Capcom’s Blue Bomber has been an industry icon for as long as anyone can remember, but while the likes of Mario have remained very much in the limelight, and the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Sonic have seen something of a resurgence recently, Mega Man has remained dormant for a number of years now. 2010’s Mega Man 10 was the last we saw of the series, so given the fact that a franchise as beloved and legendary as this is returning after such a long hiatus, the burden of expectations is naturally pretty heavy.
"While Mega Man 9 and 10 were decidedly retro throwbacks, attempting to (and succeeding in) evoking a style of gameplay, difficulty, and visuals that has become a rarity in today’s day and age, Mega Man 11 strives to push the series forward and take it into new directions, but does so without forgetting about the core components that make Mega Man- Mega Man."
Thankfully, the action platformer continues the trend of excellent Capcom games in recent years, and does what the Japanese developer and publisher has been doing so much of lately- listening to the fans. While Mega Man 9 and 10 were decidedly retro throwbacks, attempting to (and succeeding in) evoking a style of gameplay, difficulty, and visuals that has become a rarity in today’s day and age, Mega Man 11 strives to push the series forward and take it into new directions, but does so without forgetting about the core components that make Mega Man- Mega Man. The series’ well-established hard-as-nails difficulty, pixel-perfect run and gun platforming, and structure are still very much intact, but are executed in a way that they don’t feel out of place, or out of time.
Series mainstays Dr. Light and Dr. Wily are once again at the very centre of things. Years ago, when the two were in college together, Dr. Wily began working on something known as Double Gear, which would give robots boosted abilities by overclocking them beyond their ordinary limits. Due to its very nature, though, the experiment was deemed to have many potential dangers, and was shut down. Years later, Dr. Wily returns, kidnaps eight of Dr. Light’s robots, and equips them with the Double Gear. It then falls to Mega Man, who Dr. Light equips with a prototype Double Gear of his own, to defeat the eight Robot Masters and foil Dr. Wily’s plans. It’s a simple setup that does its job in terms of enabling you to indulge in the action platforming that you’re really here for, but never really goes beyond that. The same can also be said of the voice acting- serviceable (if a little too corny at times), but entirely forgettable.
The Double Gear System, though, is as central to the gameplay as it is to the story. Comprising of two modes, the Double Gear System allows Mega Man to overclock himself and utilize new abilities that can come in very handy in a variety of situations. Using the Power Gear gives Mega Man more firepower, as the name suggests, not only in terms of more powerful shots from his mega buster, but also with more shots fired per burst. It’s the Speed Gear, though, that’s the real highlight. Using this, Mega Man becomes so fast that everything else around him essentially slows down, allowing you to activate a bullet time-style slow motion window of opportunity at the press of a button. A third mode is also made available in situations where Mega Man’s health is critically low, which allows him to fire a single, deadly shot at his enemies.
"Level design is inherently strong as well, and isn’t afraid to be inventive. One particular level is littered with balloons, and is all about making you bounce around colourful death traps, while another is set in a cold, icy backdrop, with slick and slippery surfaces that make traversal a bit trickier."
The game smartly makes sure to balance the Double Gear in such a way that players can never rely on it too much. Both Power Gear and Speed Gear can be overheated quickly, meaning you can only use them for a handful of seconds at a time, and can take at least a dozen seconds or so to recharge, so you have to be smart with when to use them and when to hold them back. Similarly, activating both in situations where your health is low can indeed allow you to fire off a very effective shot, but for a short while afterward, Mega Man is left weakened, in that his rate of fire is cut down significantly. As such, studying your environment and knowing the right time to make use of your Double Gear System can be crucial.
For veteran fans of the series who might not care as much about newer gameplay elements and just want more of what they’ve been getting for over thirty years, the Double Gear System doesn’t ever force itself upon the player. Playing the game without ever making much use of it is a valid option, though it does make an already challenging game significantly more difficult. That’s because the stages themselves are also designed around the assumption that players will be using there Gears- especially Speed Gear. Mega Man fans would be no strangers to elaborate death traps and hazardous obstacle courses, or levels that are absolutely littered with enemies, and that’s very much the case in Mega Man 11 as well. However, here this is all done in such a way that you’re encouraged to make use of the Speed Gear to slow down time and pull off slick manoeuvres.
For example, some traps might be placed in a way that might as well be begging players to slow down time to be able to better navigate around them, while there’s also an enemy type – just as an example – that that has one very tiny weak spot that can be hard to hit under normal circumstances. In such situations, slowing down time proves to be extremely useful, but still doesn’t ever feel like it’s making things too easy. Level design is inherently strong as well, and isn’t afraid to be inventive. One particular level is littered with balloons, and is all about making you bounce around colourful death traps, while another is set in a cold, icy backdrop, with slick and slippery surfaces that make traversal a bit trickier. There’s plenty of variety here, and the core of mostly everything you experience is – for the most part – pretty solid.
"Bosses are another one of the game’s highlights, which is no less than what one would expect from a Mega Man title."
Bosses are another one of the game’s highlights, which is no less than what one would expect from a Mega Man title. From mid-stage mini bosses to the main Robot Masters, each set piece fight feels unique and thrillingly challenging, and no two battles ever feel the same. These encounters too also often encourage players to use the Double Gear System to great effect, but their real highlight is their dynamic nature. The eight main Robot Master boss fights have multiple phases, with each of the eight bosses switching things up midway through fights, either by changing their forms entirely, or by boosting some of their attributes. Boss fights are suitably gruelling encounters that can take multiple tries to get through, but prove to be very rewarding, not just because of the sense of satisfaction you get from successfully beating them, but also because each boss also rewards you with a new suit that has new abilities.
This isn’t something that’s new to Mega Man games, of course, but just like in previous games, each new suit you receive constantly keeps upping the sense of variety. The fact that, rather than simply changing the colour of Mega Man’s character model as it used to happen in earlier games, each new suit now has a unique and distinct look, serves as an added bonus. The core platforming also remains as strong as ever- for the most part. Thanks to its nature of difficulty, Mega Man is the kind of series that relies on inch-perfect platforming and completely responsive controls, and Mega Man 11 doesn’t usually disappoint in this area. There are a few rare moments when the controls feel a little sluggish and unresponsive, but these are quite infrequent, so they don’t ever really become too much of an issue. It’s also interesting to note that this seems to be more of a problem on the PS4 than it is on the Nintendo Switch, so if you have the option of getting the game on both systems, definitely pick the latter.
While Mega Man 11 manages to strike a great balance between modernizing the series and retaining its core strengths in most areas, that isn’t quite the case in terms of visuals. Leaving behind the series’ trademark pixel art visual style, Mega Man 11 instead goes for a 2.5D look, with polygonal character models and stages set in the backdrop of 2D hand-drawn sidescrolling environments. At the forefront, the polygonal visuals look decent enough – the bosses especially have great visual variety – but the backgrounds of each stage end up looking bland. They seem to be lacking in detail and personality, and the game, as a result, ends up looking somewhat unremarkable and generic. One quality of Mega Man 11’s that does bear mentioning, though, is its value for money. Launching for a retail price of $30, the game gives you access to eight pretty long stages that, by their very nature, promote and encourage replays, on top of which you also get access to several different kinds of challenges and time attack modes, which come with leaderboards attached. For its price and for its production values, Mega Man 11 provides great bang for your buck.
"Launching for a retail price of $30, the game gives you access to eight pretty long stages that, by their very nature, promote and encourage replays, on top of which you also get access to several different kinds of challenges and time attack modes, which come with leaderboards attached. For its price and for its production values, Mega Man 11 provides great bang for your buck."
The return of the Blue Bomber is something we’ve all been desperately hoping and waiting for for many years now, and thankfully, Mega Man 11 proves to be a worthy comeback for this industry icon. It successfully modernizes the series in a lot of ways, making sure that it doesn’t feel out of place in today’s day and age, but does so while making sure that at its core, it still very much feels like the Mega Man we know and love. Its gruelling difficulty and maddening challenge might make it a less attractive option to series newcomers, but the newer difficulty settings also help curtail that aspect quite a bit. All in all, Capcom deserves all the credit for bringing back a fan favourite, and bringing him back so well.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Double Gear is a great new addition; Solid level design; Excellent and varied boss battles; Great value for money; Strikes a great balance between new and old elements.
Uninteresting narrative; On rare occasions, controls can feel a little sluggish on the PS4; Unremarkable visual style.