While a large portion of today’s gamers are too young to remember the NES, many of us grew up with the classic 8-bit system and its now-legendary roster of games. Being able to download these pieces of our youth via the Wii’s Virtual Console has been as enjoyable for us as it has been lucrative for the games’ publishers. While the games may be timeless, they are also familiar; we did all the heavy lifting and trial-and-error as kids, decades ago, and today we can coast through them on little more than muscle memory (after shaking off a little rust, perhaps). Nostalgia carries a certain amount of weight, but rediscovery is not as enjoyable as a new discovery.
Enter Mega Man 9. Capcom and developer Inti Creates have bestowed upon the gaming populace an 8-bit style Mega Man title that looks and feels like the games from our childhood, but offers totally new challenges while doing so. All of the classic Mega Man gameplay hallmarks are there: jumps requiring pinpoint accuracy, disappearing block puzzles, deadly spike obstacles, surprise enemies meant to knock you into bottomless pits, shielded Sniper Joe, Hard Hats, and of course eight new robot masters and their special weapons. Players with 8-bit Mega Man experience (either via their youth or thanks to recent Virtual Console tie-in offerings of the original title and its first sequel) will know what else that means: punishing difficulty. You will die. You will die cheaply. And no matter how much you may curse and scream, you will love it and keep coming back for more until you stop dying.
Thankfully, Mega Man 9 is not all new twists on old tricks and hair-pulling frustration. The old password system has been abandoned for a more modern (and much welcome) multiple-slot save file. The ability to charge up the Mega Buster, first introduced in Mega Man 4, has been removed as well; this returns the player’s focus on the special weapons, which had been lacking ever since the charge shot became commonplace. Finally, the developers have put forth 50 challenges to test your Mega Mettle, ranging from simple time attacks to hardcore demonstrations of skill; online leaderboards even offer bragging rights to the fastest of the fast. As if that was not enough, some downloadable content is also available to provide further challenges.
In an age where it seems unusual for a year to go by without a half-dozen new games bearing some sort of Mega Man title being released, the sprawling franchise has finally returned to its roots with Mega Man 9. Two-button 8-bit action gameplay may not be everyone’s favorite genre, but Mega Man 9 is an experience every gamer should have. It is a labor of love from its creators (including the father of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune), and a testament to how basic gameplay elements can still produce an exceptional gameplay experience.