Since its launch in 1987, the Mega Man franchise has become one of the most popular video game series of all time. Mega Man II, in particular, is seen by many to be one of gaming's greats, and the "Blue Bomber" has been the face of Capcom ever since. That said, in recent years, the company has seemingly abandoned Mega Man. In fact, the last Mega Man experience wasn't even a real Mega Man game; it was Mighty No. 9, and that definitely left fans wanting. Now, after eight years, Capcom has revived the Classic Series with Mega Man 11. Mega Man 11 brings back many of the things that made the series endearing. The levels require quick thinking, the boss fights are intense, and it has the overall feel of a classic Mega Man title, but with updated and new mechanics. However, the game is sometimes more frustrating than fun with its enemy placement, and stages being too long. Mega Man 11 will not go down as one of the all-time classics, but it's a solid revival of one of gaming's greatest mascots.
The gameplay of Mega Man 11 is identical to previous games in the series. Mega Man can run, jump, and use his Mega Buster to blast enemies. He can also slide, a mechanic that was first introduced in Mega Man 3. He can charge up his Mega Buster for a large blast, a staple since Mega Man 4. Rush the robot dog can also be summoned for jumping higher, and later for flying. After beating the Robot Master at the end of each level, Mega Man gains a special new ability. All in all, longtime Mega Man fans will feel right at home. However, there is one big new mechanic: the Double Gear System. The Double Gear has two uses: extra speed (everything around Mega Man slows down) and power (boosting the damage and effect of his attacks). You can also combine the two when low on health to slow down time and fire immense blasts. The Double Gear can also be used with Robot Master abilities, making Mega's special attacks bigger and more powerful.
The year is 20xx, and the famed Dr. Light has created eight new Robot Masters. Out of nowhere, the evil Dr. Wily has returned, and uses these robots as test subjects for his "Double Gear System." Wily escapes with the robots, with Mega Man ready to chase after them. However, Dr. Light says Mega Man won't stand a chance against the powered-up robots. So, Light gives Mega Man a prototype Double Gear that Wily had developed years ago. With the Double Gear in place, Mega Man begins his latest adventure to stop the plans of Dr. Wily.
When it was first announced, the Double Gear System sounded like something that wouldn't have much purpose other than making a challenging game easier. In practice, the Double Gear is much more than that. As normal Mega Man, the Speed Gear is particularly useful. In many boss fights, the Speed Gear can be used to avoid hazardous situations, such as dodging Impact Man's downward stab, and a certain monstrous machine's blasts. It doesn't just make the game easier; at times, it is a necessary tool.
In the stages, the Speed Gear comes in handy with frustrating enemy placement, and certain platforming sections, such as the rotating gears at Wily's Gear Fortress. The Power Gear is most useful when combining it with Mega Man's Special Weapons. Think about this scenario: you're low on health, one life, and the boss is about to beat you. By combining the Power Gear with a Special Weapon (such as making gigantic explosives with Blast Man's ability), you give yourself a fighting chance, so you don't have to start the whole stage over again. To avoid overuse, there is a limit to how much Gears can be used. If they reach that limit, they can't be used until they recharge, which takes a number of seconds. All in all, the Double Gear System is a great addition to the Mega Man series
Level design makes or breaks a side-scroller. Mega Man games are known for their challenging stages, and it's no different in Mega Man 11. The stages offer big challenges. They are also nicely diverse. Bounce Man's stage was particularly memorable for having a bouncy effect throughout. Meanwhile, Torch Man's stage has intense fiery sequences that will torture you unless you have Tundra Man's ability. The stages have a quality look to them. But, getting through them is often more frustrating than fun.
Cuphead, the famous Xbox indie title, is well known for its intense difficulty level. But, thanks to its short stages, the player never feels like it's impossible. Bit by bit, there's progress, and the player feels motivated to keep trying. Mega Man 11 is not very motivating. After getting through Gear Fortress, but getting destroyed by a powerful foe, it's not a very fun idea to play through the whole stage again. This is especially apparent on Normal Mode, where you only have two lives. Some level design choices are questionable, such as the spike fall at Gear Fortress, where you need to have especially quick reflexes or you'll land right on the instant death spikes.
However, to write off every stage as frustrating would be a disservice to the game. There are some great platforming sections in each stage. Block Man has some fantastic, fun platforming, especially the part where you have to quickly break through walls otherwise you're squashed was well done.
The bread and butter of Mega Man games is the boss battles. Mega Man 11 is no different; each of the boss battles (including mid-level bosses) have challenging patterns to master. Some are easier than others, but just about every Robot Master has a high level of difficulty. That difficulty can be subdued with the right Special Weapon. Of course, many would figure to do Tundra Man before Torch Man, as ice is invaluable against fire. However, unless you look up a guide, you won't know that Bounce Man's ability makes Fuse Man's battle almost completely free, for example. Overall, the boss battles are solid, but a little hard to enjoy if you're playing on Normal or above, since the danger of restarting the long stage is always a possibility.
Mega Man 11 has four difficulty options. There's Newcomer, Casual, Normal, and Superhero. Don't be fooled by 'Casual,' it operates more as a normal, while Normal is more of a hard mode. Most notably, in Casual, you get five lives as opposed to two, and checkpoints are more frequent. (Enemy attacks also do less damage.) Five lives make a lot more sense to start with than two in this type of game where you have to learn the boss movements on the fly. Newcomer offers unlimited lives and other perks, which is good for younger, new fans of the series. Meanwhile, Superhero is for truly dedicated fans only. This review recommends Casual Mode if you want a good chunk of the challenge of Normal, but a more pleasant experience. Of course, longtime fans will probably be more interested in Normal and then Superhero, as Casual does make things easier, especially with Dr. Light's shop.
Mega Man 11 has an upbeat soundtrack. It sounds very much like a tribute to the games of old. Each tune blends nicely into the stage. That said, they often sound very similar to one another and there are no big standout themes. This soundtrack won't go down as legendary, but it gets the job done in providing fun, retro-styled music as you trek carefully through each stage.
Mega Man 11 is a successful, but not fantastic, revival of the Classic series. The challenging platforming has returned, with plenty of great segments. But it can be frustrating and de-motivating to get through an entire stage only to die at a boss fight because you needed more than two lives to analyze the patterns. This review is not saying, "this game is hard, so it's bad;" rather that the the game can be tedious, rather than motivating on Normal Mode. Complaints about Normal Mode are rectified in Casual Mode, but there is still some frustrating, overly long level design. Still, Mega Man 11 is far from bad. It's a solid game that fans should enjoy.
A copy of the game was purchased by The Gamer for this review. Mega Man 11 is now available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
3.5 out of 5 stars.