Thursday, February 15, 2018

Was Mighty No. 9 Really That Bad Or Was The Hype Too Strong?

Keiji Inafune left Capcom in late 2010. For a few years Comcept, Inafune's new company, drifted aimlessly about the industry. The developer had one finished game under their belt, but it was the tragically mediocre Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. That game was panned by many as the weakest game in Tecmo's venerable Ninja Gaiden series, and quickly hit bargain bins (I bought a new copy for $8 less than a year after it's release). This didn't stop gamers from revving up the hype machine when Inafune launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a spiritual successor to the legendary Mega Man series. What began as an indie title that paid homage to one of the greatest action game franchises in gaming history devolved into something far different. It was much uglier than the launch trailers demonstrated, and was often delayed. The final product, Mighty No. 9, was railed by critics and gamers en masse, and much like Yaiba, quickly fell into bargain bins (again, I got a new copy for under $10).

 Who was to blame for the disappointment that we as a gaming public felt when Mighty No. 9 shipped? Was it Inafune, who promised the moon and handed us a Styrofoam ball? Was it possibly the fault of gamers who essentially set themselves up for a monumental disappointment? My theory is that the game was mediocre to the point of it being painful to some. You want proof of that, just go here. It was almost like a cute blond pop star that was marketed to the moon and back,  then the world heard them perform live and realized they couldn't sing.

When Inafune announced the Mighty No 9 Kickstarter campaign, we were all overcome with excitement. Even a hardcore cynic like myself was looking forward to getting my hands on what some were touting as "Mega Man's weird artsy little brother" and honestly, who could blame them? The first trailer was full of vibrant characters that had all the attitude and energy of Inafune's previous work with Capcom. We even got an amazing bit of footage featuring early gameplay. Then we found out that Inti Creates was involved in the project in a big way. This didn't scare me much since they had worked on Mega Man games in the past. Then something changed. That something was the involvement of a major publisher, Deep Silver.

Much in the same way Comcept has had a spotty history as a developer, so has Deep Silver's existence been as a publisher. It may seem unfair to blame a publisher for the sins of a developer, but when it comes to the production of video games, they tend to feel married to each other. Much in the same way that Acclaim garnered a reputation for releasing absolutely abysmal games though they didn't develop those games themselves, Deep Silver has become known for being incredibly hit or miss when it comes to their releases.

Without the stigma attached to it, Mighty No 9 is a serviceable video game. I find myself enjoying my time with it in a way that I probably wouldn't have if my love for Mega Man completely clouded my judgment. To be fair, it may have at one point, as my time with the demo released for the Xbox 360 left me wanting something more. The finished PS4 port that I bought was solid. It was far from prefect, but most of the gripes from reviewers were about cosmetic issues and they thankfully don't break things as far as gameplay.

Inafune promised so much in terms of this game and everything came up short. It's really disappointing too, because there was so much potential for an amazing piece of gaming to happen with Mighty No 9. Instead, we ended up the most pedestrian of Mega Man knockoffs and a man who's reputation, which was a tad bit over hyped to begin with, suffering more damage. It is a shame too, because now we'll probably never know how truly good Mighty No 9 could have been beyond the okay, but not breathtaking game that we got.

Here's to hoping the next actual Mega Man game will be good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Double Dragon IV: 1987 Called And It's Proud Of Your Glow Up

1987 was a good year to be a gamer. We got The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania II, Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!, Mega Man, and After Burner to name a few. Some of my personal favorite games and series were brought to America for the first time during that year, as I played Castlevania and Mega Man during that year. We also got hit with the most important release in the Beat-Em-Up genre when Technos blessed the world with Double Dragon. For a few years the series went about it's business with solid releases, a few duds, a masterpiece on the Super Nintendo, and an absolute nightmare of a film.

It then disappeared for a number of years before the 2012 release of a homage of sorts in the form of Double Dragon Neon. We then get more crickets until the 2017 release of the latest entry in the series, Double Dragon IV. Where Neon serves as fan services for lovers of the original game and the 80s in general, Double Dragon IV is a revival of everything that makes the Double Dragon games, in particular the NES and Sega Master System ports of the original, such a joy to play. We're in an age where what's old is apparently new and sexy, as long as it fits the right suit, but Double Dragon IV doesn't wear it's retro like an accessory, but rather like the skin it was born in, for better or for worse.

Story wise, there's a weird post-apocalyptic thing about nuclear war and the titular Double Dragon brothers setting up martial arts schools around the world to help keep the peace. it's also odd that this game takes place after the events of Double Dragon II, which leaves me to wonder how the series unfolds chronologically. I'm also left wondering if Double Dragon still exists in the same universe as River City Ransom as we've been led to believe based on earlier Technos games, but that's besides the point. Back to DDIV, a new gang, The Renegades (a nod to the spiritual predecessor of Double Dragon), attempt to take out Billy and Jimmy. There's a shadowy return of the Black Warriors gang, a kidnapping scene that looks like a pixel-for-pixel rehash of the opening to the original 1987 game, and a lot more I won't get into for fear of spoiling the story. The story as a whole feels all over the place, but if dropped into a manga or anime, the twists and turns would be quite welcome. Here, they may prove a bit ridiculous for a single Beat-Em-Up.

The gameplay is solid, with controls being responsive and hit detection being precise. The difficulty is nothing to trifle with, though. Enemies gang up on you and will whittle your health to nothing in quick fashion if you aren't careful. Easily the most cringe-worthy parts of the NES Double Dragon games were the platforming portions. Many a gamer can remember the conveyor belt section of Double Dragon II or the caves in the original and how ridiculously bad they handled. Thankfully, the control is much better this time around and as a result, jumping isn't a nightmare. This is indeed a good thing since there's a lot more of it than in the older games in the franchise. This game is old school hard, and sometimes it feels much more fair than others. I almost forgot to mention that a 2 player duel mode is in the game as well. It's a definite throwback to the first  NES Double Dragon game and is a great little nostalgic bonus for folks who remember that being the only piece of two player action in that port of the game.

Though it has been out for about a year, I only recently purchased the game thanks to a physical release through Limited Run Games. If you have never heard of them, don't worry, you will soon. They have developed a bit of a cult following for the care they take in releasing physical copies of select digital only console games. It's certainly a cool concept and I can't wait to see what they have on the horizon. My copy of Double Dragon IV has reversible cover art and the limited edition came in a big NES cartridge style box and dust sleeve. Cool touches for such a cool looking package.

Will Double Dragon IV return the series to ubiquitous gaming status like the series' earliest entries some thirty years ago? I doubt it, as gaming has gone from punching folks in the face to shooting them, but rest assured that titles like this one will continue to keep the fight going for years to come.