“Gearing Up For a Good Time.“
Mega Man has been using the parts of his defeated adversaries for thirty years now, without many significant, consistent augmentation to his default build since the mega buster. To celebrate his 30th anniversary, Capcom decided to give Mega Man an much needed shot in the buster cannon with Mega Man 11 (MM11). Utilizing a new Double Gear system, these parts (or at least one of them) add a new, natural wrinkle to the blue bomber’s adventures, all while retaining most everything fans of the franchise have come to love from a Mega Man title, save for perhaps one of the more notable aspects of the series.
The new Double Gear system is a mostly twofold expansion to Mega’s arsenal – the Power gear enables Mega Man to use a more powerful form of buster (and certain boss) attacks, while the Speed gear slows down the world around him, enabling for some slick dodging of attacks, or slowing down the pursuit of a certain death that’s hot on your heels.
The latter alters the way players will approach a Mega Man title in such a brilliant and natural way. It’s not just a matter of slowing a pursuit or dodging a boss attack; the Speed gear can work as a window of opportunity extension, nailing an enemy as their weak points are revealed, making for a much speedier, and an even more exciting way to proceed with each stage. With cat-like reflexes and pattern memorization, expert players can probably forego using the Speed gear altogether, outside a couple of instances, but for everyone else, it’s a commendable new cog in Mega Man’s arsenal.
The Power gear however, doesn’t add much value to the overall experience. You can fire off a more powerful buster charge and such, but anytime I ever thought about using it, either my gear meter was refilling, I was using the Speed gear instead, or I just didn’t remember that it existed. When used in conjunction with certain boss weapons, it does boost their strength and size (Tundra Man’s Power geared weapon can four shot Torch Man and significantly shorten the bout), however the situations in which they are a must, are few and far between. There are more situations in which the Speed gear will provide a much more thorough benefit, than the Power gear.
It’s really a tale of two halves with these gears – Speed alters the way you play a Mega Man game in a profound manner, and is an augmentation the gameplay needed, but the Power gear lacks the importance to the general gameplay, whether it’s on its own merits, or when compared to the Speed gear. There’s also a third gear “power” which happens when the blue bomber is at critical health. Pressing both gear buttons simultaneously will give Mega Man a significant last second boost of both strength and slowing the world around you, with a powerful buster shot at the end, but again, I failed to find many situations where I remembered to use it, and the very few times I did, really wasn’t helpful in the end. Not only that, but it weakens your buster shot until the cooldown timer has reset.
Switching gears to Mega’s controls – they are as rock solid as ever. Everything is responsive, and the braking animation on the slide is a neat little bonus (just push away from where you’re sliding to put on the brakes, reverses his direction and end the move). Maybe the one thing that really grated on my nerves with the controls was accidentally hitting the right analog stick and switch to a random power. Thankfully Capcom put in a setting that disables right analog usage. Having Rush mapped on X and A for Coil and Jet respectively also streamlines the controls of Mega Man’s abilities, allowing for ZL and ZR to function as strictly boss power cycling. The push back from being hit seems slightly further, as well as almost instantaneous (as opposed to the OG’s slow, blinking slide backwards), but thankfully there are ways of lessening the blow.
Returning to MM11 is the shop system that players can visit between stages. A plethora of expected power ups and augmentations have returned (E tanks, extra lives, Beat rescuing you from a pitfall death), as well as other, more important augmentations (auto charging your buster, any weapon refill pieces automatically filling the power with the least charges left). Certain difficulties open certain augmentations as well, such as Casual allowing for one time purchases of spike death immunity (as with Beat, it saves you from instant death when touching a spike one time). Then there are a small handful of quality of life enhancements, such as lessening the knockback on each hit, and giving Mega Man “spiked feet” that eliminates any slipping and sliding on most icy surfaces. This helps players tremendously in some instances, lessening the difficulty that MM11 has in some respects…
…and do you know what? Capcom managed to make MM11 approachable to just about every type of gamer. With four difficulty levels to choose from, it gives viable options for anyone to get into the game, and enjoy it at their leisure. For anyone returning to the franchise (who may not have purchased the Mega Man Legacy Collection), it might be best to stroll through the Casual to get a feel back for the franchise, then bumped the difficulty up one notch to Normal for a properly scaled up challenge. Regardless, this is the most accessible Mega Man title yet, and its approachable nature doesn’t feel like a dumb down experience either.
For the first time since Mega Man 8 in the late 90’s, we have Mega Man title that doesn’t utilize a familiar 8-bit aesthetic. When I originally saw MM11 announced, I was appalled by how visually off-putting the art direction had gone. I knew that nothing could stay the same forever, and that 8-bit visuals might not be as feasible in 2018 as it was in 2010 for MM10, but what I had saw, turned me off completely. Thankfully the visuals grew on me as time passed, and the game feels like an appropriate upgrade from the 8-bit style. Everything feels familiar, but with a new coat of paint that still is reminiscent of what we grew up with, and all in 60 frames per second, with the same visual fidelity and performance docked, or in handheld mode. While many of the stages do look a bit drab in design, it does at least fit the motif of the boss at hand.
Which leads me to the eight robot masters of MM11. While a couple of names might not be as bad as Top Man, Sheep Man or Centaur Man, they aren’t all that clever here either. They do at least fit their gimmick (Acid Man shoots small green arching shots of acid, and also has a shield of acid that can nullify most projectiles), the character designs for each boss is stellar. I prefer the more traditional, size relative bosses from most of the past Mega Man titles, though again, this is a bit of an evolution of the franchise, and it’s good to see that evolution continue with robot masters of varying builds. Each one looks imposing, even Tundra Man and his Olympic figure skating gag.
These bosses are also augmented by the Double Gear system, as around the 50% or 33% mark on their health, they will use a Power or Speed gear to boost their own abilities, making for an unexpected shift in battle. It’s an exciting addition that, once again, retains the feel of a Mega Man boss battle, but adds in that one little twist that helps give players a refreshing change up to the typical boss battles of norm. It makes battling these robot masters some of the more thrilling and fulfilling encounters in the entire franchise thus far. These are also the instances in which the Speed gear is a must, though again, top tier players will be able to fineness through those battles without worrying about using any gear.
The powers acquired from each of the eight robot masters however, is a mixed bag. The Acid Barrier from Acid Man is a somewhat innovative take on the typical shield power that are in a number of Mega Man titles. There’s also Pile Driver from Impact Man, which is a dash forward, that can help on some stages with regards to traversing from one spot to another, or reaching an area for a health boost or E Tank. But then you’ll run across Blazing Torch from Torch Man (which is one of a few powers augmented by the Power gear), a fire weapon that’s difficult, and for most instances, impractical, to utilize even against a robot master weak to it. Where practicality and benefits might not be across the board, the ingenuity and the ability of Capcom to “look outside the box” with even the generic elemental powers and bosses has to be noted and applauded. There are more successes than failures when it comes to both robot masters and their powers in MM11, and when it came to brainstorming these weapons and powers, it’s clear that simply rehashing them never came into their discussions.
The one and only place that Capcom did fail with, which is a huge deal for many fans of the franchise, is the completely forgettable soundtrack. In fact, I’m 100% indifferent on it; nothing stands out, nor is any of it memorable, and whatever I can remember, or put back on and listen to, is simply serviceable at best. The chip tune soundtrack of the majority of Mega Man titles are an enduring piece of the franchise, maybe just as much as the gameplay. To have a soundtrack that elicits zero emotion or response, yet is not abhorrent whatsoever, is easily the biggest misstep for MM11. I put on a pair of headphones while I had my Switch in portable mode, to get a better sense of whether or not I was missing anything, and sadly the results were the same. It’s nothing memorable, nothing that really pops out to me as Mega Man music, and it unfortunately “just exists”.
Really, the audio as a whole is just “there”. The voice acting is adequate, budget-like quality, aside from Mega Man himself, who sounds as annoying as ever. I think the only form of media to really “get” a Mega Man voice was the old animated series from the 90’s. The sound effects are, as expected, higher quality, though they don’t have the charm of the previous games. As a standalone experience, MM11‘s audio, as a whole, is competent enough, and if you’re jumping into the series for the first time with this one, while I strongly recommend playing the likes of 2 and 3 first, it does nothing incriminating, and will work for you. It’s just a profound step below what is to be expected from such a storied franchise and it’s catchy soundtrack.
Though the game feels a bit shorter than previous Mega Man titles, it’s still an appropriate length overall. A couple of stages, Bounce Man in particular, do feel like they drag on way longer than they should (though that’s mostly due to the design of the stage its self and the constant bouncing around that goes on). There is a sense of brevity with Dr. Wily’s castle after the first stage, which is somewhat disappointing, especially with an ending that feels empty. It’s a much more fleshed out ending and storyline than everything outside 8, but it’s an anti-climatic, yet open-ended closure to the title. Veterans will see the end credits in under about two hours at max, which a novice player would take an extra hour or two.
Thankfully though, there’s a myriad of bonuses within the Challenges area that players can partake in once the credits draw to a close, and most of then even before the main game has ended. There are staple inclusions, such as Boss Rush and Score Attack, which provides players with every boss power, but none of the purchasable augmentations, and has you attempting to beat every boss with one health bar, or rack up as many points as you can respectively. Jump Saver has players tasked to completing a stage with as few jumps as possible, while Buster Breakdown wants you to complete each stage with as few shots fired. The most devious addition is Dr. Light’s Trial, which is a set of thirty custom made areas with a myriad of requirements as you go further in, all on one life bar. While it’s a hair-pulling challenge, it’s much more manageable and enjoyable than I Wanna Be the Boshy or Asshole Mario.
Though the catchy music may not be a factor, the look, and most importantly, the feel of MM11 is faithful to past Mega Man installments. Most of the stages are enjoyable to play through, even several times over, and the boss battles are a standout success. The Double Gear system, at least when it comes to the Speed gear, augments the experience, and brings a new gimmick to a franchise that needed a change in gears, while still retaining its classic gameplay feel. At its core, it’s a Mega Man game, and in fact, might have become one of my favorites in the franchise. I’m not sure exactly where it fits in my list right this moment (for posterity, Mega Man 3 is my all-time favorite Mega Man title, with Mega Man 10 being a close second), but from the very first moment I played the full version, it nailed just about every gameplay benchmark that I’ve come to expect from, and adore from a Mega Man title.
For a game that I had next to no expectations coming into it, Mega Man 11 manages to be one of the best installments to this thirty year old franchise. It’s disappointing to have such a vital piece of the experience (the soundtrack) be nothing more than “adequate”, and you’ll see the end credits a lot sooner than you’ll realize, but with the Double Gear system, incredibly fun boss battles and a healthy amount of post game bonus content, Mega Man 11 is well worth the $30 price tag. It’s not going to change the shape of 2D platforming (and it never set out to do so), but it will give you something well worth your time and money.