In Defense of Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9 was among the most detested video games of 2016, deservingly or not. It began as an earnest attempt at a Mega Man revival from producer Keiji Inafune, who had guided the series for much of his time at Capcom.

Delays ensued, of course, and holes appeared with them. It was soon apparent that the final Mighty No. 9 wouldn’t look nearly as sharp as the Kickstarter mock-ups, and Inafune constantly got ahead of himself. He pitched a Mighty No. 9 animated series as well as two separate Kickstarters for Red Ash, a resuscitation of the Mega Man Legends sub-series. All of this came before Mighty No. 9 even arrived.

When Mighty No. 9 finally appeared, many pointed and laughed at a mediocre side-scroller. Technical hiccups abounded, trailers were terrible, the cutscenes looked amateurish, and the level design mostly rated somewhere between the humdrum Mega Man 6 and Mega Man X5. It's not the worst thing ever inflicted on Mega Man by a long shot, and it can be fun in that standard-issue Mega Man way. Yet it's a crippling disappointment for anyone who threw decent money at the Kickstarter and hoped for Mega Man's second coming.

There is, however, one part of Mighty No. 9 that I really like: the way it treats the bosses.

The Mystery Game Exposed, Sorta

Well, it’s time to reveal what’s inside that curious, label-free Sega Genesis game I picked up at the flea market. About a dozen people put in their guesses across this site and various forums, suggesting everything from classics like M.U.S.H.A. and Castlevania Bloodlines to the nightmare of Revolution X.

The bad news: the game would not play. No amount of cleaning seemed to help it, and so it robbed me of the chance to uncover the mystery by plugging it into my Genesis, showing it on my TV, and getting mocked for the aspect ratio and improper resolution.

Fortunately, there are other ways of identifying a game. I’ll just open up the cartridge and check the MPR code.

There we go. And the mystery game is…

Flea Market Watch: The Mystery Game

If there’s one thing I miss about my hometown of Dayton, it’s the flea markets. At least three decent ones lie within pleasant driving distance of the city, and I always enjoyed checking them out on the weekends. But then I moved to a stretch of New York where finding a flea market requires a daunting trip to New Jersey, Long Island, or the upstate wilderness. Poor me.

Last weekend sent me up to the Dutchess Marketplace in Fishkill, and it was worth the hour-long drive. It’s hardly the biggest flea market I’ve seen, but it has a decent outdoor rummage-sale area and a spread of fancier indoor booths. Of course, flea-market parlance defines “fancier” as “merchandise actually in bins instead of just strewn across the cold concrete” but both can lead to good deals.

I’m not as adept of a bargain hunter as, say, Dinosaur Dracula and The Sexy Armpit are on their flea market forays, but I think I did well for myself. I bought only video games this time, and the current state of game collecting is so overinflated that it’s a bargain to walk away with anything notable for under ten dollars. And I spent nine.

Cost: $5

I can’t say this was a huge steal, as five bucks hovers not far below the eBay standard. It is, however, one of the best racing games on the Nintendo 64. It’s also a solid substitute for Mario Kart 64, which I hope to one day nab below the ridiculous going rate. There are millions of Mario Kart 64s around, after all.

So Beetle Adventure Racing is a good buy with its colorful tracks and four-player mode. It’d been on my mind ever since someone uncovered the lost April 1999 issue of GameFan magazine. This isn’t the first generation of GameFan (1992-1997), mind you. It’s from the second generation of GameFan (1998-2000), which changed its tone and only carried over a few of the staff. What did GameFan think of Beetle Adventure Racing? Most of the reviewers liked it, but…

Man, I sure hated the second generation of GameFan. Moving on...

Trouble Shooter Travails and Game Collecting

Buying old video games is ridiculous in this day and age. It wasn’t so long ago that cheap, unwanted cartridges littered garage sales, thrift shops, and any retro-game store brave enough to exist. Yet video games fell into the deep and inescapable swamp of being collectible, and anything less common than a Sega Genesis sports title spiked in price. Ten years back, NES games like Metal Storm and Kick Master might have sat in flea markets bin with a “$5 EACH OR THREE FOR $12” sign protruding from rows of obsolete plastic. Today they’re considered bargains if they stay under a hundred bucks for just the bare cartridge. And if you want the box and instructions, I have some bad news for you.

I considered myself lucky, however. I collected old games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Goodwill sold NES cartridges for two bucks apiece and people would throw 32X systems in the garbage when Electronics Boutique refused to take them in trade. I sold most of my library when prices reached absurd levels, and I told myself that I’d done well and stayed sensible. I’d never paid more than $100 for a game, provided I didn't adjust old RPGs for inflation. More importantly, I got everything I wanted before the collecting scene turned psychotic.

Well, almost everything.

Trouble Shooter, aka Battle Mania, is one of my favorite series, if two games constitute a series. I’ve written about their appeal several times before, how their mix of solid side-view shooting and stylish comedy captures everything I like about silly ’80s anime. I bought the original Trouble Shooter when it was cheap, but I never could bring myself to pick up its Japan-only sequel, Battle Mania Daiginjou.

I wanted Daiginjou ever since a 1993 issue of EGM introduced it as Trouble Shooter 2 in a sexist writeup, but it was too expensive. By the time I started collecting games, Daiginjou went for over $150 on eBay, and I refused to spend that much on a single Genesis title (not even if I could call it a Mega Drive title, since it was from Japan). Of course, that was fifteen years ago, and like every other game more popular than Cyberball, it more than tripled in price. Buying Battle Mania Daiginjou is even dumber today than it was back in 2003.

So I bought it.

Ghost in the Live-Action Shell

I was prepared. The live-action Ghost in the Shell movie had middling reviews, irksome casting, and many other signs of mediocrity. I went to see it anyway.

Why? I’m highly susceptible to Ghost in the Shells. Mamoru Oshii’s movies and Masamune Shirow’s manga loomed large over my time as a teenage anime nerd, and only a small speck of my fondness for them stems from nostalgia. That speck would be the afternoon back in 1996 when I checked all over town for the original Ghost in the Shell film and eventually found a shelf full of it at Media Play, which had apparently looted every other video store. I miss Media Play.

On its own merits, the original Ghost in the Shell became a film I return to over and over like a kid rewatching Disney movies. It’s on my list of old reliables, right there with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Watership Down, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dune, and, uh, Jason X. I’ll explain that last one someday.

So I was unafraid of wasting money and two hours on a potentially bad movie. It wouldn’t change the Ghost in the Shells that I liked, and it probably wouldn’t be the nadir of the whole series.

And I can say this much: the 2017 live-action film isn’t the most aggressively bad part of Ghost in the Shell history. Yet it could be the blandest. That might be worse.