Mighty No. 9 was supposed to be the chosen one. In an age where Mega Man fans have been haranguing Capcom for years to let the blue bomber appear in an all-new game for modern consoles, Mighty No. 9 appeared as both a Mega Man-esque adventure and a seeming middle finger to Capcom’s ambivalence toward its de facto mascot.
However, red flags gradually raised throughout the course of Mighty No. 9’s development, all culminating in what is arguably the worst result it could have seen. Mighty No. 9 released three years later as a completely sub-par, mediocre experience rather than the bombastic return of Mega Man so many hoped it would be.
What happened? How was it that the beloved Keiji Inafune could call so far from grace to ultimately fail on executing his dream for a new dawn of Mega Man?
We within the gaming community have a knack for assigning all praise on one creative head. Kojima, Meier, Levine, Igarashi, and even Miyamoto all stand as legends in their own rights, creators of amazing games that have defined generations and remain standouts in history today.
While these people are the original minds behind a franchise, they’re not the only ones working tirelessly to bring it to fruition. Teams consisting of up to hundreds of people all work together to execute on an original design, but that design does not necessarily exist as law. Having people to produce, oversee, and even edit down projects and ideas are a necessary part of making a creative work into the most effective and comprehensive vision possible.
When we assign too much credit to one person, we begin to see them as infallible geniuses incapable of doing anyone wrong. No matter what shady thing a publisher might do, that one name will be the one to return us to our roots and save the day.
It's likely that this charitable attitude impacted the perception of Inafune's goals. Of course he helmed massive franchises like Mega Man and even Dead Rising. One of the biggest reasons why he was able to raise over three million dollars in Mighty No. 9’s Kickstarter campaign was on sheer name recognition alone. People knew him. People trusted him. People placed all of their faith squarely on his shoulders and expected nothing less than the return-to-form Mega Man game they had been craving for so long.
Creativity may be at its best when it’s limited. Endless resources actually serve as its bane, allowing for any and all ideas to work, which then negates any reason for a creator to become inventive or clever to work within their limitations. Give someone an inch of their own, and they’ll draw it out until it’s been stretched thin over a very long mile.
Inafune has spoken about the amount of pressure he was under to make Mighty No. 9 and was very vocal about the fact he knew there was a lot riding on the success of it. But as it turns out, maybe there was something to having the oversight of Capcom to keep his vision in order, not to mention the structure of an established studio.
It’s also possible Inafune has simply run out of ideas. Games can have difficulty aging well, because the ideas older games introduce as wholly new or original are often co-opted by their successors to the point where the mechanics found in classic games are all too familiar and thus, don’t feel so special. The action platformer has been and continues to be one of the most important in gaming history. To set it apart and give fans the Mega Man game they wanted out of Mighty No. 9, making it into a 2D side-scrolling action platformer may not have been the best approach.
While the Kickstarter campaign was a wild success by any metric, it seems likely that Inafune's expectations and desires for Mighty No. 9 as a franchise spiraled out of control and began to stretch beyond reality and possibility given his budget and cache. From the very start, Mighty No. 9’s development was riddled with warning signals that very clearly spoke to the eventual state of the game.
To understand this, let’s look at the timeline:
- Mighty No. 9 launches its Kickstarter campaign during PAX Prime 2013. It shattered its initial goal and eventually earned over $3 million in just under 48 hours thanks to the donations of 67,226 backers. Console and handheld versions were also mentioned and continue to be in development to the time of this writing.
- The success of Mighty No. 9 created a buzzing, palpable feeling of excitement in Capcom fans. So much so, in fact, that Inafune came out on February 7, 2014 to announce Mighty No. 9 would not just be a video game, but a multimedia enterprise. He voiced interest in spinning Mighty No. 9 into an anime series, comic book, manga, television show, and even a live action movie.
- Additional crowdfunding options through PayPal become available. No budgeting issues were ever reported, but opening up a new portal for people to willingly dump money into your project is rarely a great sign of confidence on the part of the developer.
- A release date is finally announced for the West as September 2015. A release date for a live-action adaptation movie was then announced, along with Inafune’s partnership with Legendary Pictures to bring the film to digital platforms. Keep in mind, this is part of his “multimedia” approach to making Mighty No. 9 into the coolest kid on the block.
- Inafune launches another Kickstarter campaign for Red Ash, another Mega Man-esque clone with multimedia potential. The campaign becomes almost an instant controversy, as Red Ash already had a publisher and any funds raised through Kickstarter would simply help the game reach its stretch goals. What were those stretch goals? As Kotaku pointed out, who knows. Even the page itself admitted they didn’t have any, exposing the Red Ash campaign as incompetent at best.
- In August 2015, Mighty No. 9 was delayed into February 2016 due to bugs and technical reasons.
- In September 2015, it was pushed back further into Spring 2016.
- In January 2016, Mighty No. 9 was delayed a third time into June 2016. It eventually released on June 24th on PC, PS4, PS3, Wii U, and Xbox One, but remains in development for the 3DS, Vita, and Xbox 360.
When it finally released, Mighty No. 9 was ultimately not the game that was promised. It looked different, had significantly less style and personality, and ultimately was a completely mediocre video game whose history had done very little to maintain Inafune’s good standing with Mega Man fans.
He acknowledged the ways Mighty No. 9 was mishandled during development on a livestream, saying:
"'You know, I want to word this in a way to explain some of the issues that come with trying to make a game of this size on multiple platforms [...] I'm kind of loath to say this because it's going to sound like an excuse and I don't want to make any excuses. I own all the problems that came with this game and if you want to hurl insults at me, it's totally my fault. I'm the key creator. I will own that responsibility.'"
Too Big to Fail
So what happened to Mighty No. 9? As Inafune admits, the issue ultimately comes down to his own handling. He was aware of the pressure on him to make the Mega Man game fans had been seeking for so long. He was confident--maybe even overly so--in the project, to the point where he started thinking too big. Spinning out one basic game idea into a multimedia powerhouse is not something that happens all at once, especially not in a climate where Mega Man is not as commonly known as so many other video game characters today. If he was working with studios for a game, animated series, and live-action film simultaneously, how much input did he have in the actual creation of Mighty No. 9? It’s a matter of spreading oneself too thin and assuming success before having it proven. Hence, why he launched campaigns for Red Ash to also have a game and an adaptation series before even officially releasing his first “independent” project.
It’s also possible Inafune’s departure from Capcom meant he had to assemble a new team who did not have the same familiarity with the Mega Man series as him and his old co-workers. Thus, attempting to use a template of which one is not as familiar will yield a result that will not feel as integral to the original. And, when one considers the many ways in which Inafune was apparently spreading himself thin over multiple mediums and ideas, it becomes highly possible the man simply didn’t focus enough on the core concept that earned him millions of dollars in the first place.
This may be something we see more and more as the industry continues to evolve and famous creators set out to start their own projects. We saw this with Igarashi and his campaign for the Castlevania-like Bloodstained. Hideo Kojima has freed himself from Konami and is working on the Silent Hills-esque Death Stranding. Yu Suzuki is currently working on the long-awaited Shenmue 3.
But in a completely different market and climate, it’s difficult to know how well these veteran’s ideas will have aged and indeed, if they’ve learned how to adapt to the changing times and know how to stick to their vision.
Unfortunately, only time will tell.