|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch|
|Release: October 2, 2018|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence|
by Benjamin Maltbie
I am the sort of Mega Man fan who would rather play any game from the Mega Man X series than the classic series, assuming that the Mega Man X game in question isn’t Mega Man X7. To be clear, I do enjoy most of the original series, but Mega Man X better jives with my needs as a gamer. Mega Man 11 is the exception to this rule. This game climbs well into the Mega Man X tier of my Blue Bomber hierarchy, and I suspect that will be the case for other gamers who have hungrily consumed most of what this franchise has to offer.
The immediate impression given by Mega Man 11 is that it has an aesthetic polish that the other entries in the series lack. The characters are brightly colored 3D models that pop off the background. The art direction leans into a cartoonish approach that suits the characters and calls to mind Mega Man Legends. The angsty edge that was present in the X series is nowhere to be seen, but, like those games, there is the inclusion of voice acting and a slightly more substantial story.
That said, theMega Man 11 story is still far from essential to the experience. Despite a lack of narrative moments, fit has an undeniable presence and the game does a good job regarding characterization and world building. In the opening moments, the series’ antagonist, Dr. Wily, is seen arguing with a board of scientists. Among those scientists is Dr. Light, the creator of Mega Man. They conclude that Dr. Wily’s research is too dangerous and should not be permitted. Years later Dr. Wily, well into his career as a villain, revives the project discussed in the introduction and creates special gears that enhance robots.
We then see the good guys patching up a goofy and jovial robot called Block Man. It is particularly impressive that the game manages to make this guy so likable in just a few moments. As a result, there is an element of emotional impact when Dr. Wily corrupts Block Man, turning him into an evil Robot Master. With less footwork, Mega Man 11 better establishes the personality of a level boss than the other games in the series.
There’s a clear sense that the story’s primary function is to introduce the new mechanics into the Mega Man canon. To stand a chance against the enhanced Robot Masters, Dr. Light decides to install his own version of Dr. Wily’s research into Mega Man. These are called gears, and it is explained that they are taxing on the user. Consequently, there is a meter associated with their use. Use them too long and they’ll overheat, forcing the player to wait while the meter cools down. This makes gear management a core component of the gameplay and part of what establishes Mega Man 11 as a unique entity within the franchise.
The classic series is defined by its basic controls and the way they integrate with the complex stages. You run, jump, shoot, and, depending on the entry, slide as you figure out how to manage the gauntlet of threats and mechanical riddles. The Mega Man X games carve out their identity through the implementation of armor upgrades, hidden secrets, and a range of mobility options that increase the speed of the gameplay. Mega Man 11 exists somewhere between these two approaches, striking a perfect balance without compromising the joys of either.
The gears that I am prattling on about come in two flavors–speed and power. The power gear either increases the power of Mega Man’s basic buster attacks or alters the function of the special attacks you unlock from clearing levels. The speed gear, on the other hand, slows down the gameplay, although, narratively, I suspect it is increasing Mega Man’s movement speed. Regardless of whatever it does to Mega Man, its practical effect for the player makes it far more useful and infinitely more dope than the power gear.
The speed gear just feels badass. There are platforming sections that appear impossible at first, but when you slow them down and process them, you see how to manage a series of frantic jumps. You understand the timing and look cool getting past whatever obstacle might be vexing you. Then, once you get through it once or twice, you can likely navigate without the speed gear, which feels even better. It might take a little bit to get into the habit, but I’d recommend using the gears liberally; the meters recharge and don’t make you any less hardcore of a Mega Man player for using them.
Mega Man 11 also comes with some improvements to its traditional actions. I especially welcomed the ability to remap actions to some of the unused buttons on the controller. I assigned slide to the left trigger and the rapid, burst shot command to the right, so I could utilize them without moving my thumb from the crucial face buttons. It’s a simple change, but it makes the frenzied gameplay feel fair and mitigates the frustration of input errors. Special weapons can also be assigned to the right analog stick so that players can efficiently equip them without pausing the game or rotating through options.
This time, special weapons totally change Mega Man’s appearance with heckin’ righteous looking armor. In the past, different boss upgrades were denoted by a pallet swap and, now that I’ve seen it, it is almost surprising that this method of representing the gear swap wasn’t available until now. Combined with the power gear upgrade and their individual tutorial options that demonstrate their utility, this iteration of special weapons is Mega Man at its finest.
Furthermore, Rush fans will be glad to know that Mega Man’s trusty robo-canine sidekick is back and functions in his usual role as a springboard for Mega Man to access hard-to-reach platforms. It is rarely obvious or simple to use Rush correctly and there are definite opportunities for clever players to employ Rush in novel ways.
Like Rush, special weapons have a correct way to use them. Series’ veterans know that each one gives an advantage over a specific Robot Master, and these games usually have an optimal order to play through the levels. Mega Man 11 is no different. For the first time, I did not have access to a guide which, honestly, is a refreshing way to play. By the time you read this review, you will probably have a guide as an option. Both approaches are worthwhile and, if pressed, I couldn’t even decide which way I prefer. These games are about mastery and learning their intricacies is just part of the design.
As such, clearing a stage on the first attempt will be rare for most players. Levels are a thing to solve and that is accomplished through experience. In all these games, progress was gradual as players acquired a practiced and refined approach that was specific to each stage.
Mega Man 11 does a wonderful job of varying its challenges by feeding the players knowledge, then asking them to build on that foundation as the stage progresses. These stages are thematic, designed to reflect their respective bosses’ personalities. While this was present in older titles, Mega Man 11 showcases just how effective this technique can be. You get a real sense of who the Robot Master is, and every stage is unlike the next. Blast Man, for example, could have had a level centered around fire, but his level is based on explosives instead. It’s a bombastic, action movie-esque environment, and these mechanics are piled on top of visuals that reveal who Blast Man either is or was. The stage opens with a sign that reads “Blast Man Adventure.” Enemies in this stage feel more alive than any of the other stages, as they attack the play with a deadly playfulness. Blast Man’s stage is Blast Man through and through.
Meanwhile, Bounce Man’s stage is an aerial affair, where the player must manage the chaotic clumsiness that might be associated with something like doing sprints in a bounce house. Giant, springy platforms fling Mega Man higher than wherever he was when he jumped on them. Rubber spheres send Mega Man flying about. Obstacles shaped like hands are set to a timer that counts down when shot and will send the character sailing through the air with a mighty slap. If you’re also a Sonic the Hedgehog fan, this stage might evoke memories of those game’s carnival levels, but it certainly won’t play similarly to any of Mega Man 11’s other stages.
In terms of difficulty, Mega Man 11 can be punishing. It can also be easy, because this game has different difficulty settings. At no point in the standard difficulty are you likely to run up against a wall, though. There’s the exact right amount of challenge and the path to overcoming these challenges is satisfying. Not only is this a game of mastery, wherein each failure improves your next attempt, but it is a game of progression.
Scattered throughout the levels are bolts and gears that function as a currency. You get to keep these, win or lose, so after failing out of a level, you can hit the shop and gear up for another attempt. For starters, there are health packs, items that halve damage, and items that save Mega Man from fatal pits. Beyond that, though, there are permanent upgrades. You can make the charge shot larger and you can make it charge automatically. The item that allows Mega Man to move at regular speed while the speed gear is activated or the one that decreases gear cooldown might be a wise first purchase. Once you have them, you can pair them with your newly acquired stage familiarity and surprise yourself as you blow past formerly formidable foes.
It’s really your only option, aside from starting a new save file or rage quitting, since you can’t change the Mega Man 11’s difficulty setting once you start. Rage quitting is an understandable option though, because there is a definite scarcity of checkpoints. You will also find that the levels vary greatly in complexity, so you might give another stage a shot in order to collect currency. Block Man and Fuse Man are good starting places.
I wish that the music in Mega Man 11 was as varied as the stages. The songs all sound upbeat, synth-y and monotonous. At their worst, they are extremely grating. Like the stages, the tunes will establish a theme, build on it musically, and eventually run the melody into the ground. There are exceptions, such as Bounce Man’s stage’s bubbly, bouncy song that conjures that old school gaming vibe that things like the menu songs try too hard to recreate. The lively voice acting balances out these sonic atrocities by avoiding the cringy habits of the PS1 and PS2 eras.
For gamers who are looking for more than just the main game, there are ample challenges available. These challenge levels are tied to leaderboards as well, so unless you’re number one, there will always be some clear indicaton of progress. The challenges are unlocked by playing the main game, and each of them comes with a different quirk. One, called jump saver, will task you with jumping as little as possible, while another rates you based on how many times you shoot your weapon. There is also a more traditional Time Attack option.
Mega Man 11 is the convergence point for Mega Man and Mega Man X. This is important, because fans have been longing for new games for a while now. It might also satisfy the curiosity of non-fans who want to see what the legendary franchise is all about. But for fans of platformers in general, with no specific predilection for Mega Man, the game might be lacking. It’s a very competitive genre that has been refined over decades, and Mega Man is a different breed of platformer than other accomplished entries in the genre. If you like Mega Man, buy this game. Mega Man 11 is mechanically impressive, visually appealing, and gives the series the boost it needs to stand out from modern challengers. If Mega Man is a stranger to you, but you like platformers, just know that you’re going to be in uncharted territory. Returning fan or not, there is a very real possibility that you just might fall in love with this game.