Mega Man 11 is an excellent return to form for the Blue Bomber after all these… Wow, really? Mega Man 10 only released in 2010? I say “only” in the full knowledge that eight years is still a long time but considering this particular series has been running since 1987, that doesn’t seem so bad. Mega Man 11 stands as a wonderful reincarnation of the “classic” style of Mega Man games, before all the new-fangled wall-skidding and multi-tiered Mega Buster charges. Despite this, it also manages to breathe new life into the old design with a simple gameplay mechanic tweak that feels like a natural step forward for the game. I have very little to speak ill of in Mega Man 11, it’s just a masterfully made successor.
Except for Bounce Man’s stage but, you know, I’ll get to that.
The “storyline” of the original Mega Man series is akin to a Saturday morning breakfast cartoon, with formulaic narratives that have all the depth of a Kmart kiddie-pool. However, these games don’t need a lot of depth, or even any real substance in their narratives since the story isn’t the draw. They’re merely the vessel for the gameplay, providing just enough context to get you jumpin’ and shootin’. The most you should hope for is that whatever is conveyed is at least funny and isn’t embarrassing to watch. Fortunately, Mega Man 11 delivers on that front while maintaining the spirit of the original series. Dr Wily quite literally wakes up from a nightmare, reliving his past incompetence and failure, and declares revenge against the world in a tantrum of impotent rage while declaring it genius. Perfect.
When you get down to it, Mega Man 11’s story actually does an excellent job within the context of the original Mega Man series of games. The stakes are high, in the sense that Dr Wily is threatening the safety of the world, but no more than is necessary. The way each character acts only serves to reinforce their established behaviours and attitudes, none of them growing or changing in any particular way as a result of the story’s events. Wily especially is pathetically hilarious, endearing himself to me as the connivingly evil moron. And, in the end, nothing has really changed, and the status quo is returned to what it was, leaving things ready for another instalment. It starts, progresses, and ends exactly as a Mega man game should, and it deserves a pat on the back for that.
Thanks for not trying to reach beyond your scope, Capcom.
The overall design of Mega Man 11 is absolutely on-point for the style of the classic series. The level design still includes hints and warnings about the things to come, for those who pay attention. You can die to something that feels cheap if you weren’t expecting it, but you’re often forewarned about new enemies or trap types in relatively “safe” screens that give you a chance to see how they work. At the same time, even while knowing what’s coming, the game still demands some practised level of twitch-reflex, regardless of the difficulty you’re playing on. This mixture of “simple but difficult” is arguably what makes Mega Man so successful, and it’s well-employed in Mega Man 11. Having the item and upgrade shop brought back between stages also helps soothe the sting of failure when you can use your spoils to arm yourself to the teeth for your next run.
The addition of the Double-Gear system is a fantastic one, as it works with and enhances the above design elements, making a natural progression rather than attempting to change the design wholesale. Having things sped up or slowed down allows the designers to tinker with the timing of enemy attacks, and synergise them with environmental hazards. Using the Power gear to tear through difficult enemies makes you feel like a badass. The best bit is that you technically don’t need either of these things. After playing each stage so many times, attempting to reach their respective bosses, I was surprised at what I was able to do without the speed gear, which is actually the best strength of this mechanic overall. It trains you to be better than you currently are without you realising. Sure, it adds an extra layer of strategy to each level, but when you’ve spent close to an hour slowing down time just to pass single screens, it’s awesome to be able to just blast through a level like it’s nothing.
And as far as additional mechanics in a platformer go, they could have done so much worse.
All that being said, I absolutely loathe the Bounce Man stage, even if its presence and nature is absolutely peak-Mega Man. Not sure what I mean? In every Mega Man game, there’s always one stage that’s just complete horse****. Whatever the stage, it’ll fly in the face of the rest of the design by employing mechanics that can only be overcome by stubborn perseverance, luck, or some combination of the two. The entire process will involve dying a lot, some cursing, maybe some controller breaking, and prayers to whatever dark Gods are listening for the experience to just end.
That is Bounce Man’s stage all over, with walls and floors that can only be navigated by quite literally bouncing constantly, having to time your jumps so, lest you sadly bounce all the way to the bottom of the screen. And let me tell you, verticality is used to a frustrating degree in this stage and, by the end, you’ll be intimately familiar with every inch. Perhaps it’s just my stupid hands, but not even the speed gear was of much help to me in this stage. Bounce Man himself isn’t even a satisfying boss, dying almost as fast as Bubble Man when you have the right weapon. It was awful, I hated it, and yet it still works as a weirdly critical component of a “classic” Mega Man game, if only because there’s just the one stage like this.
You know… instead of the entire game being made up of stages like that.
Mega Man 11 also just looks gorgeous. Seriously, look at those screenshots above. Unlike the last two games that tried to ape at the 8-bit aesthetic of the series’ origin, Mega Man 11 improves on the Saturday Morning Cartoon style that started with 7 and 8. Rather than pixelated sprites, everything has been lovingly animated with 3D models on a 2.5D plane with hand-drawn backgrounds. The result is gorgeous, characters and enemies pop-out from the screen with vibrancy, and the game absolutely nails the classic Mega Man look despite these changes. Nothing is over-the-top, either; characters and enemies are simply better versions of what they were without being ludicrously over-designed. The backgrounds also don’t attempt to take away attention from the gameplay, while still looking stunning and complementing the visuals of each stage.
We could go into the voice acting, which is passably average, or the okay OST, which has some decent remixes of old Mega Man songs and some otherwise nice background tracks. However, they’re not really all that important, or prominent to the style of this game. The voice acting is alright but really only serves that “morning cartoon” vibe that the rest of the game has going on, and isn’t anything to rave about. (Except for Wily, but nasally-sounding evil-geniuses-on-paper will always make me chuckle.) The music, while not bad, isn’t amazing – it’s merely there. It really is just background sound, rarely noticeable above the action or cutscenes at hand, and feels like the least produced part of the game. In saying that, however, if the worst part of your game is music of middling to decent quality with just underdone implementation, you’re still doing pretty well.
I mean, it could have been middling quality at best across the board. But, thankfully, this is Mega Man 11 and not… Something else.
When Mega Man 11 was first announced, I was somewhat wary, especially considering it was to be a new addition to the original series. However, whatever concerns I might have had quickly melted after just a short period of time with the game, which is absolutely spot-on about how it carries the classic style of Mega Man games. It has a challenging, sometimes punishing platforming design that demands both quick reflexes and a helping of forethought. The double-gear system is a fresh new mechanic that enhances the original design as opposed to attempting to replace it. The overall presentation and artistic style of Mega Man 11 gives the impression of a Saturday morning breakfast cartoon, which actually fits perfectly as a progression of the classic Mega Man appearance. For old fans of the series or absolute newcomers, this game should be an enjoyable scratch for anyone with a platforming itch.