Rather than taking the route of something like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Capcom's Blue Bomber is making his return in the same way he kicked things off back on NES: 2D, and hard as hell.
The development team went all out in making Mega Man 9 look, act, and truly feel like a classic game, adding in extras like downloadable content, a ranking system for time trials, and achievement-like challenges into the mix.
Mega Man 9 will send you on a trip down memory lane, but it's also one of the best of the traditional set, rivaling Mega Man 2 in many respects.
On the presentation side of things, you're going to get exactly what you expected with Mega Man 9. There's a classically done intro, complete with ridiculous pixel art to tell the story, text that wraps incorrectly from screen to screen, and an interface that's mainly made up of two colors and really simple lists of options and modes.
Should you have the classic options turned on (default from the beginning), things like sprite pop-in will still show up, but more than that it's the return to classic tech limitations that makes Mega Man feel truly "retro" in both look and feel. Enemy animations are a few frames at best, jump and fall physics are emulated perfectly from older titles, and spawns will reset when off stage. It's classic Mega Man, pure and simple.
And while a trip down memory lane is a nice little nod to the fans, what hardcore gamers really wanted with Mega Man 9 was a true return of that tough-as-nails traditional play we got from games like Mega Man 2. It's here, and it's a blast to play. The levels are diverse and innovative even when looking at everything the Blue Bomber has done in his first eight titles, the master robots are well crafted and balanced well, and the learning curve is again very high. It could take players hours to beat the game on the first run, but master the enemy spawns, and you'll be speed running it in 45 minutes or less consistently.
Some of the weaponry in the game can be a bit repetitive, since you've got Jewel Man's attack that is nearly identical to Mega Man 2's Wood Man, and the trident shot and magma bazooka are just classic forward-firing and three-shot spread designs, but they all work well together, too. We used Concrete Man and Splash Woman's powers constantly to blast through generic enemies with ease, but if you're looking to speed run the game, or collect everything in each stage, it'll take a mastery of all the different weapons and uses.
The stages themselves are well made, and again, very hard. Concrete Man has trick fall-through tiles, Magma Man has complex over/under enemy paths, while other stages such as Hornet Man, Tornado Man, and Galaxy Man show off some new in-level goodies to play around with, unlike other previous Mega Man games. Your first experience with Mega Man 9 might be purely nostalgic, but when you start to dive into it as its own standalone game (and not just a work of fan service), it becomes apparent just how great it is all around.
Of course, just like the classic games, most of your replay with Mega Man 9 is going to come from how much fun you have mastering levels, replaying areas, or improving on your speed through the game. With a 45-minute front-to-back time, it isn't the longest download title out there, but Mega Man 9 does throw in some extras to check out. Downloadable content is on the way and it's sure to extend replay value while simultaneously pleasing the hardcore crowd -- more on that soon. The challenges are pretty insane as well, so even if you don't have the Xbox 360 version, you've still got 50 in-game achievements to show off to friends.
While we're on the subject of 360 though, we need to make a note that each of the versions of Mega Man 9 will look slightly different, since Wii's build looks to be a direct NES port of sorts, with the HD versions having a slightly smoother, but also higher contrast - and by result, not as "NES-like" in look - presentation. You're going to get the same experience on every version overall, but those that want to sit down and critique the truly minimal differences between the builds will find that the emulation between the three versions is going to differ ever so slightly.
The Wii version has more of the 8-bit look overall to it, but that also means there are harder edges, and a more pronounced "blocky" look. Is that a good thing, or bad? In the end, it's going to be personal preference, but as die-hard fans who grew up with the Blue Bomber, we prefer the Wii emulation, as its truest to form.
Mega Man 9 is exactly what hardcore gamers were hoping it would be, as Capcom has come out of the gate with a game that's full of nostalgia and fan-service, but also one that truly does rival the best in the franchise's 8-bit roots. If you look at this game as a time warp into the NES era, it's one of the top titles out there, as it's hard as hell, somehow fresh in design (even though there have been well over 100 Mega Man games in 15 years), and simply a blast to rip through.
If you weigh this one against other download titles out there though, the game will of course fall short in the graphical department (maybe the only game out there where a low graphics score is a compliment?), the lack of innovation overall, or a lot of the modes or options you'd expect to get for your money. With that being said, Capcom did got the extra mile with online rankings, downloadable content, and a few extra areas to check out (time trials could last players a long, long time), and it makes Mega Man 9 a no-brainer download if you've got $10 to spare across any console.
This has been the game I have been waiting for the most this year. Between this, Braid and the new Wario game, this could be a very good year for old-school gaming. Perhaps we may even see it make a real comeback.
What a surprise... IGN's review of Mega Man 9 forgot to mention that the features that should have been included in the game were omited unless you purchase "downloadable content" to unlock these "bonus features". What a lame way to try to make more money.