In trying to think of a good way to open this review, I came upon an almost surprising fact: I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a new Mega Man game before.
Make no mistake, I’ve done plenty of reviews on this site: Manga, figures, etc., but when it comes to games, it’s always been either something Mega Man-esque, or ports/re-releases/compilations. The latter are generally easier, seeing as how it’s more a matter of how faithful the developers were to the original and if there were any improvements made than the quality of the actual game itself.
But now, on the eve of the release of the first all-new Mega Man game in more than eight years? I realize that for as long as I’ve been working on The Mega Man Network in this capacity or that, this is new ground for me.
This isn’t the first time Mega Man has made a big return, though the circumstances now are a little bit different. Before, the gap between Mega Man 8 (January 1997) and Mega Man 9 (September 2008) was so vast that any mention of the latter’s name became the stuff of legend; the kind of thing spread only in rumors and April Fool’s pranks, always hoped to be real, but seemingly never destined to be.
Shy of collections, re-releases, and a PlayStation Portable remake, it seemed that Capcom was effectively done with the Classic series.
During that time, however, fans of the franchise as a whole were not left wanting. In addition to numerous new entries in the Mega Man X series, numerous entire new series came and went: Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Battle Network, Mega Man Zero, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man Star Force. As long as you weren’t too particular about just which Blue Bomber you got, you were still pretty well covered throughout the aughts.
Interestingly, the franchise would then come full-circle — in more ways than one — as the impossible happened and Mega Man 9 was announced. Following Mario returning to his roots in the best-selling New Super Mario Bros. series, which featured “retro” styled 2D gameplay with more modern graphics, Capcom (with the help of Inti Creates) decided to do them one better — by making everything about the game retro-styled, borrowing most significantly from 1989’s Mega Man 2 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
It worked — at least at first. Mega Man 9 was a success, and Capcom quickly greenlit a sequel in 2010’s Mega Man 10 that mimicked the style of its predecessor, albeit with a few more modern qualities such as an Easy Mode and a playable Proto Man available from the start. Unfortunately, the bloom was already coming off this rose for some, as the novelty of a new 8-bit styled game in the series was wearing off.
Capcom had their fun, but now it was time for something new.
Unfortunately, that new something never came. Later the same year Mega Man 10 was released, Capcom was about to answer another long-thought-impossible dream by announcing Mega Man Legends 3, a sequel to the decade-long cliffhanger ending of Mega Man Legends 2.
That ultimately marked the beginning of the end — at least for a while. Mere months after Mega Man Legends 3 began to look like a reality, Keiji Inafune (who did not create Mega Man, but whose contributions to the longevity of the franchise cannot be understated) chose to depart the company. This was soon followed by the cancellation of all new Mega Man games that were in development at the time.
This led to a sort of panic among the Mega Man fanbase. Mega Man was dead, Capcom was killing off anything to do with him to get back at Inafune, new appearances were only made to mock Mega Man and his fans, and other rhetoric followed for years as Capcom tried to figure out how to continue.
“It was difficult for somebody to step up and say, ‘I really want to work on Mega Man,’ said Mega Man 11 producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya to Game Informer. “Inafune-san was definitely a brand leader for the franchise. He helped pave the way for its success, and he had a lot of brilliant ideas. That’s an absolute truth. So when he left, there was a sense of emptiness, and a sense that no one was appropriate to pick up the mantle and pave a new vision for Mega Man.”
That brings us to today, some eight years after the last new Mega Man game was released (well, barring the long-since discontinued Rockman Xover for mobile devices), on the cusp of the release of
Mega Man 11
(Some Mild Spoilers Ahead)
The game gets off to start that’s familiar (in more ways than one), yet still surprising. After your usual assortment of starting logos, an opening cutscene is presented to the player, but this isn’t an animated cutscene like in Mega Man 8.
Instead, it’s a mix of old and new; still images like in every Classic game but 8, but with higher-resolution visuals in a new art style, accompanied by voice acting — some of which you may recognize from the original announcement trailer, no less.
Incidentally, that presentation helps set up certain expectations for the game. By and large, it’s the same classic gameplay that defined Mega Man for generations, given a more modern coat of paint.
With regards to the story, Capcom’s developers took an interesting approach here versus previous installments. Without getting too far into the details, they’ve opted to deepen the lore, rather than expand it. This means that while there’s no foreshadowing of any red robots in the future (much as that would have fit in), they do dig a bit deeper into the relationship between Dr. Light and Dr. Wily in a way that’s never been touched on in the games themselves before.
The original lore held it that Wily was banished professionally due to some of his experiments being deemed scientifically unethical, but the precise nature of this has never been revealed until now.
When you reach the title screen, you’re given a few choices. You can start a new game or continue an existing game, view the options, and enter a gallery which fills with various challenges and profiles of all the robots you’ve encountered thus far — a nice addition. Regarding the Options menu, I touch upon most of what that has to offer here.
In terms of difficulty, things are a little different from the demo. Newcomer offers a variety of luxuries for a more easygoing experience, from unlimited Beat Whistles to rescue you from falling into pits to unlimited lives, slower Gear drainage and faster recovery, and even allowing more shots on the screen at a time — which is especially nice if you’re like me and favor the rapid-fire setting to really shred some foes.
Casual feels about like how I feel a normal Mega Man experience is, while Normal is a bit tougher, but still doable. Then there’s Superhero, which makes enemies stronger and takes away most (if not all) items that are normally found laying around, while also reducing (if not outright eliminating) energy drops from enemies. There’s probably more to how each difficulty level differs, but I don’t know all the specifics.
Starting up the game takes us to a different yet still familiar type of cutscene, using the in-game models to depict a scene in Dr. Light’s lab. After Wily begins enacting his latest scheme, it’s Mega Man to the rescue as you’re taken to the Stage Select screen.
Interestingly, while most Classic Mega Man games tend to start you from the neutral position, his gaze (and thus the cursor) is fixed on Block Man. Since he happens to be the featured stage and boss in the demo, it’s a good place to start if you’ve already mastered it.
One thing I noted about the demos I played is that while the way Mega Man controlled didn’t feel bad, it felt just a little off to me. Shots I am sure I could make in the NES games wouldn’t land there, for instance.
It may just be me, maybe I got used to it, but I think they’ve since rectified it. When I sat down to play, things just clicked and it felt like I was playing the same Mega Man I’d always played, landing precise shots and everything.
(At this point, I feel I should note that I’ve played both the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions for this review, with the bulk of play coming from the PS4 — whose demo was graded as having the worst lag in Gigaboots’ testing, no less.)
Playing through the stages, things felt great. There are some neat elements, obstacles, and background details spread all throughout, and many manage to feel new while still feeling like one would expect a Mega Man stage to.
My grievances there are few. Some feel like they might be slightly too long, and might rely on a gimmick a little too much. The one I found most annoying was the fire chases in Torch Man’s stage, which is slightly reminiscent of the beams found in Quick Man’s stage. But as an example, whereas Quick Man featured only two of these sections, Torch Man brings three. (Of course, your mileage may vary.)
On a related note, the sections like that also remind me of Quick Man’s stage in that while using the Speed Gear in a way not unlike using the Time Stopper proved useful, nor did it necessarily feel essential (though that last section is a pain regardless). So that’s something of a positive for the Double Gear trick, if anyone was worried.
In fact, while I would make the occasional use of the Speed Gear, it seldom — if ever — felt essential. I’d mostly use it as a matter of personal convenience, and the Power Gear was even more rarely used (though I’d occasionally turn it on during boss battles to power up special weapons). And the Double Gear? I don’t think I ever used it at all.
Bottom line for the Gears: They’re fun to have on hand, but don’t feel like you’re obligated to use them.
The Robot Masters are a fun bunch, though figuring out their weaknesses proved trickier than I thought. Capcom said they wanted to make it more obvious who would be weak to what, but I still feel like some of them only make sense if you stop to think about it, rather than being immediately obvious. Fortunately, have Mega Buster, will travel.
The special weapons themselves, however, feel like they have a greater utility about them than some previous games did. I’ve used a number of them to help make my way through stages, and they were fun to implement in the process.
In addition to the special weapons, you can also visit Dr. Light’s lab to exchange bolts for various enhancements. Many of these are useful, though they unlock in such a way that I’m not even entirely sure how to get them all — I’ve beaten the game, but not seen everything they have on offer.
One thing I do find a little grating is having to wait for certain items to be unlocked and then purchased. In some cases, these make sense, but items like auto-charging for the Mega Buster and the Energy Balancer that have been default options in other games (specifically various Mega Man X titles) feel more like you’re being forced to jump through hoops for something that should be there from the start.
Regarding visuals, I figure the screens and videos speak greater volumes than I can here, though I will say that I enjoy the new look. Likewise, while the music is mostly good, it’s made even better by the remixes for the eight Robot Master stages that is available to those who pre-order. While these should arguably have been the default tracks, consider this a strong recommendation if and when they should become available as downloadable content.
All in all, Mega Man 11 provides a solid package that will hopefully please a base of fans who have long been starving for new content. It manages to merge the familiar and classic elements of the series with newer and more modern aesthetics and features in a way that is pleasing, even if it doesn’t do much to innovate the series on the whole. There is the Double Gear system, but by the fiction presented here alone, it’s not one that seems meant to last.
There are other additions, such as the challenges, which help add some replay value, but don’t really bolster the main package all that much. It should also probably be noted without saying too much that at this point (with one minor exception), if you haven’t seen certain “appearances,” you’re not going to at this point in time.
Mega Man 11 serves as more of a return for the Blue Bomber than a revival, but as returns go, this is a darn fine one.
Mega Man 11 is available now on PlayStation 4 (version played for this review), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (also played), and Steam for $29.99 USD. A copy was provided by Capcom for this review.