This year, I have played a lot of Mega Man. In addition to diving into the Mega Man X series over the summer, I played through and analyzed all 10 of the core series Mega Man games. Each had their own charms and added something to the franchise, and it was an excellent way to hype myself up for Mega Man 11. It has been far too long since we’ve received a Mega Man game, and if Capcom was going to do this, they had to do it right, especially after “spiritual successor” Mighty Number 9’s crash and burn. Fans everywhere waited in anticipation and worry, as the game came closer to its release, hoping for this to be the game we’ve been waiting nearly a decade for. After spending a generous amount of time with the title, I can safely say with the utmost confidence that Mega Man 11 is one of the best Mega Man games I have ever played.
In a change for the series, Mega Man 11 starts off with a brief look into Dr. Light and Dr. Wily’s past. They’re back in their university days, Light shooting down Wily’s idea for a double gear system in favor of creating robots with independent thought. It’s quickly revealed that this is a dream, but it does inspire Wily to go back to his old idea.
Meanwhile, Dr. Light is doing a checkup on several robots at his laboratory. Block Man, the first robot we see being worked on, is grateful for the service. Suddenly, Dr. Wily breaks in to show off his new Double Gear system, and of course, steal the robots. Fortunately, Dr. Light still had Dr. Wily’s prototype of the system and installs it into Mega Man. All of these cutscenes are completely voiced over in either English or Japanese. Thankfully, unlike Mega Man 8, the voice work here is actually pretty solid. Mega Man’s voice actor seems to hit that sweet spot between Mega Man 8 and Mega Man from the Ruby Spears cartoon, and the rest of the cast have just enough emotion to not be too cheesy.
With the cutscene over and a brief (optional) tutorial on how to use the Double Gear system, but more on that later, it’s straight to the level select screen. Styled like classic Mega Man, you can choose between the 8 “Robot Masters”, tackling them in any order you see fit. Mega Man’s face in the center even follows your cursor as you choose. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s nice.
Upon starting a stage, I immediately realized how tight the controls for Mega Man felt. Often, when a series goes for a 2.5D look, the characters risk becoming floaty. Here, you can’t tell the difference between 8-bit and 3D model jumping. Jumping, sliding, and shooting all feel good, and even with the new Double Gear system, I felt like I was in complete control.
The quality-of-life changes to Mega Man 11 are incredible. This game is finally the first Mega Man game to take advantage of every button on the controller. Rush is no longer treated as a special weapon that has to be switched to, as Rush Coil is now mapped to the X button, if you’re playing on the Nintendo Switch. This encouraged me to use Rush Coil more and find different ways across obstacles because of how easy it was to use him.
While you can cycle through your special weapons using the shoulder buttons like previous games, you can also quick-select special weapons using the right stick. Each of the special weapons has a special spot in a square, meaning you can switch with ease if you’re trying to see how quickly you can beat a stage. This encouraged me to try each special weapon more often, as they all had their own use, and unlike almost every Mega Man game prior, there wasn’t a single one that I would consider “bad.” In addition, all of these buttons are remappable, including a button dedicated to slide if you desire.
The elephant in the room is of course the Double Gear system. There are two different gears that can be activated at any time. One of the gears powers up Mega Man, making his normal shots as strong as the half-charged shot, and his charged shoot two powerful blasts instead of one. If you manage to charge the entire time without getting hit, you can do a final charge shot, which devastates everything in its path. Special Weapons also receive a power up with this mechanic, using resulting in a larger blast, or higher volume of ammo fired.
The other gear slows down time, allowing Mega Man to be slightly faster while navigating through tricky obstacles, or allowing him to hit an enemy’s sweet spot more efficiently. This could be seen as a way to make the game easier, but I saw a deeper potential in the mechanic.
In addition to the main game are bonus challenges. One of the categories for these is the Time Trial section where you race to finish the stage in the fastest time possible. Using the Double Gear mechanic to slow down time, you can actually exploit the level’s hazards in certain ways to shave off time. For example, during the second section of the second set of grinders, you can use the Pile Driver and the Double Gear system to slow down time and dash your way past the blocks before you’re force to navigate your way through them.
These bonus challenges aren’t exclusive to timed challenges. You can also take challenges such as beating a stage with the fewest amount of shots, fewest amount of jumps, clear in the fastest time while popping the correct balloons and ignoring the wrong ones, rack up a score by killing several enemies at once through a stage, and many more. Each of these challenges have their own worldwide leaderboard, and you can even view a replay of others players’ attempts.
For the first time in the classic Mega Man series, I feel terrible destroying the Robot Masters. Each one has their own distinct personality that is backed by a talented voice cast of them shouting out their attacks. Tundra Man is a great example for this flair in personality as his fight involves several spotlights coming on him as he embraces the attention like he’s a part of the 20XX Symphony City Olympics.
Their fights are fun as well, even if some may be more frustrating than others, such as Fuse Man’s high volume of electricity. Each boss uses one of the Double Gear techniques, which are best countered using a technique on your own. This is good for learning how to fight the bosses and it’s fun to figure out when to use what gear to secure victory the fastest.
There is one complaint I have with Mega Man 11, and that’s that it just sort of, ends. The game is about the length of a normal Mega Man game, which means that there are just over ten stages to fight your way through. The challenges are fun, and there is an in-game achievement system for players to try their skills at, but I’m only left wanting more.
Different difficulties do help alleviate this problem, but instead of changing up the enemy placements like Mega Man 10, it appears that only the number of checkpoints are decreased, damage increased, and the bosses have slightly different attacks at higher difficulties.
Fans of the series will notice a distinct lack of a few favorite characters. Proto Man, who is Mega Man’s lost brother and one of the first of Dr. Light’s creations, is nowhere to be seen as far as I can tell. If he is in the game, he’s extremely well hidden. The same goes for Bass, Mega Man’s rival from Mega Man 7. It’s possible that these characters are being saved for future DLC in the vein of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10.
These problems aside, Mega Man 11 is what exactly what it needs to be: fun, short, and sweet, and filled with incentive to come back. I had a blast playing the same level over and over again to memorize the best time to use the Speed Gear. The level design is top notch with nothing feeling like a “cheap death,” and Mega Man’s range of movesets are fluid.
The added background of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily’s past is the cherry on top of a triumphant return. As with the original Mega Man, Dr. Wily is no longer just a mad scientist, but a once-highly respected academic. In fact, Dr. Light shares a hand in Dr. Wily’s fall from grace, as he was the one to shut down one of his greatest achievements. It’s no wonder that when Dr. Light received the Nobel prize at the beginning of the first Mega Man that Dr. Wily decided to attempt to take over the world.
Even more is added to the game’s background with the gallery viewer. Every enemy in the game has a long piece of text accompanied with it, and this includes the robots. Not only do I feel bad for the robot masters this time around, but we are also told what exactly each robot was created to do and what lab created them. Even Dr. Cossack from Mega Man 4 has a brief mention as the creator of one of the robots.
Capcom has a lot riding on Mega Man 11 to do well. If successful, this will lead to a new wave of Mega Man games, and I for one would love to see how the X series would translate if it was given the same faithful-yet-modernized treatment. While the lack of Proto Man and Bass is disappointing, it’s exciting to see what Capcom is planning to do with them and the Blue Bomber in the future.
Mega Man 11
Mega Man is back in his best entry in over a decade. The controls are tight, the quality of life changes such as button mapping Rush Coil, Rush Jet, and sliding are more than welcome, and the Double Gear system becomes second nature quickly. While the main game may seem short, and a lack of fan-favorite characters is disappointing, Mega Man 11 shines in everything it does include. This truly is the triumphant return of the Blue Bomber.