After nearly a decade without any actual new titles to call his own, and having to rely of appearances on two Marvel vs. Capcom fighters, the Blue Bomber is finally back in a game to call his own. The demand has been high for a new entry in the franchise ever since the latest release, Mega Man 10, which followed 9’s callback to the NES-era games, but lacking the ‘oomph’ that carried its predecessor, as I’ve commented on my review of last year’s Mega Man Legacy Collection 2.
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last three decades, you’ve probably heard of Mega Man. Whether thanks to its follow-up series or the original, or even the countless games that have since been inspired by his antics during the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit eras, the name Mega Man, as Japan’s Rock Man is known everywhere else, is as much of a videogame household name as Super Mario. And that’s for great reason, because his games, albeit numerous over the years, have mostly been fantastic, and as is the case of the first few of them, that have since been incredibly influential in terms of video game design, dictating core tenets that are still chased by modern game developers, like the case of Batterystaple Games and Fire Hose Games’ 20XX.
Mega Man 11 is familiar enough that diehard fans can dig in and have a blast, but also introduces new concepts that help keep the series fresh, with plenty of potential to give way for even more games. Not only does it play like the original NES entries, but it also offers a strong enough challenge that should keep platforming veterans on their toes, while at the same time opening the way for newcomers to also enjoy the wonders of dying to 1-hit kill spikes, being pushed off of platforms into pits and of course, having to deal with a level almost entirely made of bouncing surfaces repeatedly thanks to the addition of new difficulty options that give players more lives, a few saves here and there, but absolutely does not play down the challenge factor that the franchise is known for. Mega Man 11 is a traditional Mega Man through and trough, truly, and hey, no Mega Man has ever been a cake walk.
Picking up from the well-known formula of the eight robot master levels followed by a series of Dr. Wily stages — no attempt at hiding it this time, he’s the bad guy from the start — Mega Man 11’s structure should be instantly recognizable to anyone with a monogram of knowledge of the previous games. You still start off with only the mega buster and then pick up new weapons as you defeat bosses, and those weapons can be put to efficient use if you can figure out which is whose weakness along the way. The main difference this time, though, is the addition of the Gear system, a gizmo that young Dr. Wily once came up with but was turned down on thanks to the efforts of Mega’s papa Dr. Light’s efforts that older, cookier and more evil Wily’s put into effect on the eight new robots that he’s reprogrammed.
Light wasted no time retrofitting Mega Man with that system as well — a move some might consider a touch of hypocrisy on his part story-wise, but alas — so at the touch of a button, he can now slow down time, get a power boost, or both, as long as he has enough meter. The power up in particular plays with the new weapons he picks up along the way, too, going beyond merely playing as a gimmick. Still, if you’re dead set on not using these gadgets, Mega Man 11 can mostly be played the tried and true way, but man, these powers sure make the game’s more treacherous sections slightly more manageable. If you use them beyond their limit, Mega becomes powered down for a few moments until the meter refills, so there’s a trade-off and balance to using these.
Alongside those new abilities, like the modern but at the same time retro callbacks Mega Man 9 and 10, you pick up currency in the form of bolts along the way that you can use to buy equippable upgrades, lives and even the coveted energy tanks (both in life energy and special weapon ammo kinds, as well as one that ups both, for slightly more bolts) in between levels. They can definitely help turn the tide to your favor when things get hairy. And there’s no if here. They do.
For the purposes of this review and expediting it, I played through Mega Man 11 on casual mode, which is the first tier of the two easier difficulties. The only difference from playing the game in ‘normal’ is that there are five lives from the outset instead of two, and there are more checkpoints during levels, while everything else is just as tough — and sometimes even a little cheap — as ever, and can kill you just as easily. The same can’t be said for newcomer mode, where there are literal saves that smoothly carry you to safety on pitfalls and spikes. Still, even playing on casual demanded some effort on my part, and I was clocking in around three hours when Dr. Wily was once again begging for forgiveness. Mega Man 11 is no slouch difficulty-wise, and that difficulty comes in many shapes and sizes, thanks to clever, many times devious level design that ramps up what some would consider cheap (including myself, at times, depending on how far in a playthrough sitting you ask me), like enemies conveniently placed in order to push you just enough to fall to your death if you’re not careful, hails of wind that force you to be extremely precise in your jumping, the aforementioned bouncing platforms and walls from one boss’ stage, as well as other obstacles that should better go unmentioned. I admit I had to put my controller down a couple of times during the process of beating Mega Man 11 thanks to some of those quirks, but in the end, like the Mega Man games of old, my perseverance paid off, and I came out with quite positive feelings from my experience all throughout.
I have never been shy of playing through hard games, but unlike some, I hate making use of them as some sort of badge of honor when it comes to my prowess at finishing any of them. After it all goes down, any video game can be considered easy if you play it enough. Many require you to do some for many, many hours before you feel comfortable claiming so, and I honestly have yet to run into one that’s managed to go against that rule, and even though I personally failed to beat some of them, it’s clear that with enough time devoted, they could be. The Mega Man games are like that, and thanks to the classic way in which Mega Man 11 is designed, aside from its beautifully modern aesthetics that feature some gorgeous cartoony models and colorful backgrounds, all playing off of a pretty decent soundtrack, it could very well fit among the older games as a testament of solid, built to be mastered, pattern recognition-heavy gameplay. I can’t wait to see what undoubtedly will be many speed runs devoted to this game in the near future. The only real downvote I’d give to this would be the repetitive use of voice lines, especially when dealing with the shop menu that quickly gets grating. Otherwise, the cast does a decent job during cutscenes, unlike other hilariously bad examples from previous games in the franchise.
Mega Man 11’s announcement early this year came out as a pleasant surprise, and it’s a joy to confirm that it’s indeed a great game. It’s just as welcoming to new players as it is to old fans, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone still on the fence about it. There are feelings that are bound to bubble up when you play through this, and you might call it unfair, understandably so. But it helps to keep in mind how faithful Capcom has been in recreating the traditional, familiar Mega Man experience, while at the same time injecting new elements that make it feel fresh. A year ago, if you’d asked me if we would ever see a new numbered Mega Man entry in the series that’s as good as Mega Man 11, I would’ve laughed you off. Now, I sit patiently waiting for Mega Man 12 to come out, gritting my teeth trying to make my way through this one again on a harder difficulty, all the while urging you to give Capcom’s ‘little blue man that could’ a go. You won’t be disappointed.