There's no denying that the NES Mega Man series was a huge hit for Capcom during the 8-bit era. The games enjoyed mammoth success for Capcom and probably single-handedly sold many an NES console in the process. Although the series and its spinoffs have continued to prosper over the years, many Mega Man faithful still consider the original 8-bit releases the best the series has to offer. Capcom obviously sensed this when they made the decision to develop a brand new Mega Man title and model it so closely after the original NES titles. Not only does Mega Man 9 look, sound, and play just like the original 8-bit offerings, it comes jam-packed with the same controller-tossing difficulty as well.
It goes without saying that anyone who has ever played a Mega Man title before will quickly feel right at home with the gameplay in this offering; the entire package is pretty much a carbon-copy of the 8-bit Mega Man games from start to finish. You're faced with 8 robots that you can randomly choose at the level select screen. You are then required to play through the level until you reach the robot boss at the end. There are generally two checkpoints throughout each level; one at the midpoint and one at the entrance to the robot's lair. Once you defeat the robot boss you are given the robot's main weapon; this makes choosing the order of the levels that you play important as certain weapons will make beating many of the tougher robots more manageable.
You start the game with your standard arm cannon -- the weapon you'll most likely find yourself using most of the time. One button fires the cannon and the other makes Mega Man jump: how high depends on how long you hold the button down. As you gain various special weapons you can access them by selecting them on the game's sub-menu. You'll then see the special weapon's gauge appear next to your life gauge. You can continue to use the special weapons as long as you have energy left in your gauge, but as a rule it's best to save these special weapons for the tougher sections of the game, such as the boss fights at the end of each level. As you defeat enemies they'll drop various power-ups such as energy pods to refill Mega Man's life gauge.
While there are plenty of action sequences that require use of the arm cannon and special weapons, the majority of your time will be spent jumping from platform to platform. Everything from rotating platforms to platforms that disappear and reappear will challenge each and every step you take. Of course you'll have to deal with the constant barrage of enemies and their fire on top of everything else. If this sounds overly difficult, that's because it is. Mega Man 9 is pretty steep as far as challenge goes, going even beyond the high level of difficulty found in the original 8-bit releases, if you can believe such a thing. Having said that, it's worth noting that while there is a high degree of difficulty, it never feels cheap.
The gameplay control is smooth and responsive, providing you with all the tools necessary to play through the game successfully. Of course it takes a lot of repetition during each level in order to do so, as you learn enemy patterns and map out the best route through each screen. The levels might not be terribly long but you certainly won't blow through them in any hurry either, at least not without shedding countless lives in the process. It's worth stating that if you're easily frustrated, Mega Man 9 is not a game you'll want to spend much time with, but those who can appreciate a real challenge will get more than their money's worth.
Mega Man 9 does offer a few new twists not found in the classic titles. The "Time Attack Mode" allows you to play to earn the fastest level time possible and displays your current time in the upper-right corner of the screen. You have access to every special weapon in the game, regardless of whether or not you've earned the weapon during the regular game mode. If you achieve a good enough time your name is added to the rankings, which are tallied via wi-fi for each level. You can choose to view the rankings at any time from the main menu.
The game also features 50 "Challenges" that resemble the achievements found on many Xbox Live Arcade titles. These range from completing the game in a set amount of time to playing through the game multiple times and beyond. Some of these challenges seem readily attainable while others seem downright twisted in their difficulty. These features obviously add some replay value to the game as they give you something to shoot for once you've beaten the regular game. Couple that with the host of bonus downloadable content and you have quite the well-rounded package - not too shabby for a game that only takes up a mere 66 blocks of storage space.
Anyone who's seen screenshots of Mega Man 9 in action knows that Capcom wanted to give it a classic 8-bit look and feel. It's safe to say that they've not only come through with flying colours, but the game could easily pass as an NES release without any trouble whatsoever, right down to the 4:3 aspect ratio. All of the vibrant colours and pixelated sprites that came to be such a huge part of the early Mega Man series are intact and looking as blissfully nostalgic as ever.
As has been mentioned before, Capcom has included something called a "Legacy Mode" that adds a bit of flicker and slowdown to further authenticate the classic look of the game. While it's extremely minor, and certainly not of a scope as that found on the original NES releases, it's still a nice touch nonetheless. As with other Mega Man titles, each level gets its own unique theme that closely resembles that of the robot that inhabits it. While there will inevitably be those who will criticize the game for its dumbed-down visuals and lack of modern visual conveniences, classic Mega Man fans will undoubtedly enjoy the visual trip down memory lane. It's so convincing that if you didn't know better, you'd swear you were playing on an NES system.
In keeping with the 8-bit theme of the presentation, Capcom has also served up an NES-style soundtrack to go along with the visuals. The very same upbeat musical stylings found in the classic Mega Man titles have been faithfully recreated and you won't find a bad tune in the entire game. Each stage features its own unique musical track and most of the tunes are long enough to avoid becoming overly repetitive during repeated trips through each level. Even the sound effects come off like they were taken directly from an NES title. Capcom should really be commended for the job they did in keeping with the classic Mega Man theme both from a visual and musical standpoint.
You have to appreciate what Capcom has pulled off with the release of Mega Man 9. Not many companies would be willing to take a chance on making an 8-bit game in an era where video games tend to look more like motion pictures than the pixelated affairs of the '80s. Sure, the game isn't much to look at and it's still odd to hear the NES-style music blaring through a Dolby Surround Sound system, but when you get right down to it, there's just something incredibly satisfying and unique about playing a completely original 8-bit Mega Man title almost 15 years since the last NES release. About the only thing that might be construed as a negative aspect might be the rather brutal difficulty of the game; this is definitely not a title for the faint of heart. If you're a classic Mega Man fan, then this is without a shadow of a doubt the game you've been waiting all these years for. And for those who never got the chance to experience the outstanding early releases, here's your chance.