The Blue Bomber is back, as Mega Man 11 sets out to accomplish the goal of being a modern coat of paint on a classic style of action platforming.
Title: Mega Man 11
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 2, 2018
For the longest time, I thought Capcom had completely given up on Mega Man. The franchise, with the exception of packaging bundles of the X series, has been stagnant for years, with the developers more happy to use the Blue Bomber as a guest character. With the tragic failure of Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 but massive interest in that style of gameplay, Mega Man 11 eventually rose from the franchise’s proverbial ashes to take on Dr. Wily once more.
In this latest entry in the storied action platformer series, Mega Man 11 sees Dr. Wily stumble upon an older invention of his, harkening back to the younger researcher days with Dr. Light. An argument over the utility of self-aware robots and their standing in society came to a boiling point with the invention of the double gear system, its hinderance and Wily’s revenge in the modern day, taking eight of Dr. Light’s strongest robots and infusing them with tremendous power.
Mega Man 11 follows the tried and true formula the franchise is famous for. The player chooses one of eight starting stages, obtaining alternate special weapons after beating the stages’ bosses. However, now Mega Man can unlock the power of Wily’s invention, slowing down time for a brief period with the Speed Gear or utilizing more powerful blasts with the Power Gear.
These new additions do little to bolster the depth of Mega Man 11 gameplay beyond what we’ve seen in other iterations of the franchise, and at this point, the lack of innovation is a bit bothersome. I was neither wowed nor surprised about anything I saw during my three-hour gameplay session with the main game, and the new gear system only modified the core loop by increasing damage or improving reaction time.
Going with a 2.5D format but modernizing the graphics counter to the past two entries’ classic NES format, you would hope that there would be something more to these stages that couldn’t be done with old technology. Instead, these stages still adhere to the standard gameplay conventions, requiring players to shoot stage-specific robots, jump on platforms, take on mini-bosses, progress through the stage, take on bosses and move on.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a certain “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality with Mega Man 11. Each stage does a great job of keeping to an elemental theme, often changing the parameters of stage progression and varies its challenges with an eclectic group of enemies. Players are kept on their toes, and may even find themselves rethinking their approach to platforming to advance.
There are a few “the floor is lava” moments of thrilling panic, especially with the Torch Man stage that sees you running away from a wall of fire. These rare moments that change up the pace have been done before, however, harkening back to the Flame Stag stage from Mega Man X2. Here, it’s less relied on precise, panicked movements than on shooting enemies ahead of you with little time to spare.
If anything, Mega Man 11 is a more accessible game than we’ve seen before. You can earn currency throughout these stages and use the money to purchase upgrades for your character. On Normal difficulty, you can even purchase a tool that drops more valuable forms of the screw-based currency, although this becomes restricted at Casual difficulties or lower.
The idea of a Mega Man game with difficulties is intriguing, and I’d rather include that option without Dr. Light’s Lab. “Normal” is the third-hardest base difficulty, and with just two extra lives in long stages with punishing checkpoints, it’s an apt challenge. However, if you can purchase extra lives for just 50 screws or energy/weapon tanks, then you can ultimately brute force any of the main three difficulty levels.
I’m also not a fan of the naming conventions of these difficulties, either. Varied by the number of starting lives, damage taken by hits, checkpoint placement and, at higher than Casual, special weapon ammo refreshes between deaths, Newcomer is an apt “keep on trying” mode. However, “Normal” is fairly difficult, and “Casual” is a moderate challenge for most.
I completed the game on both Casual and Normal difficulties in order to gauge the progression, and both have pros and cons to their approach. In fact, “Normal” difficulty encourages grinding stages so you can get extra lives and energy/weapon tanks, effectively re-balancing the difficulties. You can’t even change difficulties after you start a save file.
I may sound exceptionally harsh on Mega Man 11, but it comes from a place of love. I grew up more with the X series on the SNES, and have gone back to appreciate the finer details of the NES series. The core gameplay loop is good, but it does nothing to push the envelope further and become more than a sum of its franchise’s tentpole attributes.
It’s Capcom opening up a bag of tricks the player is familiar with. Sure, adding homing missiles in an area with tight platforming is a rewarding challenge, but it’s one I’ve seen in a dozen or so games in this franchise. It’s a fresh coat of paint on your old sedan; it still does a good job that you’re comfortable with, but no matter how much it looks like a new car, it’s not a new car.
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Once you’ve encountered one boss battle, it becomes a predictable tune for all. Each has a second, upgraded form that plays on the Power Gear format, but most encounters just speed up movements and increase the attack ranges of the first wave attacks. The one-liners from the bosses add flair to each character’s personality, but I was never caught off guard by any of their movement patterns.
There are challenges and trials to explore that expand gameplay beyond its three-hour timeframe, and they do incentivize replayability. There are even online leaderboards that will likely cultivate its own sense of community. Besides specific challenges, time trials don’t add much beyond retreading previously explored stages, although it does separate the very best from the rest.
I would have loved for the Speed Gear and Power Gear to revitalize the genre and bring a refreshing take, but the Power Gear treads on the familiar grounds of the Buster Upgrade, and the Speed Gear just slows things down. I used it just a handful of times, and only when facing impending doom. Even then, it’s only used to make once standard inputs easier to use.
There’s just something off about Mega Man 11’s presentation as a whole. Besides the enemy character designs, which are wonderful and evocative, there’s no point in these stages that makes me go, “I’ve never seen that before.” They could have done a lot more to use its 2.5D format and draw players in on the foregrounds and backgrounds art techniques that modern titles have mastered.
The biggest crime Mega Man 11 is guilty of is simply being a “good” game. It’s as though Capcom checked off all the boxes befitting a classic franchise revival; inoffensive in its implementation. I’m not humming along with the music, I’m not tapping my feet to the beat; I’m simply acknowledging its formula and nodding in appreciation before moving on. It has no flair; you don’t even get to carry jump progress through stage gates! It just drops you to the ground, as soulless as the game itself.
Mega Man 11 to reinvent the wheel; I’m just asking for the game to have its own flavor. It doesn’t taste like chocolate, strawberry or even vanilla ice cream; it is simply ice cream. Mega Man 11 is the 11th numbered Mega Man game in the series, and that is the boldest identity it possesses.
Mega Man 11Capcom
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.