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Mighty No. 9 debuts to lackluster reviews, troubling graphics downgrade

Growing up, the Mega Man franchise were the kinds of platform titles I wanted to be good at, but mostly wasn’t. We had an 80286/10 PC rather than any kind of console, which meant my time with games like Super Mario Bros or Mega Man was limited to visits with friends and family. Since its Kickstarter launch in 2013, I’ve kept an eye on Mighty No. 9, the supposed spiritual successor to Mega Man, to see whether or not the game would be worth playing.

Over the past few years, Mighty No. 9 has been mired in controversies of various sorts, from repeated game delays and lackluster demos, to outcry over the company’s decision to launch a second Kickstarter for an entirely new property before Mighty No. 9 had been released. The final game finally dropped this week, more than a year after its original April 2015 release date. Unfortunately, it’s not reviewing well, with an average rating of 54 according to OpenCritic.

Early reports that the game’s creator (and lead illustrator and character designer of Mega Man) Keiji Inafune had called the game’s release “Better than nothing” were incorrect. But the game’s graphics appear to have undergone a significant downgrade from the initial trailer to the final product, as cataloged by Eurogamer in the video below:

While no one claimed that this trailer was guaranteed game art, the release claimed that we’d all look back years later and laugh at how primitive it looks. Instead, the supposed created-in-seven-days trailer looks orders of magnitude better than what actually shipped. The larger problems plaguing Mighty No. 9 may be anchored in the decision to launch the game on no fewer than 10 platforms — 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, and the PC. The original pitch for Mighty No. 9 targeted Windows only. Each of the platforms listed above has its own debugging process, platform certification, and specific hardware capabilities. Trying to support no fewer than 10 versions of the same game while optimizing each to its maximum potential would be daunting for a much larger team.  Using the Unreal 3 engine may have been another mistake. While UE3 can run on the Vita, it was never ported to the 3DS.

Optimizing art resources for the lowest common denominators would go a long way to explaining why the initially amazing concept art ultimately led to a game that looks as though it could’ve run without much trouble on the original Xbox or PS2. While the game’s $4 million total funds were touted as a huge initial success, overhead, administration, and the percentage paid back to Kickstarter ultimately limited development funds to just $2.6 million. Even so, it seems like a lot to have paid to get what resulted.

At some point we’ll probably get the detailed blow-by-blow that breaks down what happened and where things fell apart, but for now, Mighty No. 9 is a testament to failed promises and substandard delivery. Kickstarter isn’t a game store in any meaningful sense of the word, and while many projects eventually get delivered in some form, high-profile failures like this do the platform no favors.

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