In a time where nostalgia is strong amongst fans, it is not surprising to see companies capitalize on their longevity. Capcom is currently in on the craze, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their blue bomber, Mega Man. What better way to pay homage to their titular hero with a brand-new game, Mega Man 11.
Mega Man 11 is what you would expect for a long-running series. The standard formula of scrolling platform stages, colorful robot masters, and excruciating difficulty combine with a handful of new mechanics. Yet it's hard to get excited for a game that has not changed its formula for thirty years. At the end of the day, no matter how polished or respectful it is to the franchise, Mega Man 11 is just Mega Man with a few new features. Some are good, some are bad, but it ends up as a short retro platformer in competition with a sea of retro-styled imitators.
It is somewhat ironic that Mega Man is fighting for the same space with arcade-style action platformers still. The resurgence of retro-styled games is both a blessing and a curse for the series; it allows Mega Man 11 to retain its classic identity, but never really grow out of it. This is unlike contemporaries like Mario or Sonic, who have both experimented beyond their 2D platformer roots. In contrast, Mega Man is a refurbished throwback that relies on nostalgia to stand above a chasm of indie titles.
Mega Man 11 is a bit tired as far as mechanics go and it shows. If you played any standard Mega Man game in the past 30 years, you basically know what to expect. Almost all your abilities are intact and most of your enemies will be familiar. The challenges you face are old school Capcom design at its finest. Hell, even fan favorite minibosses such as the Yellow Devil make an appearance. It is clear that Capcom is marketing the game specifically for fans who don’t want too many innovations.
Still, credit to Capcom for making minor tweaks to the formula. The biggest change is the brand-new gear system, which seems like a gimmick at first. The system allows Mega Man to either slow down time or power up his blaster, but it becomes a very strategic tool when traversing the game's levels. The ‘bullet time’ effect provided is vital for surviving the more difficult platforming sections. Even the robot masters also use the gear system in combat, providing a change of pace over the standard dodge and shoot strategy,
The game also ups the ante with its challenge. For those craving an authentic action-platform experience, Mega Man 11 provides it in spades by increasing its difficulty through level design. Tons of scrolling chase sequences, bottomless pits galore, and spiked hallways of death are stapes of the series. Each mark a return to form to that will test the skill and patience of any platform junkie.
Not all the gameplay designs work out. The robot master Bounce Man is in a level that is extremely frustrating. Imagine soft, bouncy music is the only sound you hear while you try to angle your jumps in a room filled with rubber balls. Timing your jumps just right and sailing to a platform in the far corner. Using the gear system to slow your descent but failing constantly due to bounce physics. The Bounce Man stage is creative in its theme, but due to the game's physics, it is perhaps the most annoying level I have played in Mega Man 11.
Still, one poorly designed level out of seven isn't a bad ratio. In fact, most of the game's design is top notch, accented by the new graphical upgrade Capcom gave Mega Man. Gone are the pixel-styled visuals for a 2.5D, hand-drawn look. Character models are in full 3D and showcase a lot more detail and color than ever before.
Sadly, Mega Man 11 is chock full of a few design flaws. The biggest of which is the uneven challenge, depending on how you play; Mega Man 11 is either too difficult or too easy. This whiplash has little to do with the games provided difficulty levels. Casual mode, which eliminates some of the enemies in the levels and adds easily grabbable power-ups, still provides tough situations for skilled players for example.
What ruins the challenge is the in-game item shop. Having an item shop has been a staple in the series since Mega Man 7, but Mega Man 11 makes acquiring money incredibly easy, with prices for items being trivial. Even in the harder difficulties, purchasing upgrades, energy tanks or even extra lives transforms the game into a walk in the park. The upgrades fundamentally change game mechanics. For example, one upgrade allows Mega Man to not slide on slippery surfaces, while another automatically charges his mega buster for you. Other items also eliminate the threat of the death pits and spike traps. It's a godsend to have up to three mulligans against instant death in a platformer like this.
The upgrades sap all the challenge in Mega Man 11. While I don’t doubt many hardcore players forgoing the item shop for their speed runs, their convenience is too much of an edge. It trivializes most of the main game to the point of Mega Man being invincible, even in the face of certain death.
Mega Man 11 also comes complete with bonus challenges, such as a boss rush, time attack, and score attack modes. A lot of these modes are standard fare, but at least provide something else to do in the game once you complete the main storyline. The challenge modes are a nice, of customary addition to the game.
Sadly, there is not much else to say when it comes to Mega Man 11. The small additions to the mechanics are welcome, the gameplay is solid despite the uneven challenge, but it feels old hat at this point. A well-made, perfectly acceptable hat, but old nonetheless. Mega Man 11 will fit right in for platform junkies and retro-seeking players, but it is an ever-shrinking niche with a larger market share thanks to the glut of retro-styled games surrounding it, coasting on its pedigree to stand out above the rest.
Mega Man 11 marks some minor changes to the classic platforming formula. While nothing is wrong with the gameplay, it's feeling tired at this point.
- Classic Platforming Gameplay...
- The Gear System...
- Graphical Upgrade Looks Great...
- ...Little Innovation Overall
- ...Uneven Gameplay Difficulty
- ...Forgettable Extras and Music