As a lifelong fan of the Blue Bomber, I was floored when Capcom announced a new entry in the original Mega Man series was in development. Considering Mega Man 10 released eight years ago, most fans, like myself, believed a new entry would be a reboot or kick off another series under the Mega Man umbrella. What we have with Mega Man 11, though, is another romp with our favorite robot man (boy) as he faces off against eight Robot Masters to reach Dr. Wily. Sounds familiar, right?
Of course, fans of the franchise won’t be surprised that Capcom went the nostalgic route. The original series has always featured lighthearted storylines that take a backseat to consistently challenging platforming, making it easy to keep a series going without having to over-explain Dr. Wily’s presence or revolutionize gameplay. For the better, Mega Man 11 isn’t bogged down with metacommentary on its late arrival to the modern gaming world. Instead, it leans into what fans have loved from past titles and adds in new elements that are significant enough to make it feel like a step forward in the series.
Among these updates, the award for most radical addition has to go to the Double Gear System. Activating these time-limited abilities, the Speed Gear and Power Gear, bring an interesting element to Mega Man’s formula. The former allows the player to slow down time, alleviating the pressure of several side-scrolling chase sequences—but only if the player understands when to trigger the effect. Using the ability too often makes Mega Man short circuit and move sluggishly, often causing a death that will force you to reexamine your strategy. The Power Gear, which lets players make their Mega Buster (and subweapons) extremely powerful, has a similar restriction, keeping you from firing off too many overly powered shots at enemies. Restrictions aren’t always a sign of a good time, but in this case, it’s what makes the entire system work. It definitely takes some time getting used to both gears, but once you do, the system feels like less of an exploit and more of a supportive tool.
The other new addition to the traditional Mega Man gameplay is the subweapon roll menu. Previously, Mega Man’s special attacks could only be chosen from the pause menu or rotating through them one by one with the trigger buttons. Mega Man 11 drops this tediousness and lets you access the weapons with the right analog stick, pointing in one of eight directions to quickly equip the desired attack. For casual players, it probably won’t grab their attention, but for those that want to experiment with the boss weapons to find the best way to get through an area, it’s a godsend.
You’ll want to master those subweapons, too. These are by far some of the best attacks in the Mega Man series because of how helpful they can be in and out of boss fights. Many of them provide vertical and far-reaching areas of effect, such as Block Man’s Block Dropper and Torch Man’s Blazing Torch, while others make the platforming challenges much more manageable. I often equipped Acid Man’s Acid Barrier to cloak myself in a deadly shield that deflected projectiles or used Impact Man’s Pile Driver to launch over large chasms. Attacks can even affect some obstacles, such as the electrical wires in Fuse Man’s level. Not since Mega Man 8 have the abilities felt this useful, giving players a reason to master more than the standard Mega Buster.
This also explains why earning them is so difficult this time around. The game boasts four difficulty levels and even on the lowest setting—Newcomer—the Robot Masters are no joke. Each boss has a wide array of maneuvers that you have to study to dodge, including a revenge attack where they use their own Double Gear System against you. As with the previous games, the bosses do have weaknesses, but they still require you to plan when and how to use those weaknesses against them. Tundra Man is the best example of a Robot Master that won’t be easily brought down even when using his weakness, Scramble Thunder. The entire battle takes place on ice, making Mega Man slippery and hard to control, whereas the boss skates, delivering damage and easily avoiding your attacks. If you spam Scramble Thunder, he’ll dodge or use Tundra Storm to block it. It’s only in a brief window where he’s gloating about his skills that you can hit him accurately. The other seven Robot Masters are no different, making it near impossible to take them down without crafting a strategy for them all.
Oddly enough, what ended up surprising me the most about Mega Man 11 was its Challenge Modes. Capcom revealed early on that the game would include extra challenges outside of the main story, such as Time Attack, but I didn’t think much of them. However, to my surprise, I ended up having a blast trying them all out. There are a whopping nine Challenge Modes, all of which offer a specific trial to test a player’s understanding of the gameplay. Jump Saver, for example, tasks you with completing a level with a limited number of jumps, while Buster Breakdown asks you to reach a Robot Master using as few attacks as possible. They force you to be crafty in your decision making and help you become more proficient overall to take on the time trials. My personal favorite was Balloon Rush, as it was all about testing my platforming skills. I love jumping in Mega Man and to have a challenge that asks me to show how well I can do it was a real treat.
Perhaps the only letdown of Mega Man 11 is the music. The series has featured amazing tracks that I can hum in my head all day, from Mega Man II‘s “Dr. Wily’s Castle” to “Bass and Treble’s Theme” in Mega Man 7 to the entire criminally underrated soundtrack for Mega Man 8. This time around, the OST isn’t bad as much as it’s forgettable. The different stage themes don’t capture their settings well enough to set the mood and get you amped for battle. For comparison, I can only recall the tune of Tundra Man’s stage theme as I write this, but I can remember most of Mega Man VI‘s OST even though it’s been over a year since I’ve heard it. While that might not matter to some fans, there are still many that come to expect a killer soundtrack from Mega Man titles, and sadly, Mega Man 11 doesn’t have one.
In the end, though, this downside doesn’t take away from the overall strengths of the Blue Bomber’s latest adventure. The new additions, like the Double Gear System, subweapon Rolodex, and Challenge Modes, improve upon the series’ core mechanics, but more importantly, they don’t make the gameplay any less of a challenge. All of the original series’ games are known for throwing players into a difficult but fair journey that will test their platforming skills, and Mega Man 11 carries that torch forward, upgrades included.
Despite not deviating too far from its series’ 30-year long formula, Mega Man 11 is a reminder that Capcom’s Blue Bomber still has more life in him. The new Double Gear System and subweapon Rolodex provide enough of a modern upgrade to make the game stand out from the pack, while the tight controls and familiar story make it feel wholly Mega Man. A misstep in the sound design keeps it from perfection, but it’s only a small blemish on an otherwise fantastic entry in the series.
E10+ – Everyone 10+
|Mega Man 11 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|