To preface, I personally am historically garbage at most Mega Man titles. Beating Air Man’s stage in Mega Man 2 was a crowning achievement of my formative years, but I have never felled Wily’s Castle. Capcom has been on a hot streak with the blue bomber, and, perhaps emboldened by the success of their various ports and retro throwbacks, are taking things in a slightly different direction. Mega Man 11 sports the same classic gameplay of the originals with a new coat of polish that seems to directly mock the recent catastrophe that was Mighty No. 9.
When I played Mega Man 11’s demo just before starting my review, I fought the urge to just give up. Simple obstacles rendered me frozen, enemies seemed insurmountable, and the boss, attacks so telegraphed they can be seen from space, pummeled me into dirt. Too prideful to change the difficulty from Normal to *shudders* Casual, I bashed my head against the stage again and again.
An hour later, as Block Man’s belabored screams echoed into the the void, I nearly jumped for joy. But this ordeal didn’t need to go this way; I just didn’t understand the language of Mega Man 11.
Aside from gameplay which feels identical to titles of yore, Mega Man 11 sports the new “Double Gear” system, allowing players to slow down time or overclock their weapons to absurd levels for a short period of time. Using the slow-mo function makes tricky platforming sections, along with most battles, far more manageable. As soon as I learned when to click on Double Gear, I began keeping up with the game’s difficulty much more easily. This isn’t to say this feature is required for beating the game – it’s certainly possible for those skilled enough to abstain, but some challenges are made far more enjoyable when strategically going into overdrive.
The star of the show here, I would argue, isn’t the Double Gear system. It’s nice, sure, but slowing time isn’t nearly as awesome as dropping cement bricks from the sky to defeat enemies faster than you can say “hard hat area.” Each new weapon gives Mega Man a brand new appearance – a first for the series. This makes them feel more like showstoppers, and combined with Power Gear they can clear entire screens in (literal) nanoseconds. Deciding when to go all-out with the new abilities can be tricky, but it’s well worth the payoff.
In fact, boss weapons altogether feel more necessary (and easy to use) than ever here. Alongside two quick-summon buttons for Mega’s handy companion Rush, there’s a quick select wheel for weapons mapped to the right stick. No more going to the menu or clunkily cycling through weapons to get what you need – it’s as easy as a flick of the thumb. As soon as I learned when to use each weapon in the many well-designed rooms where they made the most sense, I felt like a genius – and a little dirty. Some rooms are made so trivial through clever use of a boss weapon it feels like cheating, but this is testament to the level of creative strategy that Mega Man 11 allows.
Once I got into the swing of things, my own gears remained un-ground for the better part of the game. Stages are as creative mechanically as they are thematically, each twisting its theme into interesting challenges. Some sections, like in Impact Man’s stage, require pin-point dodging to avoid being knocked from moving platforms during a room. That, or you can use Acid Man’s shield to negate all incoming projectiles. In Blast Man’s stage, enemy snipers shoot fireballs at Mega from great heights, requiring careful platforming to reach them quickly. That, or you can shoot Torch Man’s fireballs right back at them from below. I’m sure you get the idea.
The well-designed challenges are married with some beautiful art and sprites. Initially, I was a bit put off by the overly-bright cel shaded appearance of Mega Man and foes, but as I played I realized this gave the game a much-needed readability to its action. When the player character and enemies stand out against duller backgrounds, there’s no good excuse for not knowing what’s going on. On that note, the background art is absolutely phenomenal – from the Aztec-inspired pyramids in Block Man’s stage to the cozy campgrounds of Torch Man’s woods, they breathe life and believably into each locale.
As I blasted my way from stage to stage, I collected bolts which are used to buy both consumables like lives and pitfall protection as well as permanent upgrades. Some are no-brainers, like slipping less on icy surfaces. Others, like auto-charge shots and Double Gears which burn hotter and faster, take a little more thought. They ultimately make the game as easy as you want it to be, and playing on Normal I found myself sometimes relying on E-tanks and extra lives to beat a particularly hard boss. Mega Man 11 isn’t forgiving in its difficulty, but it offers plenty of opportunities to bolster your chances of success.
My only tangible complaint with Mega Man 11 is, surprisingly, with its music. Heralded as having some of the most memorable and catchy melodies in video game history, I was sure the songs here would be a slam dunk. Instead, everything sounds a little flat. Instead of chiptune, tame EDM-like synths and drum machines form the bulk of the game’s music. While it sounds more modern, it lacks the punch of the older titles – although Wily’s Castle, per tradition, sports a bangin’ track.
There aren’t many surprises from Mega Man 11, but its commitment to quality stages and some stand-out battles (one of which in particular fans are sure to love) proves once again that classic foundations are meant to be built upon. Unlike the hollow and messy Mighty No. 9, what’s on offer here really feels like it has soul. From the plethora of challenge modes to an enemy gallery and cheesy voice-acted cutscenes, Mega Man 11 is a lovingly crafted product for every kind of fan, and one I’m sure to revisit in the future.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Capcom.
Those burned by Keiji Inafune's Mighty No. 9 are bound to find solace in Mega Man 11's charming grace. New twists and quality-of-life mechanics make this one of the series' best offerings to date.