Mega Man fans have been waiting patiently for a new game starring their beloved Blue Bomber would be quite the understatement. After all, it’s been eight whole years since Mega Man 10 graced gaming screens back in 2010, and a lot has changed for Mega Man since then.
The person most often credited with Mega Man’s creation and proliferation, Keiji Inafune, has long since left Capcom to pursue an independent career allowing more creative freedom. And with someone like Inafune leaving rather large shoes to fill, it took a long time for Mega Man to find a new internal champion at Capcom willing to step up to the challenge.
That champion ended up being Capcom producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya, whose previous production credits include Asura’s Wrath as well as the recent Mega Man Legacy Collection 2. With Mega Man 11, Tsuchiya and his team have endeavored to produce another direct sequel in the Classic series that, instead of looking backwards with another retro-styled title, attempts to bring the Blue Bomber into the present day with all the contemporary aesthetics and gameplay twists that implies. The latter manifests as the Double Gear System, which is the main new gameplay addition Mega Man 11 brings to the table — and it also happens to be the anchoring point for the game’s story as well.
Some time after Mega Man 10, perennial series villain Dr. Wily recalls some forbidden research he did in his youth during his time at Robot University with Dr. Light. This research pertained to a concept called the Double Gear System that would overclock robots, pushing their power, speed, and abilities beyond their natural limits. However, because of the risks this posed to the robots it was used on, Wily’s work was halted in favor of Dr. Light’s research into robots with independent thought, creating the deep rift between the two that has characterized their relationship for the entire series. Faced with defeat at Mega Man’s hands time and time again, Wily decides to put his old research into practice and strike back with a new set of Double Gear-equipped Robot Masters to take the Blue Bomber down and conquer the world.
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Naturally, Mega Man elects for Dr. Light to equip him with the Double Gear System as well so that he stands a fighting chance, and thus Mega Man’s latest fight for everlasting peace begins. Gameplay-wise, the Double Gear System adds an interesting layer of meter management to Mega Man’s classic run, jump, and shoot gameplay. With a tap of a shoulder button, you can activate either the Power Gear or Speed Gear, and each affects Mega Man in different ways.
The Power Gear strengthens Mega Man’s default Mega Buster weapon, allowing for a double charge shot alongside powered-up special weapons. The Speed Gear, on the other hand, speeds up Mega Man so much that the world around him appears to slow down, making fast-moving enemies and tricky platforming segments easier to deal with. Of course, Mega Man can’t use these Double Gear enhancements freely. Whenever one is activated, a small meter appears above his head and begins filling up. If the bar reaches maximum before you turn the Power Gear or Speed Gear back off, Mega Man will temporarily overheat and be unable to use either Double Gear ability for a short time.
But that’s not all. When Mega Man is down to just a few ticks of health, both shoulder buttons can be pressed to activate both gears at the same time, bestowing the benefits of both the Power and Speed Gears and unlocking a last-ditch super charge shot that might turn the tables in a desperate situation. The downside to this is that Mega Man is left even more vulnerable after activating the Double Gear System in this manner, with a powered-down buster that cannot be charged for a short time. This means the player must decide on the fly if this last-ditch mechanic is worth the risk of activating it. If the player remembers to, that is.
I can only speak for myself, but much like the Drop Dash during my initial playthroughs of Sonic Mania, I have consistently found that I unintentionally overlook the Double Gear System most of the time during normal gameplay. It’s not because the system is badly implemented or a pain to use; on the contrary, I believe the Double Gear System adds a fun, interesting layer of meter management to Mega Man’s standard gameplay and is a great addition for newcomers, the less skilled, and speed runners.
I can’t wait to see how speed runners in particular utilize the advantages offered by the Double Gear System, as it opens up an incredible amount of opportunity for experimentation and optimization that hasn’t necessarily existed before in Mega Man. At the same time, players in-between those extremes, such as myself, may find themselves mostly forgetting the Double Gear System even exists and sticking to Mega Man’s standard abilities. Thankfully, though, those standard abilities are back in full for the first time since Mega Man 8.
While Mega Man 9 and 10 took away the Blue Bomber’s slide and charge shot as part of their retro, back-to-basics approach, Mega Man has his full repertoire of abilities here in Mega Man 11 on top of the Double Gear System, making him feel particularly versatile and powerful in this latest title. But that versatility and power don’t come at the expense of a challenging gameplay experience. After I previewed Mega Man 11 earlier this year, one of the most consistent concerns expressed to me by fans was that the Double Gear System, along with the return of the charge shot, would make Mega Man 11 way too easy for series veterans. Simply put, I’m happy to report this is categorically not the case.
Mega Man 11 Reviews : Good Gameplay
While the Newcomer and Casual difficulties are exactly what they sound like and can be bested without too much trouble by amateur players, the standard Normal difficulty presents a solidly challenging experience that really ramps up in the game’s later stages, to say nothing of the ultra-hard Superhero setting. It’s abundantly clear that the game’s difficulty, in Normal mode at least, was designed around Mega Man’s full repertoire of abilities, such that Mega Man never feels too overpowered for all the enemies and challenges laid out before him — even when you take the Double Gear System into account, which isn’t required to finish the game. Of course, as with many other Mega Man games, the difficulty is more or less adjustable on the fly no matter what setting you’re playing on thanks to the in-game shop, where you can spend bolts on permanent power-up parts as well as single-use items like the life-refilling E Tanks.
Basically, Mega Man 11 can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be, thanks to a smattering of well-considered difficulty settings as well as the ever-present option to grind stages for bolts and brute-force your way through the game’s tougher segments using E Tanks. But regardless of whether you take a hard or easy road, you’re going to have a great time. Like many other platformers starring the Blue Bomber, Mega Man 11 has a wonderful pick up and play quality to it. The controls are pitch perfect, allowing you to run, jump, and shoot on a dime, comfortable in the knowledge that if something goes wrong, it’s entirely your fault. There is one minor exception to this. Ladders pose a real problem for Mega Man in this game, as he’s just not as adept at climbing them as he used to be. His climbing animation looks good to be sure, but Mega Man’s ladder movement is so sluggish in this game that the action feels like it slows down every time you have to climb one. Still, this is a pretty minor quibble in the face of a game whose controls are thoroughly on-point the rest of the time. But Mega Man’s precise controls and pick-up-and-play quality are hardly the only reasons the series’ gameplay has endured over the years.
Charting your own course through the game’s initial set of eight stages and trying to figure out which special weapon each Robot Master is weak to is just as fun today as it was back when the very first Mega Man game introduced the concept in the late ‘80s. It helps that those eight stages — and the Robot Masters who preside over them — are, with minor exceptions, some of the series’ strongest to date. Whether you’re blasting your way through Block Man’s pyramid fort, Bounce Man’s indoor fitness park, or Blast Man’s action movie set, each Robot Master and their stage feel wholly distinct from the others, ensuring that nothing ever starts feeling too samey.
Now I did just mention minor exceptions, and indeed, Mega Man 11 includes the odd sequence that feels overly punishing and slightly cheap. Torch Man’s stage in particular is the main offender here, with its three instant-death sequences involving a wall of fire that is constantly closing in on you. The bouncy floors and walls in, er, Bounce Man’s stage can also frustrate on occasion, but in general these instances are very much the exception to the rule of Mega Man 11’s otherwise strong level design. More importantly, these levels stand up to repeat playthroughs. Your tenth run through a stage is likely to be just as fun as your first, as every level benefits from strong design and enemy placement that encourage you to figure out the best way to utilize the special weapons at your disposal, rather than just relying on the Mega Buster. In fact, Mega Man channels a bit of Mega Man 9 in the way its special weapons complement one another incredibly well, with some having additional utility beyond just basic offense. Impact Man’s Pile Driver, for example, also acts as a mid-air dash that can be used to bypass obstacles and pits if you learn to use it correctly. But even the basic offensive weapons complement each other well and cover areas above, below, and around Mega Man that the Mega Buster, with its classic straight-shooting behavior, cannot.
There’s a sense of genuine excitement every time you best a Robot Master and gain their special weapon because each one feels valuable, to say nothing of how each weapon’s properties change when boosted by the Power Gear. Deserved though all this praise may be, there is a lingering, pervasive sense that Mega Man 11 perhaps plays things a little too safe in its overall design despite the addition of the Double Gear System. For example, there aren’t any hidden collectibles to find or even a single alternate path to take through any of the game’s levels; the route you take the first time is the route you’ll be taking every time. This feels like a missed opportunity considering Mega Man games as far back as 4 have incorporated hidden items and alternate paths into their level designs. On top of that, Mega Man 11 also ranks as one of the shorter Mega Man games to date, with only ten full-length stages to blast through in the main campaign.
Yes, those levels themselves are on the longer side, but with no alternate paths to explore and the Wily Castle portion of the game being so short this time, it feels like perhaps there should’ve been a little more content here in general. Mega Man 11 attempts to make up for this by including a bevy of extra challenge modes complete with online leaderboards, but the effort falls a bit short unless you’re the type of player who loves chasing fast times and high scores. If, like me, you aren’t really that type of player, you aren’t likely to get much mileage out of Mega Man 11’s challenge modes.
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There are several different rulesets available like a basic time attack mode as well as more unique challenges like Jump Saver, which challenges you to get through a stage using as few jumps as possible, and Point Builder, which has you trying to chain enemy kills together in order to boost your score. But none of these extra challenge modes held my attention for very long, save for one: Balloon Rush. This entertaining mode strips every stage of its enemies and replaces them with blue and red balloons. Your goal is to destroy the former by running into or shooting them while avoiding the latter.