It’s been about eight years since we got a proper Mega Man game, though I’d go further back to pin point a true “new” title in the series. This isn’t the first time the franchise has been revived either, with the 8-bit throwbacks essentially serving the role and Battle Network being a kind of total reboot that essentially allowed a new generation to enjoy a Mega Man branded product. However, Mega Man 11 might be closer to the throwbacks, but thematically and in intention it leans more towards reintroducing the franchise to the field. As such, there’s three takes I could use to review the game; developer intention, as a Mega Man game and as a standalone title. However, splitting or choosing just one felt awkward. So rather than overthinking how to make this one stand out or be something special, I’ll just go in without much worries and say this straight out of the gate; Mega Man 11 is a good Mega Man game, but ultimately runs short compared in this modern era of games.
If you’ve played any of the NES Mega Man games, you know what you’re getting into, and MM11 is best argument against MM9 and 10 in that you don’t need to use throwback bit-graphics in order to make a “true” Mega Man game. The controls are tight, responsive and work exactly as you’d expect. The amount of control over Mega Man is perfect and pretty much everything can be put on the player in damage and death department. The PS4 version has the most control lag, with Steam and Xbox versions coming at top, which can only be blamed on Sony wanting to add too much post-processing on their games on PS4 Pro. Switch is somewhere between, closer to Xbox’s and that’s fine. Unless you’re crazy over NES-CRT level responsiveness, you’re more or less boned and should go for the Steam version. That’s probably the only significant difference between the versions, outside Switch’s Amiibo support that gives you items mid-game. It’s a nice idea, but really sucks when you realise how haphazardly it’s been implemented, much like in every other game out there.
For those who haven’t played a Mega Man game, the formulae is simple and solid. You’ve got eight stages, each with a Boss you have to defeat in order to advance to the final stages. You gain each Boss’ weapon and they have rock-paper-scissors mechanic going on, one being weak to another. Back when games were more or less strict on the progress, Mega Man was a breeze of fresh air, and modern stage-selecting was more or less inspired by the franchise. The franchise is famed for being difficult, but this has always been hyperbole at best. The six NES titles are easy enough for a five-years old to beat. The right word would be challenge, where the game offers some obstacles you to tackle, but with some try and experience, you’ll beat them in no time. The stages are overall designed to have a combination of environmental hazards combined with stage enemies, sometimes moving and sometimes stationary, which also gives all the stages their own little gimmick to work with.
The stages, of course, are the main meat themselves. Sadly, the game’s design did not escape the usual fire-water-grass thematic that has been overused in the series far too often. This time we’re getting both spikes-in-water and an ice stage, which shows that despite the series having almost a decade long hiatus and thirty years of history to learn from, the new dev team ultimately had to resort to recycling some old ideas. We’ve seen pretty much everything at this point in the franchise, from water purifying facilities to cityscapes, from forests to ancient stone temples and even space stations, thematically Mega Man is all spent. It doesn’t really offer anything new, and veterans feel it. Each stage offers their own challenges, like the aforementioned spikes-in-water stage that emphasizes on careful control. Each of their gimmicks should drive the player skills higher in order to beat the final fortress levels, but ultimately these stages don’t take all the advantages the eight main stages offer. The difficulty and challenge doesn’t exactly ramp up drastically, especially now that there is a total lack of Capcom gauntlet. A Capcom gauntlet is an old term for stages that come at a later stage in a game, where the player is unable to return or retreat to recover items, having to resort with whatever limited resources is found during the gauntlet. Boss Rush has always been part of this, with an additional twist or two in the mix. Mega Man games excelled in this by the natural design. However, Mega Man 11 allows the player to access the previous stages and create items between each of the fortress stages, making the gauntlet completely neutered. The ramping up element is now gone.
This of course begs the mention of the game’s gimmick, the Double Gear system. The stages have been designed so that there is no need to use use either Speed or Power function to beat them. Speed is naturally the more useful of the two, as its slow-down effect makes everything much more easier. The Power in itself is largely useless outside few situations, and is mostly used to use the powered up versions of the Special Weapons. However, because of all this the system works more or less as a build-in cheat, which can be further powered up with purchasable items. The game meanders between trying to appease people who want a more pure Mega Man experience and people who go all out, and ultimately doesn’t exactly fulfill the necessities to use the Gears. Even the speediest or smartest sections of the game are easy without the use of Speed Gear, and Power Gear makes some of the Special Weapons just absolutely bonkers, being able to wipe the screen of enemies, shield or not. That said, the weapons themselves are pretty well designed and balanced, again fitting pre-existing moulds in the series e.g. utility weapon, movement option attack, full-screen weapon, a barrier and so on. Their powered-up versions, as mentioned, are overkill in most places, and make mid-stage bosses a laughing stock.
This means the game ends up being very easy to beat through the use of cost items rather than skill, but perhaps this is more or less about personal challenge than anything else. Mega Man games have always been welcoming, though the game does seem too accommodating rather than trusting the player to build enough skill to beat it. Resources are readily available for anyone to buy if the game puts a wall against you. The stages have some elements designed around some of the Special Weapons use, but their limited scope and length don’t make much use of them. The fortress levels even less so, and you can rely on Tundra Storm to wipe enemies off from distance.
Visually speaking, the game looks very much for the part. Colours are well used and detail can be found everywhere. There is a definitive Mega Man flavour to things, just aptly cartoony with clear and defined lines. It may not be the cutting edge of graphics technology, but it doesn’t need to be. The game stays true to the NES era’s designwork almost to a flaw, where certain amount of detail is lost on the designs. Backgrounds get the most detail overall, with some referencing past games. There is a definitive charm to everything, the same charm Mega Man used to carry. This carries to the Robot Master designs as well, with the Gallery mode expanding on their characters more than the game can properly convey on-screen. While pre-battle quotes have been around for a time now, the Gallery entries really make them shine even more. Mega Man & Bass’ CD Database gave a nice insight to all of the characters, but not to this extent.
The music, however, is t he game’s weakest point by far. It goes all techno on the soundtrack, with synth bweaaaing being the main instrument. It all ends in almost a cacophony, most stages ending up sounding the same and unmemorable. This is a far cry from previous’ games’ soundtracks, which made the songs stood out, either due to the more limited sound samples or simply because the songs were that superior. The pre-order downloadable soundtrack is not much better, opting the techno for nondescript jazz that sounds worse. Acid Man comes out the best in this, mostly due to the instruments working better with his theme, but overall you’d be better just muting the BGM and putting something better on. Rock and rocking kind of instruments have always sit the series much better, more so in the X-series. That said, sound effects are pretty much spot on and have an oomph to them, though Mega Man no longer makes a noise when he lands. In the NES games, there was a small te-det sound, which is absent here, but it’s something that isn’t all essential.
This review reads like a ramble, because trying to say anything definitive how it is fails to a point. The Mega Man 11 doesn’t innovate on the formula of the series and is a step back in terms of length and game design. However, on the other hand it is well made and intentionally open for everybody, concentrating on the core building blocks what makes a Mega Man game. However, that’s all it really is. We’ve seen this before. While there is a need for smaller games like this one the market now, retreading things once more like this works only once. Just as with Mega Man 9. If there is going to be a Mega Man 12, it must innovate, expand and push the envelope on Classic Mega Man as much as possible. As a standalone title, the game doesn’t exactly stand well against the swamp of other 2D action titles, but its sheer polish and execution ultimately lifts it just enough above the surface.