Mega Man is a series that I only got into around five years ago, as a result of the podcast I was in; playing Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X sold me on the franchise and suddenly I became addicted. Luckily, after beating the classic series, I didn’t have to wait too long until Capcom announced Mega Man 11.

I was lucky though. Long time Mega Man fans had to wait almost 9 years for this entry to drop.

Was it worth the wait?

GET INTO GEAR

The story of Mega Man 11 is pretty simple: Wily remembers the gear system that he worked on during his youth and decides to redevelop it and test it on a bunch of Dr Light’s robots. The gear system makes them stronger or faster so, in order to deal with them, Mega Man needs to fit himself with that same gear system. From there, it’s the usual case of taking down each of the eight Robot Masters, and then heading off to the Wily Tower to stop his evil plan. It’s as straightforward as it comes, with no plot twists, no Proto Man, no Bass, no extra castles – nothing. Not that the game really needs anything more, as the series has always been more focused on the tight and fun gameplay than developing a story.

From a visual standpoint, the game looks surprisingly good. I wasn’t initially sold on the visual art style, as the initial trailers gave off a very Mighty Number 9 vibe. However, as more footage became available, I started to get used to it and even like it. Whilst I may prefer the detailed sprites from Mega Man 7 and 8, the graphics in the game are still pretty stunning.

The aesthetics specific to the different stages also fit well with their Robot Masters, and they offer quite unique themings for the series. Blast Man is set inside a carnival, Torch Man is in a forest camp, and so on; there’s some really great new settings in Mega Man 11.

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The animations are spot on too, with Mega Man jumping and sliding just as you’d expect him to. It all feels right. There’s also a lot of nice extra touches added in to enhance the experience: all the enemies have their own personalities, such as a screaming flaming turkey in torch man’s stage (don’t ask) and a welding robot in Impact Man’s stage which is hardworking, but also sad at what its life has become. Capcom didn’t have to add little touches like that, but they really add to the overall quality of the game.

Unfortunately the audio doesn’t quite hit the mark. The voice acting is reasonably solid, at least for Mega Man standards, but the main issue is with the music. Whilst it’s not necessarily bad, and it does fit with each stage, it’s just not as memorable the other titles in the series. There’s the occasional genuinely good tune, but most of the time you’ll have forgotten the melody by the time you finish the stage. Given that Mega Man games are usually famous for their amazing soundtracks, it’s disappointing that this entry is a little lacking in that regard.

SUPER FIGHTING ROBOT MEGA MAN
But that’s not too much of an issue since, as aforementioned, it’s the gameplay that is the real star of the show. As ever, it’s a tough platformer that typically focuses more on the platforming than the action – even enemies are merely just an obstacle to overcome. The gear system he is equipped with helps to spice things up a tad, as you have access to the power and speed gear abilities. The power gear provides you with souped up attacks, whereas the more useful speed gear will slow down time. Neither last very long, but they provide you with a slight advantage against the obstacles and enemies that lie in your path. There’s also an additional super gear attack which you can activate when near death, which is essentially just both of them activated at the same time – quite useful for getting you out of a tight spot. When the concept was initially announced, it felt like something they had put in to cater to newcomers; however, I’m glad to say that this isn’t the case. On the normal difficulty, the game is really hard – even when using the gears. It is possible to go through the game without ever touching the gear system, but that would be an extremely tough challenge. It’s balanced really well to help it feel more like a gameplay gimmick rather than a crutch for weaker players.

More so when you consider than you are not the only one fitted with the gear system – all the bosses are too. Some of them use the power gear and can turn into behemoths; whereas others will use the speed gear to zoom around the screen super fast. If you don’t retaliate by using your gear system, you’re going to have one hell of a tough time. More so than normal.

As per Mega Man tradition, the game is quite brutal and unforgiving, but also well designed enough to make the challenges fair. The levels are a lot longer, with them usually being divided into three long sections broken up by a checkpoint, and then capped off with a boss at the end. This can lead to some levels feeling more like a gauntlet compared to the older games as you try and survive with your limited life stock. Difficulty can be adjusted based on your skill level, and the easier difficulties add some great accessibility tweaks to make is feasible for casual platforming fans. I’d recommend trying to stick with normal difficulty though, as I think most platforming aficionados should be able to get through. There was only only one area in the game where I felt like the game had cheated me, and that was at the end of Tundra Man’s stage. There’s a section involving precise jumping across bottomless pits, and the game doesn’t seem to register your jumps near the end of the ledge – which led to some quite annoying deaths. That was the only time I had something so egregious, but unfortunately it’s still an annoyance that spoils an otherwise great stage.

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GET EQUIPPED WITH…
The game does try and aide you along the way with Auto’s Shop. Here you can purchase some useful upgrades, as well as items like Energy Tanks and Beat Calls, the latter of which will save you from bottomless pits (which is handy for that troublesome icy area). The upgrades are where things get more interesting though, as you can get some items that can really help your experience – such as some anti-slip boots or the ability to move at normal speed whilst using the speed gear.

The main way you’ll be upgrading though is by collecting the weapon chips from the Robot Masters, and this game may have one of my favourite weapon sets in a Mega Man game. Most of them feel unique, or have some degree of utility that encourages you to use them. Fuse Man’s Scramble Thunder sends an electrical pulse across the floor, which can eliminate Mets – even when in defense mode; and Impact Man’s Pile Driver is ridiculously overpowered as it can make short work of platforming sections as you fly through the air. To make things even better, Mega Man also changes form to take the appearance of the Robot Master who you got it from. A nice touch, and I hope they keep this visual choice in future entries.

After beating the single player mode, which will probably take you around five hours, you’ll still have plenty more to do. There’s an array of challenge modes, which challenge you to beat the levels in different ways. Aside from the standard time trial, you can also navigate through levels filled with balloons – making sure to avoid the dangerous red balloons and collect the blue ones. Or you might want to see if you can beat the level while jumping as little as possible. They’re nice incentives to go back and master the levels in order to obtain a gold medal. The real highlight though is Light’s Challenge, which offers a tough gauntlet of short and newly crafted platform challenges which need to be overcome without dying. It’s a lot of fun, and there are so many levels that it’ll take you a while to reach the end of it. Along with achievements and some other bonus content, it really helps to justify that price tag as there’s plenty to do here for the Mega Man fan.

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Revisiting Mega Man 11 was a little bit of a surprise. I’d completely forgotten just how difficult it was – but in a good way. This game really is the modern iteration of Mega Man that we’ve been waiting for since Mega Man 8. Small issues aside, this is a must buy for fans of tough platformers. Good work, Capcom!