One of my favorite NES series was, and still is, Mega Man. The first three games represent some of the best the system had to offer. While there will forever be debates on which one was the best (part two naturally), they all featured an innovative (for its time) stage select system and brought exciting (yet difficult) gameplay to the television screens around the world. For awhile it seemed like every year brought a new Mega Man title, but franchise fatigue and changing management and staff at Capcom brought all of that to an end. Thankfully, after all of these years without a new entry in the franchise Mega Man 11 is here to save the day. I’m happy to report that the Blue Bomber is just as fun as ever and he has plenty of new tricks up his Mega Buster.
It’s a tale as old as time (or at least since 1987): Dr. Wily is once again causing trouble for Dr. Light and the rest of the world. This time around he has taken over eight new robots and Mega Man must defeat them to stop Wily’s diabolical plan. The biggest innovation to the game this time around is the Double Gear system. At the touch of a button Mega Man can slow down time, allowing you to precisely hit an enemy where it counts or to navigate an exceptionally tricky part of a level. This has a cool down gauge, so you can’t keep it activated for very long. The other gear allows Mega Man to increase the damage of his weapons. Just like in the prior games, when you defeat a Robot Master you will gain his unique weapon power-up. If you have the power gear active, it will have a secondary effect on the special weapons. For example, if you have Block Man’s weapon, normally four blocks will fall from the top of the screen on the enemies below. If you have the gear activated a bunch of blocks will topple down, causing way more damage. Both gears share the same cool down bar, so you can’t spam them too often or Mega Man will overheat and won’t have access to those powers for an even longer time.
Traditionally the most difficult parts of the Mega Man games were the stages, not necessarily the bosses. That’s indeed the case here, where you’ll have to traverse much longer levels than seen in the NES versions of the game. There are tons of pitfalls, spikes, and other insta-death obstacles that must be avoided. Sometimes there’s no avoiding death the first time because you just weren’t prepared for what was about to occur. Only by memorizing the worlds and the layout of the hazards and enemies will you prevail. In addition to the Double Gear system, Mega Man has his trusty robot dog Rush to help him reach new areas. In his basic form, Rush can be called in as a sort of springboard, allowing Mega Man to bounce high up to reach new platforms. As you progress through the game he can gain new abilities, like the hover sled, which can be of great help on specific levels where there are precarious jumps and pits.
Another great help in the game is the ability to purchase upgrades for Mega Man. As you defeat the enemies many of them will drop nuts and bolts that can be picked up. These serve as the game’s currency. Between levels you can visit Dr. Light’s laboratory where you can purchase all sorts of helpful gadgets. These include things like extra lives, energy tanks, and pierce protecting shoes, which will allow you to land on spikes once without dying. You can also buy permanent upgrades that give Mega Man an edge in battle. There are many to get and some of them are more useful than others. Some are simple quality of life upgrades, like the Energy Balancer, which automatically recharges the weapon the least energy if you pick up a weapon capsule while your current weapon is full. One of my favorites is the upgraded version of the Energy Balancer, which recharges all weapon gauges when you pick up a weapon capsule – very handy! These enhancements can be turned on or off from the subscreen.
The Mega Man games are known for their high difficulty, and Mega Man 11 is no different. Capcom has tried to make the game more approachable by including several difficulty options at the beginning. I didn’t find a way to change the level midway through the game, so you might want to think twice before making a choice, or you may find yourself starting over just to reduce the challenge. Each Robot Master has a weakness and it’s up to you to figure out which weapon works best. They can be a handful if you don’t have the right weapon, but thankfully the Double Gear system allows you to slow down the time and learn the patterns. If you die on the boss you start right outside its chamber, providing you have extra lives. If not, you’ll have to start the level over from scratch.
Although Mega Man 9 and 10 took on an 8-bit NES graphical style, Mega Man 11 is updated with a vibrant cartoony look to it that works well on the Switch. The backgrounds are lush and colorful and have a sort of 2.5D quality to them. The characters are hand-drawn and look fantastic. Animations are fluid and I was happy to see some familiar enemies (hello bats from Wood Man’s stage) make a return. The game runs smoothly throughout and I didn’t encounter any slowdown, hitches, or flicker – something commonly seen in the NES games. One nice little touch is that instead of just swapping the colors of Mega Man’s suit when he changes his special weapons, his entire suit changes from head to toe. This was totally unnecessary, but they look really cool nonetheless. Fast switching between weapons via the ZR and ZL buttons saves having to constantly go in and out of menus.
Some of my favorite parts of the Mega Man games of yore were the amazing soundtracks. Here Mega Man 11 comes up a bit short, but I have to say there are still some really great tunes here. They’re just not quite up to the best of the best from Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Having said that, the game’s music is still very high quality and several of the stages really did get stuck in my head. I especially enjoyed Blast Man’s music. The game features cinema scenes with voice acting, and while I suppose that’s “required” for today’s gamers, I could have lived without it. It’s fine and doesn’t detract from the game, but some of the story does drag on longer than it needs to.
I’m happy that Mega Man 11 has released and it’s a nice throwback to the games I used to look forward to so many years ago. The game retains the DNA of what makes the series so memorable and fun. Some of the stages can be more difficult than others (I hated Bounce Man’s level), but that’s par for the course with these titles. With the addition of the Double Gear system and some really fun secondary weapons you acquire, there’s a lot to like here. The game does feel like a sort of safe sequel, but that’s OK since the series has been dead for so long. Whether you’re new to the franchise or have been playing it for over 30 years like me, you’re bound to enjoy this new entry!
Mega Man 11 Review
Mega Man 11 is a return to form for the Blue Bomber. The stages are unique and fun to play through, but the difficulty remains high for those seeking a challenge. With pleasing graphics, memorable music, and precise controls, this one’s worth owning.