The nine are, it turns out, extraordinary bastards. Each one of these robots-gone-rogue is taller, quicker and better equipped than Beck, the meek and mannerly rescue bot tasked with saving humanity from his furious relatives. Take Pyro, a mechanical monkey that sets himself on fire before dashing toward you in search of a deadly embrace. Manage to evade his murderous advances while nicking away at his health bar with your pea-shooter pistol and, midway through the fight, he transforms into an even more powerful form. Now, if he manages to grab you, you will die in a single, inescapable squeeze, regardless of how well you’ve managed to protect your own health bar up to that point. It’s leg-poundingly unfair, and establishes the pattern for each of the nine fights that run along this game’s crotchety spine.
Even before he left his erstwhile employer, Capcom, Mighty No. 9’s creator, Keiji Inafune, was championing progressive development practises, arguing that Japan’s diminished video game industry is the result of conservatism and creative stagnation. His rhetoric maybe forward-facing (he was, admittedly, responsible for a slew of cross-cultural collaborations between Capcom and other studios around the world) but Mighty No. 9 is firmly rooted in past traditions. It’s there in the unexpected insta-kills that, should he brush against the mere suggestion of pink electricity, send Beck back to the nearest checkpoint. It’s there in Beck’s design, self-plagiarism of Infaune’s best-known character, Mega Man, complete with slick helmet and fat boots. It’s there in the clutch of lives that, once depleted, force a restart of the entire level, with nothing but a smidgen of muscle memory to show for your time investment. It’s there in the overblown voice-acting. And it’s there in the nine, each one an end of level boss whom Beck must restore to virtue, each one an extraordinary bastard.
Not everything is an anachronism. Mighty No. 9, in an unusual moment of synchronicity, employs a similar mechanic to that seen in the recent Doom. Once they’ve been struck a few times every enemy enters a stunned state, complete with a dizzied animation. As this point, you can dash into them in order to finish the job and collect a deposit of ‘xel’, which is used to replenish your health bar. As in Doom, this simple one-two suckerpunch of an interaction is both intuitive and satisfying. Mighty No. 9’s designers go further still: when fighting boss characters you are forced to dash into them in order to ‘bank’ the damage you’ve dealt up to that point. Fail to do so and their health bar will slowly restore.