I'm sure Mega Man, the cult NES 2D action platformer, wasn't this hard back in the day. I remember actually enjoying Mega Man 2 and 3 in the early nineties. And actually being able to get past the first few screens. Some things change, and some things stay the same, as they say.
Mega Man 9, a brand new Mega Man game developed by Inti Creates and published as a downloadable title by Capcom over Xbox LIVE, PSN and WiiWare, is the hardest game I can ever remember playing. Perhaps my gaming skills have been massaged into oblivion by endless tutorial levels and accessible interfaces. Perhaps my hand-eye coordination is degrading due to old age. Whatever the reason, Mega Man 9 pwns me. It pwns me good and proper.
For the first hour or so of play, I couldn't get past the first two or three screens on any of the nine available stages. I would tear my hair out trying. Not only do you feel as if Mega Man 9 actually wants you to die, a lot, but you also get the impression that it jumps for delirious joy when it sends you falling to your doom. Damnable white bullets, frustrating floaty enemies, elephants that shoot giant balls across the screen from their snouts then suck them, and you, back in - I suffered from it all. I endured painful death after painful death from them all.
Normally I'd simply give up, put the unreasonable difficulty down to poor game design or something like that and give it a 4/10. But Mega Man 9 is supposed to be like this. In fact, it's great because of it.
That's because it's been designed to be one thing and one thing only - a treat for masochistic Mega Man fans. The kind of people who can speed run through Mega Man 2. The kind of people who can hack into the Matrix with their mind and instantly know how many pixels they have to spare. The kind of people who love 8-bit gaming so much that they've never really let it go. The kind of people who would happily play Mega Man games until their eyes burst from sprite flicker.
Sprite flicker is, in fact, the proof of the pudding. In the game's options menu you can turn what's called Legacy Mode off. By default the sprite flicker is on. That's right. Capcom has deliberately left sprite flicker in the game, as if to reinforce its 8-bit-ness.
The game has no widescreen support either, instead displaying in classic 4:3. The music is a mix of 8-bit beeps, whoops and brrrs that's guaranteed to rekindle memories of playground football and that first kiss behind the P.E. shed. And the graphics... well the graphics are on a par with Mega Man 2. A 20-year-old game.