Could it be? After years and years of starts, stops, delays and outright disappearance, do we finally have a true blue Mega Man game for this generation?
As a huge fan of the series, Mega Man is one of those games that defined my childhood — alongside classics such as Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, Contra, Super Mario Bros., Gradius and 1942 to name a few. The first Mega Man was also the game that got me in trouble with my grandma as a kid.
Back then, we had this game rental shop in my hometown in the Philippines and I used my limited allowance to rent Mega Man for a week during the summer. So, I took my grandma’s television from her room, got a super long extension cord and moved the TV to a small hut in her garden so I could play Mega Man all day without being interrupted. I would later find out that my grandma searched for the darn thing for three days inside her big, Spanish-style house before giving up and deciding to water her plants in the garden instead. Guess who she found playing Mega Man in her little straw hut? And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling hibiscus. That was the first and only time I ever got yelled at by my grandma. All I can say is, never prevent an Asian lady from watching her favorite Asian dramas. Lesson learned.
Another thing I learned was how fun it was to play Mega Man. There’s just something about its perfect combination of challenging platforming and shooting, combined with the ability to steal your foes’ abilities that I found incredibly enjoyable. I would end up buying every mainline Mega Man game that would be released after that, with Mega Man 2 and the offshoot Mega Man Legends games being my favorites in the series. As shooters and 3D adventure games gained prominence in the gaming industry, however, side-scrolling action games started losing favor. After seeing major releases each year during the 1990s, the spigot for classic Mega Man games slowed down to a trickle starting in the mid-2000s.
I was so starved for classic Mega Man that I didn’t hesitate to heartily jump on former Mega Man overseer Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 project on Kickstarter. Needless to say, that didn’t quite pan out like I hoped it would. Fortunately, Capcom has been on a tear lately when it comes to renewing its older intellectual properties and reclaiming?lost goodwill from its old-school fans. After seeing success with the release of several Mega Man classic collections, the company finally announced Mega Man 11.
Having played the latest entry in the series, what does this Mega Man veteran think about the newest addition to the Blue Bomber’s library? First off, I would just like to say that there’s a special place in (something that rhymes with bell) for whoever designed Bounce Man’s stage. It specifically had one area where the platforming portion had me bouncing off walls, not just within the stage itself but also inside my head, because of how annoyingly maddening it was. Then again, it’s a perfect example of the tough-as-nails classic game design that I grew up adoring back in the day.
Games in the old 8-bit and 16-bit eras were hard. I was reminded of this every time I play the original Ninja Gaiden on my NES Classic and Contra III on the SNES Classic with much confidence and hope,?only to spectacularly wipe out on segments and bosses that I used to be able to clear with no problems when I was younger. Chalk it up to rust and the declining reflexes that come with age. Despite that, I still had a modicum of pride left when I started playing Mega Man 11. After all, I finished practically every mainline Mega Man game as well as all of the X series.
So I picked Normal Mode, loaded up Block Man’s stage and prepared for a relaxing, fun time. Boy, do I need to reconsider my idea of relaxing fun. Mega Man 11 is legitimately freaking hard. During my first two tries, I didn’t even reach the boss as I lost my lives in that segment where you had this deadly wall chasing you and I couldn’t, for the life of me, jump through this narrow opening fast enough to outrun it. The game revels in using one-shot-kill mechanics, whether it be stuff that mercilessly crush you at full health or strategically placed bottomless pits that eat up your lives. By the time I limped into the boss on my third try, I was down to my last life and got unceremoniously slapped, punched and bricked to death while I tried to learn its patterns. I then switched to Fuse Man, managed to get to the boss on the first try and pretty much got electrocuted to oblivion. Yup, this feels like old-school Mega Man alright.
Being already way behind in my reviews thanks to the super long and coincidentally numbered Dragon Quest XI?(best DQ I’ve ever played) with the equally super long Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey waiting in the wings and even more games on the way, I decided to swallow my pride. I restarted the game, picked Casual Mode and gave it another go. That’s right, I am now officially a filthy Mega Man casual. This, by the way, points to the increased accessibility that’s built into Mega Man 11. Classic Mega Man games were great for old-school gamers who wanted a challenge but were pretty punishing to newcomers and folks who aren’t the most technically skilled players. The addition of two easier modes, however, means there’s a level of challenge that’s just right for everyone regardless of skill.
Casual Mode, for example, is recommended for Mega Man veterans who haven’t played the series in a while, which perfectly describes me. It starts you out with more lives than Normal Mode while also reducing the damage you take from enemy attacks. It also has a more generous checkpoint system, allowing you to start closer to the spot of your untimely demise.
Mega Man 11’s Newcomer Mode, meanwhile, gives you even more help by giving you infinite lives, eliminating deaths from falls, increasing the output of your buster shot and slowing the rate at which your Double Gear system overheats. It’s a great way to bring new players into the series or folks who have played Mega Man before but struggled with the series’ difficulty.
Speaking of the Double Gear system, Mega Man 11 tries to freshen up the series gameplay by using a mechanic based, strangely enough, on technology once developed by Dr. Wily. The system is aptly signified by two gears below your life bar that can be activated separately or simultaneously. One gear allows you to slow down time, which is quite helpful for navigating tricky platforming sections or learning boss patterns. The other gear powers up your attacks, allowing for more powerful buster shots or powered-up versions of the moves you acquire from bosses.
The boosts from the Double Gear system aren’t game breaking but can give you enough of an edge to get out of a tight situation. They’re also governed by a meter or bar that will overheat if exceeded when you use the system too long. This puts Mega Man’s buster arm in a weakened state for a certain amount of time so you definitely want to turn it off before it gets to that point. You also can activate both gears at the same time to benefit from both effects at once. Do note that doing so prevents you from canceling the Double Gear, which means Mega Man will overheat once the effect is over. Classic Mega Man moves are also available, including sliding, charging your buster shot or using Rush to reach higher places.
One neat feature included in Mega Man 11 is the ability to improve the Blue Bomber’s abilities by using Dr. Light’s upgrade lab. These upgrades require a certain number of bolts, which you can pick up as you go through the various stages. One upgrade lets your buster arm charge automatically when Mega Man isn’t firing, allowing you to have it ready to go most times without the need for you to manually hold the shot button. Another upgrade lets your Double Gear meter charge faster while another allows you to move normally even when time is slowed down by your Double Gear. It’s one more way for you to customize that familiar Mega Man experience, which, the game thankfully hews closely to.
Trying to guess which boss ability is strong against whom continues to be a fun exercise. After beating Block Man, for example, I headed for Bounce Man thinking that a bouncing ball is weak against a tough wall of bricks. I guessed wrong but still managed to triumph in one go after learning his pattern. When you guess right, though, fights become much easier in classic Mega Man fashion, giving you a significant advantage in battle. This is much welcome, given how the bosses can use the Double Gear system, too, leading to some pretty awesome transformations or powered up attacks. Stages, meanwhile, continue to reflect their boss’s theme, whether it be crushing blocks in Block Man’s stage, electric hazards in Fuse Man’s stage or those devilish bouncing balls of pain in Bounce Man’s stage. I mean, they’re not really that bad except for that one section that’ll make you wish you can kick these balls hard, and I actually quite like the concept behind Bounce Man’s stage. All combined, these various stage hazards are the gaming equivalent of 1,000 ways to die as you get bounced, crunched, shocked, punctured and torched to oblivion. Then again, the more difficult the obstacle, the more satisfying it is when you overcome them.
As much as I like how Mega Man 11 sticks close to the classic formula, it still has its share of issues. Cheap ways to die have always been a hallmark of the series but this game pumps that up to the ‘nth degree at times, making certain sequences?feel frustrating. I can handle tough but fair segments where I accept full ownership for my own failures but segments involving an inordinate amount of potential ways to die from full health just feel cheap.
This is compounded by the fact that stages in Mega Man 11 are long. I’ve always felt that Mega Man stage design was best as a challenging sprint as opposed to being a long and tough slog. It’s one thing to have long stages in Wily’s base but some of the initial boss stages just feel a bit drawn out for my tastes. This is especially an issue when playing Normal Mode where having fewer checkpoints can send you way back in the stage after an untimely death.?Honestly, the difficulty of Normal Mode would be just perfect for me if it only had more checkpoints as Casual Mode is a bit on the easy side for my taste.
Also, while the addition of the Double Gear system is welcome, I also wish that the game added more new features to help freshen up the classic gameplay. This being the first Mega Man game in a long time, I can understand them sticking to what’s tried and true as they create a new blueprint for the series. I do hope that as Capcom builds on this new design that the Mega Man titles that follow introduce some new mechanics to further freshen up the base experience.
That being said, Mega Man 11 marks a much welcome return for the Blue Bomber — one that goes the extra mile to cater to audiences both old and new. Welcome back, little guy. You’ve been sorely missed.
Mega Man 11 brings back Capcom’s Blue Bomber in all his glory, complete with the series’ trademark difficulty as well as new modes that help ease in newcomers and less technically skilled players. Admittedly, the game’s challenge can feel cheap at times and stages can feel a bit drawn out. That being said, this is a great first take of a modern Mega Man for this generation and one can only hope it doesn’t take another five years for the next game in the main series to come out. Now?then,?how about Mega Man Legends 3, Capcom?
Rating: 8 out of 10Cost: $29.99; PC, PS4 (reviewed), Switch, XB1http://megaman.capcom.com/mm11.html
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