Mega Man 9 Preview: Pew Pewin' Like It's 1989

A few friends told me on E3's show floor that playing Mega Man 9 was like being a kid all over again. That's a fair assessment, but I think it goes a bit further.

While I can remember playing a great deal of the first six Mega Man games on the NES, I can't remember playing a single one of them for the first time, learning the level structures and stumbling through the hazards. The knowledge is simply already there—not the case in Capcom's downloadable follow-up Mega Man 9.

But make no mistake, it is most certainly a Mega Man game. And though it is planned for appearance on consoles which pack exponentially more power under the hood, it's definitely 8-bit—the first and only new 8-bit game I've encountered as an adult.

Perhaps I'm just getting old, but after a solid playthrough of two of the game's levels on the E3 show floor, I'm convinced that Mega Man 9 serves as Capcom's love letter to legacy gaming conventions, difficulty in particular. Don't dismiss the reports of how tough the game is because you believe that gaming has gone soft—even among the roughest levels and most foul bosses the series has to offer, MM9 will likely topple them all. It's brutal.

The game stands as an amalgam of sorts, combining elements from various NES installments—the level selection screen with eight robot masters surrounding Mega Man's head, as seen from Mega Man 3 onward. The weapon screen is lifted straight from Mega Man 5, and the robot master intros are presented in a fashion directly drawing from Mega Man 2—and that's just the interface.

The game itself features numerous foes, new and old favorites alike, ready to ruin your day. But the real devil is in the level design; disappearing block platforming segments, jumps requiring pixel-perfect accuracy and other wickedly crafted hazards are further complicated by a slew of enemies coming from every angle.

One instance in particular had me up against a giant robotic elephant who hurled a large, red ball at me, before inhaling deeply through his trunk to draw it back towards him. The risk of damage was twofold: getting hit by the ball as it was fired off and slid back towards the elephant, or being drawn in along with it towards the enemy. I had to keep my distance, dodge the ball, and pop off enough shots while every successful hit knocked off a good fifth of my health bar.

I rejoiced when I finally conquered the beast, moving onto the next screen, where I met... er, the same enemy. But the ball was green, indicating some change in behavior—sure enough, the ball bounced back to the elephant instead of simply rolling, and I was swiftly put out of commission. Like previous Mega Man games, without having reached the midpoint, I was rocketed back to the stage's start, short one life and a bit of confidence.

If you've ever hooked an NES up to a high definition television, you're likely aware that the pairing of such technologies usually results in an ugly picture. On the Wii, however, the NES-scaled resolution looks crisp, clean, and super blocky—just the way God intended. Moreover, the hallmarks of the NES' limited hardware is all but gone—multiple sprites on a single line no longer flash, and screen fades are performed smoothly and effortlessly. More enemies appear on screen at a given time with absolutely no slow-down.

It remains to be seen how the retro-styled and hardcore-oriented title will fare with today's younger players, who never experienced Mega Man in his late 80s-early 90s glory days, especially given how difficult the game can be for veteran players. But with such a solid and time-tested gameplay scheme, Mega Man 9 is a great time and an otherworldly experience—like a frozen caveman thawed out in the middle of a shopping mall. Be sure to check this one out.

Mega Man 9 is being developed by Inti Creates for the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A North American release date has yet to be announced.