It’s not difficult to imagine who the target audience for Mega Man 9 is. A good number of gamers came of age during the heyday of the NES, when both challenge and level design encouraged multiple playthroughs of titles. These qualities were particularly important considering both how much more $50 was then than it is now, and how many fewer people were playing video games to begin with, indicating a much more hardcore fanbase. It doesn’t seem likely that newcomers to Mega Man will have any interest in Mega Man 9. However, gamers who spent a good deal of time with Mega Man 1 and 2 in their formative years will very likely find the prospect of purchasing a new 8-bit Mega Man for $9.99 irresistible.
That said, it’s somewhat interesting to try and determine who will actually complete the game, given its level of difficulty. From top to bottom, Mega Man 9 is a throwback to an another time in gaming. The audiovisual presentation aims to match that of the earliest 8-bit titles to a fault. Between that and the challenge presented, Mega Man 9 is strikingly content to present itself as though the last 20 years of gaming never happened.
As with the classic titles in the series, memorization, trial and error, and pure platforming ability are crucial to success in Mega Man 9. Experimentation is also required in order to determine the most efficient order in which to defeat the bosses. Again, Mega Man 9 is reminiscent of a time when beating the game was only the beginning of actually getting good at it, and punishing difficulty was welcomed, because level design and predictable enemy patterns meant that after the initial learning curve, dying was the player’s fault.
Normally, it might be difficult to argue that the “lost game”, retro feel that Mega Man 9 achieves was especially necessary in order to evoke nostalgia. Indeed, games like Bionic Commando: Rearmed have demonstrated that the reboot of a long dormant franchise itself is likely to ensure decent enough sales among those that remember the original. What makes Mega Man 9 unique is how active the franchise, or at least the protagonist, has been for many years regardless of the quality of individual titles. Revisiting the early days of Mega Man when the series was at its strongest, then, is what makes the design of Mega Man 9 particularly notable.
Although it makes perfect sense for Mega Man 9 to be distributed digitally (regardless of the brilliant limited edition physical packaging), it does seem somewhat at odds with the rest of the game’s aesthetics for there to be downloadable content and achievements for the Xbox 360 version. But beyond that, Mega Man 9 does an admirable job of revisiting a classic gaming franchise, leaving the original presentation untouched, while offering brand new content. For fans of the series, it offers a large amount of replay value for its relatively low price, though its retro brand of difficulty may prove too much for some.