collapse of capitalism and brought about a new socialism, under which the government had manual labor mechanized and food, clothing and shelter was thoroughly managed. The principle of competition was lost and warring ended, bringing about what seemed to be an everlasting peace.

Although robotic advancements helped to maintain public order and development, people began to feel suppression and social stress due to these peace keeping measurements. As an outlet, a government sponsored public robot battle competition known as the “Battle Colosseum” was created. Little did they know, a new threat to mankind was afoot.

This is clearly from an earlier draft, because in the final draft of the script corporations still exist. Cherry Dynamics and Sanda Technologies are, to my knowledge, still capitalistic entities.

It may be seen as splitting hairs to be applying such scrutiny to a game where the narrative clearly was meant as a justification for the gameplay. But, this has more to do with the fact that they didn’t care to update the text to address this change.

The end result is that all this combined apathy is transferred to the player. Indeed, I decided that I just didn’t care about Ray’s DLC mode to justify finishing off the final boss and watched the ending on YouTube. This was a good move, since it was revealed that basically nothing changes, meaning that your time spent playing as Ray was completely wasted.

Infaune clearly did not care, because otherwise he would have not made the infamous “better than nothing” gaffe. He would have stood behind the product and defended it, even if it wasn’t perfect.

I don’t expect perfection, I expect good. Mighy No. 9 is the gaming world’s equivalent to Waterworld, it really isn’t an egregiously bad title. But instead of working to its benefit, it works to its detriment. It lacks the unintentional amusement of being awful like Ride to Hell: Retribution, which can at least be considered memorable for its sheer incompetence.

In the end, Mighty No. 9’s greatest sin wasn’t that the developers didn’t know what they were doing, but that they didn’t care.