I was worried when I first saw Mega Man 11. Mega Man series lead Keiji Inafune had left Capcom in 2010, going on to make his own Mega Man clone. The new art style initially turned me off as well, as it was not as immediately appealing as the 80s-inspired throwbacks seen in Mega Man 9 and 10. But Mega Man 11 won me over with its delightfully amped-up difficulty and cool time-stopping ability that makes its challenges (barely) possible. The moments I had to take in the scenery were few, but Mega Man 11 taught me that feeling like Mega Man is more important than looking like Mega Man.
Watch a full stage of Mega Man 11 above.
Unlike recent groundbreaking reboots of Mega Man’s NES contemporaries like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros., Mega Man 11 only slightly modernizes series staples (shooting, jumping, boss fights) without adding much depth. Don’t expect many surprises: Just like we’ve done 10 times before, you beat the bosses, work your way through Wily’s castle, and then it’s over. I suppose that makes Mega Man 11 conform to a series where spinoffs added the most variety — like Mega Man X’s exploration elements, which I really did miss in Mega Man 11’s linear, secret-free levels. But I highly enjoyed the one major gameplay innovation, the “Double Gear” system (I can only hear David Hayter’s Solid Snake say this), and it left me wanting more.
Double Gear, Huh?
The NES controller had just two buttons, and in Mega Man 1-6 they corresponded to “jump” and “shoot.” Mega Man 11 has more buttons than it knows what to do with, but the Double Gear system employs two of them – the left and right shoulder buttons, specifically – to add a new element to each of Mega Man’s basic functions. With the Power Gear you can overcharge your weapons for alternate attacks and more firepower, though it costs so much weapon energy that I barely used it, but with the essential Speed Gear you can slow down time to dodge bullets, carefully land jumps, and catch your breath.
That makes the Double Gear system a fundamental change to the way Mega Man 11’s levels are designed. Giving us the power to slow time seems to have freed up the developers to add many more enemies, disappearing platforms, and trenches of spikes to navigate, lengthening levels significantly. These are the longest, most brutal levels yet in Mega Man, and I welcomed the challenge.
Don’t be too afraid, however: While tough stretches in previous Mega Man games forced you to learn patterns and hone your skills, in Mega Man 11 you can stock up on powerups to take the edge off. For every challenge, there’s a consumable item to snatch you out of a pit, refill your energy, or protect you from spikes. You just have to grind a bit to collect bolts and purchase your way to success. Of course, grinding is not fun, so it’s only when I got really annoyed with replaying a lengthy level that I went shopping.
This time, Mega Man doesn’t just change color, but also gets a custom helmet for each new weapon acquired.
While those of you playing post-release will have the advantage of being able to Google up a boss-weakness guide for Mega Man 11 (because I wrote it for you), figuring out the boss order was definitely the biggest overall challenge in this universally tough game and I recommend that you at least attempt it on your own. Again, the marathon-length levels can make this a slog if you don’t end up having the right weapon, and unclear checkpoints mean you’ll have to repeat large sections if you slip up. While some tough, modern games like Super Meat Boy and Celeste let you respawn instantly, Dr. Light has yet to perfect that technology, so you’ll be hiking back through long portions of difficult levels. Personally, I like that: Failing in a video game should have consequences. Dark Souls players get it.
Let’s Talk Bosses
The traditional Mega Man boss design is another knock against the Power Gear as a useful ability. Because bosses already have vulnerabilities to certain weapons, there’s no point in amping up the weapons that already easily cut them down, and increasing the damage of weapons that barely do any is like upgrading your Nerf gun to Super Soaker. However, I found two pretty cool uses for the Power Gear. One is that Tundra Man’s T. Storm can be amplified to wipe out all enemies on screen like a more efficient Infinite Gauntlet. People watching me play in the office got a kick out of me hitting what amounted to the “nuke’em from orbit” button when frustration set in. The second is Impact Man’s P. Driver ability, which is a mid-air dash attack which is more useful for getting around because its charged form lets you zoom across the whole screen. See ya, disappearing block puzzle!
The bosses themselves are largely familiar, and that was disappointing. You may be surprised to learn that there hasn’t been a Torch Man before, because he is a clone of Fire Man, Heat Man, Flame Man etc. (However, his level, which is loosely summer camp-themed, is pretty cute.) Fuse Man, Tundra Man, and Blast Man all filled familiar Mega Man niches. I did like Acid Man, whose level featured PH balance (!) challenges as water went from neutral to acidic. Conversely, Bounce Man’s level is a total disaster as it uses some shaky physics to bounce Mega Man around deadly balloon-filled gauntlets, robbing you of control. Finally, Block Man is just the best: His Egyptian-like palace is filled with hieroglyphs of him triumphing over Mega Man.
Like previous Mega Man games, the weapons are varied but not all are useful. My favorites were Bounce Man’s B. Ball, a versatile weapon you can easily aim at enemies (similar to Metal Man’s Metal Blade in Mega Man 2); Block Man’s B. Dropper to rain heavy objects down on out-of-reach enemies; and the aforementioned P. Driver for skipping puzzle areas entirely. On the other side, Fuse Man’s S. Thunder is a charge that climbs walls and has few uses, and Blast Man’s C. Blast is a slow moving, remotely-detonated bomb that is way too slow to use in any context in a fast-moving game like Mega Man 11.
Historically speaking, Mega Man games that moved away from the squat, pixelated, grimacing Mega Man art style have had mixed results. While I never fully warmed up to Mega Man 11’s cutesy, highly-detailed graphical style, the new look didn’t interfere with the classic feel of Mega Man as it did in Mega Man 7, a beautiful, but slow and clunky game. There are some fantastic robot designs, like massive skull-faced pillars that shoot lasers from their mouths, a wooly mammoth on a hoverboard, and an ostrich that’s on fire. These recall the art of early Mega Man games while filling out contemporary 16:9 wide screens (a series first!), dwarfing Mega Man. It’s a great effect to make me feel nimble as I’m sliding around with time at a standstill to avoid giant, crazed bots.
I guess after 10 games in 31 years he really has become a Man.
While I can overlook and even grudgingly appreciate the graphics, it’s the sound that is Mega Man 11’s biggest oversight. For a series so famous for its tunes, the sedate, repetitive, techno background is a real letdown: Why not just use cool, retro-sounding chiptunes like the rest of the games if you don’t have any strong new musical ideas? Mega Man 11 also has some terrifically bad voice acting, which I actually got a kick out of — but eventually, the repetitive callouts (Speed Gear!) got on my coworkers’ nerves, prompting them to politely ask me to turn it down. You can choose to view subtitles and hear what few dialogue lines there are in Japanese, but if you did that you’d be missing out on Mega Man’s new, rich baritone — only in English! I guess after 10 games in 31 years he really has become a Man.
What About Switch and Amiibo?
Though it’s also on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, I felt compelled to first play Mega Man 11 on a Nintendo system, where the majority of the Mega Man games have lived. Here’s what you need to know about playing Mega Man 11 on Nintendo Switch: Unfortunately, there’s a small, but significant flaw in that the Y and B buttons on the right Joy-Con are too near the right thumbstick, and the classic Mega Man players’ pattern of shooting and jumping simultaneously can result in some accidental hits of the right thumbstick, which by default changes your weapons (you can turn this stick function off). Additionally, not having a D-pad on the left Joy-Con stinks. I also experienced some incorrect button signals getting to the television when playing in docked mode. Thankfully, all of this can be circumvented by using the Pro Controller (if you have one).
There is one significant advantage to playing on Switch, however: You can totally cheat with amiibo! Scanning an amiibo while Mega Man 11 is paused instantly fills your health or weapon bars, or it might even give you a 1-Up, but it’s limited in that you can only scan a single amiibo once a day, and bonuses max out at 20 per day. (You can change your clock to get around this.) In a brutally hard game, this is a pretty fun (though potentially expensive) way to bend the rules.
In this bonus time-based mode you must avoid red baloons and destroy blue balloons
I beat Mega Man 11 on Normal in about eight hours. I’m no speed runner, but Mega Man 11 provides a lot of options for Mega Masochists looking for timed challenges, including remixes of levels with leaderboards, most of which unlock when you beat the campaign for the first time: Jump Saver challenges you not to jump, Buster Breakdown challenges you not to shoot, and Balloon Rush adds balloons that you have to destroy or avoid based on their color. I had spent enough time with Mega Man 8’s levels by this point so I didn’t have much drive to put up my times. The best bonus mode, though, is the mysterious Dr. Light’s Trial, which is an ultra-hard, one-life-only set of unique levels similar to Breath of the Wild’s Trial of the Sword DLC — and even better, it unlocks another mystery trial mode (whose trial could that be?). Finally, you can pump up the difficulty to Superhero and play through the campaign again, if you dare.