After a 10 year hiatus, Mega Man is back with a brand new game. This isn't an 8-bit throwback, this is the real deal. Mega Man 11 feels like the true sequel to MM8 that MM9 was purposely trying not to be. MM11 looks, sounds, and plays like a modern game. A $30, retro inspired game, but still a game that moves the series forward.
Mega Man 11 doesn't explain anything about Zero or the connection to the 21XX future of Mega Man X, and Proto Man and Bass aren't even in it, but I feel like its story does more to flesh out the Mega Man universe than any game in the series since MM7. Mega Man 11’s story revolves around the game's main mechanic, the Double Gear system. This robot upgrade was developed by Dr. Wily back in the days when he and Dr. Light didn't have facial hair and hadn't gone gray. In the intro, we see Dr Wily having a flashback dream of how a committee of scientists chose to pursue Light's ideas of making robots with independent thought instead of developing the Double Gear system based on his prototype. We only get a short glimpse of Wily and Light in their college years, but this does a great job showing us why Dr. Wily still holds a grudge against Dr. Light.
Dr. Wily's dream inspires him to finish his work on the Double Gear system. Then he does what he does in every game, he uses it to steal a bunch of Robot Masters from Light's lab to try and take over the world. Which begs the question, is Dr. Wily a robot now? Did he pull a Dr. Gero or did he install the Double Gear system onto his personal flying saucer? Mega Man then has Dr. light install the old prototype on him to help him fight Wily. The prototype causes great strain the robots who use it, but Mega Man doesn't seem to mind. I guess he can always buy a new body from Roll and Auto.
The Double Gear system allows you to boost Mega Man's power or speed for a short period of time. Both Gears share a timer, and if you use either one for too long, they overheat and can't be used for a while. The Power Gear increases the attack power of Mega Man's buster shots, fires a second charged shot, and boosts the power of all Robot Master weapons. It's a lot like the X-Buster upgrade in Mega Man X, except this one is on a timer. The Speed Gear is supposed to be a speed boost, but it actually looks more like slow motion in-game. Everything slows down, including Mega Man, allowing you to maneuver past obstacles, hit fast moving targets, or just have more time to attack an enemy. You can also buy an upgrade from Dr. Light's Lab that allows you to move at regular speed during the speed boost. You can use both Gears at once, but only when Mega Man is at low health. You can't cancel the effect when using them together; though, which forces them to overheat and go on cooldown.
The Double Gear system is a cool addition to the classic Mega Man gameplay. It lets you to play around with the platforming mechanics and helps you get through some sections with ease, but it is not mandatory. You can ignore it if you want a more old-school experience. You can beat the game without using it at all, if you're really hardcore.
Aside from the Double Gear system, MM11 feels a lot like classic Mega Man. The level design is very linear, and there's no exploration or hidden items, like in MM7 and the X series. Every level has some kind of unique obstacle or theme that sets it apart from the rest, without feeling gimmicky. There are some returning enemies and obstacles, but the levels feel new and fresh, and not like a greatest hits of Mega Man levels. For example, Torch Man’s level is a robot campgrounds with robotic gas lantern owls that light the night, robot mushroom torch enemies that can be used as platforms, and walls of flame that chase you through lumber platforming mazes. It’s unlike any fire themed level in previous Mega Man games.
I think the bosses are pretty good for the most part. I like most of their designs. I'm not a fan of Bounce Man, his balloon themed stage, or his clown music, but the rest are cool. The actual boss fights are really good, especially when only using the Mega Buster and not tearing them apart with the weapon they're weak against. They all use the Double Gear system, so they have second phases in which they do more powerful attacks with the Power Gear or slow down (or speed up) time to do a special attack with the Speed Gear. The one that really stands out to me is Block Man. He uses the Power Gear to turn into a huge block goliath. Impact Man also has a big second form in which he turns into a construction site drilling machine, but it’s not as big as Block Man's. Not all of the bosses have huge second forms, but they do have very flashy attacks reminiscent of Marvel VS Capcom super moves. I got the feeling that they were not afraid to try some new things with these boss fights.
Mega Man 11 has 3 difficulties available from the start and a harder “Superhero” difficulty unlockable by beating the game on normal. Newcomer is the easiest one. It gives you infinite lives; infinite Beats, which pull you out of pits; you take less damage and do more damage; there's no knockback; and you get a few of the Dr. Light’s Lab upgrades preinstalled for free, among other things. Everything is pretty much a pushover in this mode. Casual is also very easy, but doesn’t give you infinite lives or as many freebies, like Beat. I played on normal and felt like the challenge was just right. This is probably where people who have recently played through the MM Legacy Collections will want to start. I felt like I actually had to strategize and think about what items and upgrades I bought first, and I actually had to use E-Tanks to beat some bosses I didn't have the best weapon for, since I didn't know the boss order yet. Superhero mode is a lot like Normal in that you don't get any freebies, but you take more damage and do less damage, there are a lot less item drops, and there are no items lying around. There's a good difficulty for everyone here.
Mega Man 11 also includes a gallery with bios for all enemies and Robot Masters and a MMLC-like Challenges section with online leaderboards. The Challenges include a boss rush, time attack, score attack, and challenges where you try to get through a level by jumping or attacking as few times as possible. There’s also a challenge called Dr. Light’s Trial that has you fighting through 30 unique areas. The Robot Master bios are witty and silly. They kind of remind me of the database from MM&B, but these are much longer. I was hoping for an art gallery with production drawings here, but it's all 3D models.
Technically speaking, the graphics in MM11 are not mind blowing, but the style is spot on and the framerate is a solid 60. The color palette is very reminiscent of the NES games, with lots of light blues and greens; the textures are just detailed enough that they don’t look flat, but still look cartoony; and the toon outlines and cel shading make the characters stand out and give them that 3 tone shading on top of the textures that completes the anime style. Mega Man, Roll, Beat, Rush, and Auto all look really cute and closer to their pre-Mega Man 8 designs. Mega Man and Roll in particular look like a mix between their Smash Bros and Powered Up versions. The character designs are a big improvement over the more anatomically correct MM8 designs all around.
The music sounds very techno inspired with just a hint of the classic Mega Man sound. Some songs sound closer to the NES style, but most sound more like Mega Man dance music. It’s fine, but I wish more of them sounded like Fuse Man’s theme, which is my favorite. I think his and Block Man's themes capture the MM sound the best. All the voices sound great except for Mega Man’s English voice, which sounds a bit too adult for me. I know he's called Mega Man, but I think he should always sound like a 10 year old boy. His Japanese voice sounds much better. The rest of the cast is pretty spot on, including all the Robot Masters, who are constantly talking during their battles.
I had a lot of fun with Mega Man 11. I feel like it accomplished what it set out to do. The story is interesting, the level designs and boss battles are great, and the graphics get the MM style right without resorting to 8-bit graphics. MM11 feels like the sequel to MM8 I've been waiting for. I was left wanting more, though. This game is just as long as previous MM games. That is to say, not very long at all. MM veterans will easily beat this game in a few hours on their first playthrough. Knowing Capcom; though, there will be another Mega Man game soon enough.