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Like many others, I was super excited when Mighty No. 9‘s kickstarter was announced. It seemed we’d finally get that new Mega Man game that we’ve been waiting ages for. But I have to admit, after the initial Kickstarter craze died down, Mighty No. 9 kind of fell off my radar, and I hadn’t actually followed any of the news about the game since then.

Which is why when I finally got a chance to go hands-on with the game at E3, I was completely taken aback by how different Mighty No. 9 was from what I expected it to be.

Mighty No. 9 might look like, sound like, and have the pedigree of a Mega Man game, but it plays very differently. This game moves at a blistering pace, faster even than the Mega Man X games, and that’s because nearly every gameplay system in the game encourages you to move quickly through the levels.

First off, let’s talk about Beck’s dash, which has a myriad of uses. Aside from the obvious uses of being able to move quickly and dodge incoming attacks, the dash’s main use is actually for offense. The most efficient way to kill enemies in Mighty No. 9 is by shooting them until they become destabilized, which is indicated by a series of colored rings that appear around the enemies. Once they’re destabilized, all it takes is a single dash to defeat them instantly and absorb their “essence,” let’s say, for lack of a better word.

There are four different colors of essence, and if you collect enough of a single type, you’ll get a temporary buff. Collecting red essence grants Beck a significant power boost that not only increases his damage, but also makes his shots pierce through enemies; green essence will increase Beck’s speed; yellow increases his defense; and if you collect enough blue essence, you’ll get a consumable health tank that will refill your health to max.

These buffs are incredibly useful, but don’t last very long, which why it is very important to move quickly when the buffs are active. I cannot stress enough how much of a difference it makes having a red power buff in an area where there are several enemies that are positioned behind each other. Imagine being able to shoot a single shot to immediately destabilize all of them at once with the buff, versus having to shoot one three times, dash through, the next one three times, dash through, etc.

You’ll need every advantage you can get, because Mighty No. 9 is tough as nails. Its unclear how it will work when the game actually comes out, but in the demo I played you had two lives to get through levels that must have been at least twice the size of a standard Mega Man level, with no extra life pick ups (or at least none that I ever came across,) tons of tricky platforming sections with insta-death spikes waiting to punish you for slight mistakes, and dastardly placed enemies whose sole purpose for existing are to knock you into those aforementioned insta-death spikes.

But as they say, the greater the struggle, the more satisfying the triumph, and it certainly was satisfying to get through a difficult stage, and then manage to take out a boss on the first try with one life left.

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Another way that Mighty No. 9 sets itself apart from the Mega Man series is in its story presentation. Throughout each level, there is constant chatter going on, whether its Call offering advice on where Beck should go next, or Dr. Sanda and Dr. White trying to piece together what’s going on, or simply Beck pleading with one of his former comrades to come to their senses.

Each level also has you interacting with the boss before the actual boss fight. One level in particular took place entirely on a highway, and had the player jumping from car to car, fighting enemies along the way. About halfway through, the boss would appear in the background and suddenly start destroying cars with a single slash of his sword, forcing you to quickly react and jump to safety or wind up as a junkpile on the road.

It’s also worth mentioning that once you beat a boss, you’ll actually fix whatever was causing them to malfunction and cause them to come over to your side. This manifests in certain levels where if you’ve rescued a boss, they’ll actually appear in the background giving you support in some way or another. So in addition to knowing what weapon works well on a boss, like you normally would in a Mega Man game, it’s also helpful to know which bosses will help you out on which stages.

Speaking of those weapons that you obtain from defeating bosses, I only got to mess with a couple of them, but the ones that I used were a ton of fun and dramatically changed the way I approached combat. My favorite was the sword power up, which basically turns you into Zero; capable of deflecting bullets with your sword and charging up for a single powerful sword slash. Another favorite was a Crash Bomb style explosive that allowed you to fire a sticky bomb that could be detonated with a second press of the button for massive splash damage.

Mighty No. 9 defied my expectations in the best kind of way. Sure, there are some obvious nods to the Mega Man series, and you’re still choosing a level, fighting a boss at the end, gaining their power, and using that power against another boss that’s weak to it, but Mighty No. 9 has managed to craft its own unique identity. It’s no doubt going to become a staple in the speed running community thanks to all of its mechanics rewarding the player for moving through levels as fast as they can.

Mighty No. 9 releases on September 15 on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC, Mac, Linux, Wii-U, 3DS and Vita.

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