It’s 1989 again and I’m in love.
Like a breath of fresh air after being trapped in a coal mine for days, Mega Man 9 was able to be inhaled on Monday, September 22, 2008 via Nintendo’s Wii Ware. For a measly ten bucks, I downloaded this release of what is essentially a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System game. Its design is an exercise in technological restraint that has produced scintillating results as far as I’m concerned. Is it hard? Absolutely. Is it harder than any Mega Man before it? Not even close.
Before I talk about gameplay, it must be noted that the synthesized soundtrack is easily on par with its predecessors, and gives me renewed appreciation for the awesome power of 8-bit music to set a mood that is completely lost on so many game composers today. I sat and listened to the title screen music for way longer than is healthy, because it has a cadence that builds excitement for the game to come. Once I started on my way through Magma Man’s level, every second of the soundtrack became something to savor. Who knows if we’ll ever get anything so deliciously 8-bit again?
Next to the soundtrack, gameplay had to be of the same stellar caliber to keep me enthralled. It’s right up there with the greats in the series. Tight control of precise shooting and hair-raising jumps punctuate your run through each screen on your way to the puzzlerific boss encounters. As with all Mega Man games, there must be a “best order” to approach these robot titans, and the first one I conquered was Galaxy Man. His black hole gun has served me well since, though I haven’t taken down a second target yet.
Wiring the levels to arrive at the boss with lots of energy for your arsenal as well as a full bar of health and some extra lives is difficult. Many gamers raised on PlayStation will be humbled. Those who played slow-paced PC games for most of their lives will be raising their voices in anger on message boards everywhere. “How can those fuckers expect me to play this? I can’t even get off the first screen? It’s no fun when I can’t just push a button and win!” To all of them, I raise a middle finger of my own in salute. Not all videogames are created equal and some of them should be fucking hard. Get over it. Or don’t buy it. I don’t care which. Just get off my goddamn lawn.
Those of us who enjoy a challenge, and who like to become more proficient at the skill of videogaming don’t get something like this very often. You find us still playing the fighting games, the shooters… no, not those shooters, these shooters…
…and that other genre of game that used to dominate the eight and sixteen bit consoles, the action platform game, has been pretty thin of late. When these games are done right, they’re awesome exercises in timing, memorization, execution and skill. Then you finish it and realize there’s a whole other way to play that raises the challenge. Get through without continuing. Finish without a single death. Take on all the bosses and win with only the Mega Buster. It’s all there, and provides hours of pure gaming entertainment. Sure, there’s a story there, some flava if you will, but that’s just to help you separate Mega Man 9 from what came before when you’re making that first run through. After you’ve finished, you remember these games for their mechanics, for that time you beat the boss with one sliver of life left or figured out the pattern of Splash Woman on the first try and survived.
It’s what gaming used to be, not really what it’s become, and it makes me happy to have a chance to play something new in this “ancient” style. For today’s kids, it’s like walking down the street and being able to meet an Egyptian for the first time and have a nice first hand conversation with them about their period in time. I hope it starts a bit of a trend, though I know that’s just wishful thinking. I’m certainly going to enjoy every last second of it regardless of the future though, and I hope you now understand why.