One of Kickstarter’s most hotly anticipated projects, Mighty No. 9, finally saw the light of day on June 21 in America and Japan, and critical response has deemed the game anything but ‘mighty.’
According to critics, Mighty No. 9 has landed with a thud. Debuting with a 56 on Metacritic for the Xbox One version (the highest score across all platforms), 2016’s biggest indie title is derided for tripping over its many ambitions. For EGM’s Ray Carsillo, Mighty has a solid core inspired by old school design sensibilities, but stated, “the further the game deviates from that core … the worse it becomes.” Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner calls it a “sparkless facsimile” (ouch), and reviews across the PS4 and PC versions are equally deflated. Even user scores are middling, with comments expressing both disappointment and glee. Some welcome the game’s crippling difficulty and unevenness, it seems, while others expected something else.
Mighty No. 9‘s divisive response is perhaps the only expectable outcome for such a troubled project. First unveiled in August 2013, the sidescrolling platformer–helmed by ex-Mega Man character designer Keiji Inafune–blew past its crowdfunding stretch goals in just under two months. After nearly 25 years with Capcom, where he created and produced latter-day franchises such as Lost Planet and Dead Rising, Inafune resigned in 2010 to found Comcept. Disappointed with the dormancy of the Mega Man series, the early success of his company’s first intellectual property reassured Inafune that fans wanted more of the Blue Bomber.
On Kickstarter, Inafune and Comcept promised gameplay that harkened back to the NES and SNES Mega Man installments with familiar themes and pacing, even going so far as to hire original Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae. English voice acting was included along with character-based DLC, and the list of release platforms kept growing and growing (and growing). It seemed too good to be true.
If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
While Mighty No. 9 was blessed with overwhelming support, surpassing $4 million in fan contributions, three years of delays and a huge influx of money began to bloat the project. In-game models were a far cry from the lush concept art, the voice acting was amateurish, and the marketing failed to sell the game to, well, anyone. In perhaps the most bittersweet concession, the graphics became more and more muddied to accommodate the game’s massive list of launch platforms–eleven, in fact, including PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita, Xbox 360 and One, Wii U, 3DS, and the Nvidia Shield for some reason. A passion project birthed as a love letter to a lost era soon became a towering mess threatening to topple.
Keiji Inafune is well aware of the fragile house he’s built. In a stream ostensibly celebrating Mighty No. 9‘s release, the designer said, “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.” He admitted that a multi-platform release was ultimately a bad idea: “In my many years at Capcom … Capcom was known for their multi-platform strategy. But never did they ever do 10 SKUs all at the same time, 10 different versions all for one title.” Inafune’s translator and fellow ex-Capcom employee Ben Judd added,
Traditionally, this is true—I know, we worked with a lot of different porting houses—usually you have the base game and work on the port after the game was done. In this case, it was do the base game and do the port all at the same time. It ended up being a huge amount of work, more than they actually estimated. Definitely, when they looked at the project, they were wrong about a lot of things. They underestimated how much time, work was going to be necessary. All of those things create a huge amount of pressure.
Ultimately, Inafune and Judd said, it is the positive comments from fans that help them survive the rough post-release anxiety. Perhaps Mighty No. 9‘s cult appeal will redeem it over time.
Lucrative Kickstarter ≠ Success
Kickstarter has become something of a gamble in the games industry. Absolute blockbusters have been funded, producing the likes of Yacht Club Games’s modern classic Shovel Knight and this year’s celebrated and super-hard Hyper Light Drifter from Heart Machine. But the flops of high profile Kickstarter games like Mighty No. 9 and Rock Band 4 may inject some skepticism into campaigns for upcoming projects like Shenmue III, Psychonauts 2, and Yooka-Laylee–games that all tout a stable of celebrated designers. When fans pour their own money into the development of a project, they have a much different relationship with it than they would with a retail game. Crowdfunders need to ask themselves–“How much am I willing to gamble?”