The rise in popularity for Kickstarter as a financing platform for video games (after the runaway successes of the Ouya and Double Fine's upcoming title Broken Age , and despite the...issues those two particular endeavors encountered) has allowed many games and concepts considered less-than-viable by mainstream publishers to come to glorious, crowdfunded life. From such wide-ranging titles as Amongst the Sleep, a horror title that puts you in the shoes of an infant alone at night, to last year's starship simulator FTL: Faster than Light, many independent creators are turning to Kickstarter to come up with funding and support for games that larger publishers wouldn't want to spend their money on. One of the more notable examples of this trend occurred in the beginning of September, when legendary Japanese game designer Keiji Inafune launched his instantly successful Kickstarter campaign for the classic platforming action game Mighty No. 9.
Inafune, as you may be aware, was a longtime employee of renowned Japanese game studio Capcom, creators of such long-running series as Street Fighter, Resident Evil, and, more to the point, Inafune's own Mega Man titles. In addition to the Mega Man/Mega Man X series, he has also had a hand in the PS2-centric horror/action trilogy Onimusha, the open-world zombie apocalypse/wardrobe enhancement simulator Dead Rising, and his first post-Capcom game, the over-the-top anime-styled console wars RPG Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. In the days up to his departure from Capcom, he had fruitlessly tried to get several Mega Man-related projects off the ground, all of which were canceled for what many feel to be dubious reasons. Accordingly, the first thing many noticed about Mighty No. 9 was its similarity to classic Mega Man games. You play as Beck, the ninth in a series of highly advanced robots (hence the title) who must battle the previous eight robots in this lineage who have all run amok due to...reasons, stealing special abilities from each of the robots in order to navigate colorful futuristic levels full of charming little kill-bots modeled after real-world devices. Sounds pretty familiar, right? That's...basically the point.
Despite Inafune's deep connection to the genesis of Mega Man and his later series (including Mega Man X and Mega Man Legends), Capcom retained ownership of everything Mega Man when he left the studio in 2010 to form a new company called Comcept. Everything about Mighty No. 9 seems designed to recall the glory days of vintage 2D platforming Mega Man games, from the eight boss robots to the adorable pseudo-Astro Boy visuals, even managing to sneak in a ton of Mega Man visual references in the introductory Kickstarter video. And yet, throughout everything, no direct mention of Mega Man or his adventures is ever made, and Inafune goes out of his way to stress that this isn't being done out of malice or spite. One still can't quite shake the idea that this is done specifically as a reaction to the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, a title slated for the 3DS that would promise to bring closure to a long-dormant run of Zelda-style adventure games (featuring a Mega Man descendant/replica in the distant future searching for treasure in a world ravaged by flooding – it's better and more coherent than it sounds, I promise). Mega Man Legends 3 would have included heavy fanbase involvement not entirely unlike a Kickstarter, with Inafune's team looking for suggestions as to character designs and plot points, and plans were made for a select number of fans to assist in beta testing the game in its early stages, playing rough versions of levels to look for bugs and provide feedback as to things like difficulty and length. Perhaps more so than any game cancellation in recent memory, when Capcom pulled the plug on Legends 3 (which many were quick to blame on Inafune's departure), the fan outcry was enormous and even Capcom employees formerly assigned to the project (including Inafune and programming director Yoshiyuki Fujikawa) expressed sympathy to the fans, and all mentioned a strong desire to continue working on the game. It's hard not to see this as Inafune extending an olive branch to Mega Man's ever suffering old-school fans and a way for him to say “I want more Mega Man games just as much as you do”.
And it is perhaps that combination of sad longing and boundless rage so familiar to Capcom fans that drove Mighty No. 9 to be one of the most successful Kickstarters in recent memory, if not ever. Beginning on August 31st and asking for the modest (well...by Kickstarter's standards) sum of $900,000, the internet at large rallied behind Inafune's production, sending it flying by its first several sets of stretch goals (which granted funding enough to add additional gameplay modes such as Boss Rush and New Game Plus) and landing at the total as of this writing of $2,192,056, some $8,000 shy of the goal allowing the game to be ported to current-generation systems (if it doesn't reach that goal, it will remain exclusive to Windows, Mac, and Linux). Constant updates by the development team (and their translators, helpfully enough) allows backers to vote for their favorite character designs and make suggestions for things like prize tiers and gameplay features, much like what Capcom should/might have done with Megaman Legends 3. The whole enterprise speaks to Kickstarter's ability for creative types to directly communicate with the people that they should be most excited to talk to and work with: the fans.
Or maybe I'm biased, as I did chip in for the $120 prize tier. I already wanted the t-shirt and they had me at “Nintendo Power-styled strategy guide”.