While some of my Gamnesia colleagues have had the honor of discussing 2016's gaming highlights, it now falls on me to reflect on one of the year's most crushing disappointments. But what to choose? No Man's Sky, although eventually cleared of false advertising charges, suffered from criticism of misleading advertising, as well as some advertised features still being absent from the game. While Pokémon GO has certainly been successful, it's been similarly frustrating that Niantic struggled for so long to fix tracking issues, and that early-promised features such as trading have yet to arrive nearly six months later. As for my personal choice for 2016's most disappointing game... well, I wouldn't say it left me crying like an anime fan on prom night, but it was still pretty upsetting. So let's talk about the only remaining game in the banner above (whoops, spoiler alert!): Mighty No. 9.
Back in the early '90s, when I was still digging into the NES's vast library, my first big gaming obsession was Mega Man. Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and former Mega Man artist Keiji Inafune announces the Kickstarter for a game that promises to fill the blue-bomber-shaped void left by Capcom in recent years. Nostalgia and a promising amount of successful, crowdfunded games encouraged Mega Man fans to meet the initial goal as well as the numerous stretch goals, ending the campaign with over $4 million. Yet after multiple delays that kept backers waiting over a year, the final product was not only mediocre at best, but a cluster of failed promises due to poor execution. From a business standpoint, Mighty No. 9 was an utter failure; speaking as a longtime Mega Man fan, I think it's fair to call it not only the most disappointing game of 2016, but the biggest gaming letdown of my life.
Admittedly, I am far from an expert on the business side of the gaming industry – I recommend The Jimquisition's overview as an excellent summary of that side of Mighty No. 9's struggles. But it doesn't take an expert to realize that Inafune made too many promises when it came to Kickstarter stretch goals. By the end of the campaign, Comcept had promised PC, Mac, and Linux versions, as well as ports for nearly every console of the current and previous generations – even 3DS and Vita ports. Yet due to porting difficulties, several console ports, such as Xbox 360, failed to meet the final projected release date; even now the portable versions are still TBD.
As I look back at the list of stretch goals on MN9's Kickstarter page, I also find the order and priority of various stretch goals questionable. That Inafune would fund a making-of documentary for an unproven IP may or may not have made sense during my naïve, nostalgia-fuled hype phase, but it now seems odd to prioritize a film patting himself on the back before various console ports – especially when his game's spiritual predecessor was such an icon in early console gaming.
Stretch goals for additional stages were also scattered around the list, including one for an intro stage (pretty common to the later Mega Man and X games), and another for a solo stage starring Call, the game's "Roll" equivalent (Rock and Roll? Beck and Call? GET IT?! Sigh…). Sadly, this stretch goal provided us with one of the worst levels of the game, in which Call's noticeably different gameplay makes the boss and various enemies unnecessarily frustrating by deviating too far from the previously established mechanics. Simply put, it appears Comcept overestimated their capabilities when announcing the various stretch goals, prioritizing quantity of content over quality of design.
As messy as the crowdfunding side of things became, what really let me down as a Mega Man fan and Mighty No. 9 backer was the sloppy gameplay and level design. I will happily point out that the game has a few decent levels, as well as some interesting ideas that pay homage to its predecessor while trying to set itself apart. The most striking difference from classic Mega Man is protagonist Beck's "assimilation" ability. By dashing, Beck can absorb weakened enemies, sometimes earning powerups, and he also uses this mechanic to make bosses good again. The old-school Mega Man himself, a peace-loving robot who sometimes questioned the merit of saving the world through violence, would love this concept of defeating without destroying, but the game's reliance on dashing can get frustrating. As Honest Game Trailers' video puts it, the level design ironically seems to punish dash-happy players with "falling platforms and pits, instant death spikes, and sadistic enemy placement." Were this a full review, I could go on for much longer about things like the tedious dialogue and hit-and-miss boss fights, some of which make you question whether Inafune ever understood how classic Mega Man works… but that might require another playthrough, and after writing this I just don't have the heart.
2016 has truly been a bizarre year, including for gaming. It's ironic that a fan game, one quickly shunned by Nintendo, so successfully scratched the itch Metroid fans have felt for years, while one of the names most closely associated with Mega Man failed so spectacularly to breathe new life into an old franchise's legacy. Having completed the game once, though, I wouldn't say Mighty No. 9 is the worst game I've ever played. Once I got the hang of the core gameplay and learned how to track the ideal boss order, some of the levels weren't half bad. Even so, considering the massive nostalgia that fueled Keiji Inafune's crowdfunding success and the various promises he and Comcept set out to fulfill, what would otherwise be just a so-so game has turned into a masterclass on how not handle a Kickstarter campaign, let alone make a single indie game.
As far as we know, Inafune is still planning a sequel to Mighty No. 9 despite these blunders, and as skeptical as I am, I truly hope he learns from his mistakes and makes a solid game.
But he would be wise to stay the hell away from Kickstarter.
With all that said, what's your pick for the year's most disappointing game? Let us know in the comments!