Bluer, Better, Faster, Stronger
Mega Man, Mega Man, Mega Man… You sure have been through a lot. For 30 years now, you’ve been fighting for the forces of good. You’ve traveled through oceans, and deserts, and weird factories that look like they were growing illegal substances all without hesitation, and have never failed to come out on top while going head-to-head with Doctor Wily and his gaggle of Robot Masters. But do you know what your biggest adversary is? The threat of the Mega Man franchise being scrapped forever.
The Blue Bomber’s multiple transitions into and out of retirement have been quite the emotional roller coaster for both myself and other Mega Man fans out there. A lot of people thought that you were dead, Mega Man. So dead that a handful of individuals even saw fit to invent a less-than-Mighty successor. Things were looking dark for you for a while there, buddy. But it appears as though those dark days are finally behind us (if only temporarily) because Capcom has finally graced us with a new Mega Man game in the form of Mega Man 11 – and it’s almost everything that I could have asked for.
Gears for Fears
I feel like I don’t even need to explain the plot of Mega Man 11 at this point, as it’s literally the same as every other mainstream Mega Man plot out there. Wily decides he wants to take over the world, steals and reprograms eight robots, and goads Mega Man into coming after him. I won’t pretend that it’s anything new, because it isn’t (which is actually fine with me in this case). But that doesn’t mean that that the entirety of the story is your typical cookie-cutter Mega Man affair. Unlike with the previous Mega Man games, Mega Man 11 manages to sweeten the narrative pot a little bit – and that’s all thanks to its (literal) plot device, Doctor Wily’s Double Gear System.
While not it doesn’t exactly change the flow of the story, Mega Man 11’s inclusion of the Double Gear System does something pretty neat (aside from powering up the Blue Bomber, that is) – it gives players new insight into the relationship behind Doctors Light and Wily. We all know by now that Light and Wily used to be colleagues, and that, after a falling out, Wily left in order to pursue a life of evil. Mega Man 11, however, takes things one step further by showing that it was actually an argument over the Double Gear System (which pushed robots to their limits in order to grant incredible speed and strength) which ultimately led to the split between darkness and Light (see what I did there?). And, while some might not care about this narrative icing on the cake, I personally felt like the little bit of extra depth provided to players provided a more concrete reason for why Wily was doing what he was.
The Last Time He Saw Wily
Mega Man 11 may appear be a huge departure from its previous franchise revivals – primarily due to its jump from 8-bit to 2.5D – but I’ll warn you right now not to let looks deceive you. Regardless of what this game looks like, Mega Man 11 most definitely plays like a classic Mega Man game – something which it, for better or worse (depending upon how much you like difficult games), gleefully reminds you of as much as humanly possible.
Overall, the game does very well with bringing old-school Mega Man action into the modern era. So well, in fact, that there’s really not a whole lot that I can say that hasn’t already said about previous entries in the series. Players are once again challenged with going toe-to-toe with eight Robot Masters (all of whom sport some delightful designs and motifs, might I add) and, once those are taken care of, hunting down the nefarious Doctor Wily for the umpteenth time. The formula is simple and straightforward, but it’s also one that’s always worked for Mega Man games – including this one.
Of course, as I’m sure you all know at this point, “simple and straightforward” doesn’t mean “easy”. The Blue Bomber still may (mostly) be relegated to the same basic “jump n’ shoot (and slide)” platforming mechanics that he’s always been, but the stages certainly aren’t. Whether it’s the moving lasers (they aren’t insta-kill, thank goodness) in Fuse Man’s stage, the slippery platforming that you need to get through in order to face Tundra Man, or Acid Man’s stage’s nightmare-inducing underwater (under-chemical?) acrobatics, this game has just as much trial-and-error as any other in the franchise.
For most people, Mega Man 11’s standard difficulty is a good thing. However, Capcom seems to have realized that Mega Man isn’t perhaps the most welcoming series for newcomers, and have done their best to make Mega Man 11 just a little more bearable for Blue Bomber first-timers. Not only does the game come with an adjustable difficulty setting, allowing players to make the game easier (or harder!) if they so choose, but players are also able to exchange bolts that they collect throughout each level at Doctor Light’s Lab for a nice array of goodies (a la Mega Man 7) – ranging anywhere from standard pickups like 1-Ups and E-Tanks, to equippable items that will reduce knockback, increase shot size, and more – which can make Mega’s latest adventure a lot more bearable to those who might be struggling with the game.
For all of the classically inspired gameplay that’s successfully been crammed into Mega Man 11, there is one major caveat which helps it to stand out from all of its predecessors; the inclusion of the Double Gear System. Exclusive Mega Man 11, the DGS is a mechanic which allows them to slow down (via the Speed Gear) or overcharge their Mega Buster (via the Power Gear) for a very limited time. Now, I already can see some of you rolling your eyes at this. You might think that this is nothing more than an attempt to make the game easier. I won’t lie to you – it absolutely is. However, before you vow to never buy this game because of this extra bit of hand-holding, I’d like you to first hear me out on a few things.
The Double Gear System may help players get out of a tight spot, but it is by no means capable of carrying you through the game. Mega Man can only use either Gear (they both use the same gauge) for a few seconds before overheating, thus rendering him incapable of using the DGS for a short while. While this may be frustrating to some players out there, I personally found it to be encouraging. By including a “safety net”, if you will, but making sure that players can’t break the game with it, Capcom is helping to bridge the skill gap between newbies and vets. Players – regardless of skill level – are forced to use the DGS wisely, lest they find themselves in an even worse situation than before. What this ultimately results in is a new mechanic that is legitimately helpful to those needing help, but also one that is unobtrusive for those who do just fine on their own – and that’s A-OK in my book.
If that still isn’t enough to sway you, I’ll let you on another little secret – bosses can use them, too. That’s right, every single boss in the game is capable of using either a Power or Speed Gear to give them an edge in battle – something which they all will do as often as this can. While this could be seen as a bit of a deviation from standard Mega Man boss battles, especially when it comes to the Robot Masters, I think that a change like this helped to breathe new life into the series. Sure, the DGS, while active, does make otherwise classic Mega Man boss battles more akin to something along the Mega Man X, but it also made things less predictable and more fun.
Just as Capcom added in new mechanics and modes to help out newbies, they also appeared to be aware that Mega Man vets would be coming into Mega Man 11 looking for a challenge – and that’s exactly why they’ve once again thrown in a challenge mode. Or rather, challenge modes. Ranging from the mundane – such as Time and Score Attack – to the insane – such as Jump Saver, which challenges players to beat a level with as few jumps as possible, Mega Man 11’s uncanny ability to tack on difficult stipulations onto its already difficult levels truly makes its challenge mode… well, challenging. And, while these brutal challenges are likely a huge plus for all of you Mega Masochists out there, they definitely aren’t for those even remotely lacking in skill – something which may get in the way of certain completions (seriously, they’re really hard).
Fortunately, this collection of extras doesn’t entirely consist of beefed-up versions of Mega Man 11’s various stages. Also present within the lineup of challenges is the “Toybox”, a special mode that lets players blow off some steam (or maybe just add to their frustration if they’re going for the gold) with a number of non-standard challenges, including Boyorn Bounce (which is basically keepy-uppy), One Hit Wonders (which challenges players to memorize enemy weaknesses) and even a complete collection of boss battles. As part of the collective challenge mode, these challenges aren’t entirely difficulty-free. However, they are typically a lot less stressful than the rest of the challenges and end up being a fun, and in some cases pleasantly unorthodox, use of the Mega Man 11 mechanics. Oh, and on the opposite end of the difficulty scale, there’s also Dr. Light’s Trial – but I’d only recommend playing that if you’re okay with hating yourself (and the game) the entire time you’re playing it.
I Constantly Thank Capcom for Mega Man
Capcom didn’t meet my expectations with this game – they far exceeded them. Featuring a delightful combination of fresh new graphics, wonderfully classic gameplay, and a new mechanic that manages to be both fun and helpful while also remaining unobtrusive, Mega Man 11 is an absolute must-have for franchise fans (and everyone else, too). Eight years may have been a heck of a hiatus, but Mega Man 11 proves that good things come to those who wait. Long live the Blue Bomber!
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Capcom ; Developer: Capcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 2, 2018 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Mega Man 11 purchased by the reviewer.