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Review: Mega Man 9

Jordan Deam | 9 Oct 2008 21:05
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Ah, Mega Man, most Japanese of cyborgs. While RoboCop mows down his foes with a fully automatic 9mm handgun, you deploy bumblebees and lay concrete. The Six Million Dollar Man has bionic legs that allow him to scale over obstacles in a single slow-motion leap; you summon a spring-loaded terrier. You're part Swiss Army knife, part Pinocchio: eminently useful, undeniably pathetic.

Mega Man is the product of a country where the superego has won a decisive victory against the id, where every man is a repressed drill sergeant and every woman an overbearing Catholic schoolteacher. Where strict order and authority are so thoroughly institutionalized that a sharp slap on the wrist feels like curling up with a warm blanket. Not surprisingly, Mega Man 9 provides both these sensations in spades.

With the exception of a couple modern touches, like unlockable game modes and a surprisingly robust achievement system (and minus the necessity of blowing on a cartridge until you hyperventilate), Mega Man 9 is an NES game, pure and simple. Everything from the 8-bit graphics to the chiptunes soundtrack to the crude storyboard narrative feels like an extended flashback to my youth. But flashbacks aren't always sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes they're prehistoric, fluorescent lizards chasing you through a maze of ex-girlfriends with tranquilizer guns.

Mega Man 9 presumably requires patience, practice and perfect timing to complete. I say "presumably" because I wasn't able to finish it, and not for lack of effort, either. After 5 hours, 42 minutes and, by my estimation, two dozen "game over" screens, I put the controller down on Stage 3 of Wily's castle, the second to last level of the game. I wanted to beat Mega Man 9, but couldn't. There are few things more disheartening than failing at leisure.

Sadistic level design isn't the sole reason for MM9's steep difficulty curve. It's also due to the developers' willful ignorance of nearly two decades of game design innovation. Case in point: the jumping mechanic, which adjusts the height of your leaps according to how long you hold down the A button. It's a direct holdover from the original NES controller, which lacked the pressure sensitive buttons that have become standard on modern gamepads. The most hellish corridors in MM9, of which there are many, place you in situations where either falling short of your target or jumping too high results in instant death. Whether you find this scenario adrenaline pumping or arbitrary will probably depend on how many times you've died in a row in the same spot. (For me, the cut-off point was three times.)

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