Mega Man 9 was originally released in 2008 on PS3, X360, and Wii. It was the big come back game for the series at the time. Even though plenty of MM spin-offs were released after Mega Man & Bass, there had not been a new original series game since 1998. MM9 was a trendsetter for downloadable games and 2D retro revivals, but at the same time, it set the series back about 4 console generations. In a time when HD consoles were becoming the standard, Capcom and developer, Inti Creates, made a game that looked like an NES game. It would take another 10 years to get a Mega Man game that looked like it was made in the century it was released in.
Mega Man 9’s story has Dr Wily framing Dr Light with a video of him saying his robots are going to take over the world. Wily has Light arrested and then goes on TV to try and get people to send him money to build robots to save the world from Dr Light's robots, but it's actually to try to take over the world again. It’s kind of nostalgic and funny, but never even tries to follow up on anything from MM7, MM8, and MM&B. Bass never even shows up in the game. It’s almost like an alternate universe Mega Man 6.5. As far as I know, it takes place after MM&B, but they could have fooled me. There are at least more cutscenes than in any of the NES games, and they look really nice.
Mega Man 6.5 is a good way to describe a lot of things about Mega Man 9. This game looks like it could have been released in 1995 on the NES. The color palette, size of the sprites, and number of frames of animation all look like they're right out an NES game. The game doesn’t even have a widescreen aspect ratio. There's nothing that looks like it couldn't be done on an NES here, like some of the stuff you see in other fake 8-bit games, like Shovel Knight. The frame rate might be the only thing that wouldn't have been so smooth on the NES. Not even MM6’s frame rate was this smooth throughout the whole game.
The graphics nail the NES look, but none of the levels really stand out for looking amazing. Nearly every level theme has already been done, and done better, in the NES games. Concrete Man's forest doesn't look as good as Plant Man's in MM6, or even Wood Man's from MM2. We've seen space levels, like Galaxy Man's; metallic electricity themed levels, like Plug Man's; and sky levels, like Tornado Man's all done better in MM4-6. The backgrounds don't have as much variety, and the sprites aren't as detailed as in the last 3 NES games.
Mega Man's controls are also a big step back for the series. All the way back to MM2. Mega Man doesn't have the slide or the charge shot in this game. I know there's a group of people who like Mega Man without the charge shot better, but I am not one of them. I feel like we're losing a bit of the depth of the combat without it. I don't get why they took out the slide at all. Is there a group of slide haters out there too? They did put both the charge shot and the slide on Proto Man, but you have to start a separate game, with a separate save, to play as him. He also takes a lot more damage and knockback.
The stages and bosses are the highlight of Mega Man 9 for me. The level design feels like they cherry picked a bunch of obstacles from MM1-6 and mixed them in with a few new enemies. A lot of them feel like retreads of ideas from MM4-6, but they're all fun and challenging. That's one of the things this game has always been notorious for, its challenging levels. They're really not that much harder than the average MM level; though, they just have some very unforgiving sections that don't leave much room for error. For example, there's one section in Plug Man's stage where you have to shoot a Met, while on top of a disappearing block platform, while jumping onto the platform it's on. If you don't kill the Met, it's going to hit you and knock you back onto a bunch of spikes, which will kill you in 1 hit if you don't get out of them before your invincibility frames run out. Sections like that are challenging, but stick out for being too demanding when compared to the rest of the game. They're not necessarily fun level design.
I think most of the Robot Masters in this game have pretty cool designs. Jewel Man is the only lame looking one. They all have that sort of vaguely familiar Robot Master style, but don’t make me wonder if they've been done before when I look at them. Galaxy Man, Hornet Man, and Splash Woman all have very cool designs. I've definitely never seen mermaid or UFO Robot Masters. Most of their fights feel pretty original, too. It’s probably pretty hard to make a completely original MM boss fights 20+ years into the series, but they at least feel fresh here.
The music in this game is pretty great. They totally nailed the NES Mega Man sound. I like all the Robot Master themes. I especially love Tornado Man's theme. It just has all those sounds I associate with Mega Man music, such as the Proto Man-like whistles and fast chiptune drums. All the Wily stage themes are also awesome. My favorite is the first Wily stage theme. It just fits perfectly with the afternoon sky in the background of the level and makes it feel like Mega Man is on an epic mission.
Mega Man 9 is a good Mega Man game, but it's a very derivative Mega Man game. It never feels like it's doing anything to move the series forward. In fact, it's deliberately going backwards. It was a novel idea when it originally came out, but now that we have it in the same collection as the rest of the games in MMLC, it doesn't really stand out over any of them. I think if this game was released in 1995 people would remember it as just another good but not extraordinary Mega Man.