Break time’s over, Mega Man. It’s been more than eight years since the release of Mega Man 10, but Capcom is finally giving us a new entry in the 2D action-platformer franchise. Mega Man 11 comes out on October 2 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC (I played the PS4 version).
I love Mega Man. The character has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, going back to memories of playing the Nintendo Entertainment System (or watching my older brother play) in the basement. But my love goes beyond nostalgia. I still play them all the time. Mega Man 3, which came out in 1990 for NES, remains my favorite video game ever. The combination of precision platforming with gun-based action has always hooked me, and Mega Man’s cartoon-future aesthetic continues to tickle my imagination.
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So, yeah, I was pretty excited for Mega Man 11. But while Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 tapped into nostalgia by being games that played and looked like Mega Man 2, Mega Man 11 is a more modern title. The action still takes place in a 2D plane, but the characters and levels are made up of 3D models and backgrounds. And for the first time in what seems like forever, Mega Man has a major new gameplay feature. The Double Gear system can slow down time or empower your weapons, but relying on it too much can overheat it and make both functions unavailable for some time.
Mega Man 11 has to balance between providing the classic jump-and-shoot gameplay that fans like me love while introducing these new elements. And it manages to walk that line without stumbling.
What you’ll like
Classic Mega Man
Despite the new look, Mega Man has the same precision you’d expect from the series. He doesn’t build up momentum or need time to come to a full stop, like Mario does. Not that there’s anything wrong with that system, and it serves the 2D Mario formula (which focuses on pure platforming). But Mega Man also has a lot of shooting and dodging, so it’s important that you can move your hero quickly and precisely. Sometimes, a single pixel is the difference between safety and death.
Retaining those basic controls goes a long way toward making Mega Man 11 feel as good the series’ best games. It also has a lot of the other elements fans love about the franchise. You can choose to fight the first eight levels and bosses in any order you want. Each boss gives you a new weapon, and every one of these foes has at least one weakness that you can exploit for easier kills. You also have your robot dog, Rush, available to help out. He can turn into a spring that can help you reach high places (and, after you beat the first four bosses, he can turn into a jet that lets you fly for a short while).
This stuff is like comfort food for the Mega Man fan’s soul. It’s familiar, but it works and comes together to deliver that special brand of 2D action that the franchise excels at.
Double Gear System
The Double Gear System gives Mega Man 11 its big new feature. Pressing one shoulder button can slow down time with the Speed Gear, making it easier to avoid obstacles. Pressing another shoulder button makes all of your weapons stronger — including the ones you earn from bosses — via the Power Gear. But you can’t just use the abilities as much as you want. For starters, you can only activate one at a time. When one is on, it begins to fill up a heating bar. If you overheat, you won’t be able to use either ability for some time.
This system adds some variety to the classic Mega Man formula. The Speed Gear isn’t just a safety net. Many levels and bosses have abilities that are so hard to dodge, it’s clear you should be using the Speed Gear to help avoid them. Juggling between the Power and Speed Gears and making sure to not overheat adds an extra layer of complexity that helps give Mega Man 11 an identity beyond being another nostalgic retread.
Memorable stages and bosses
Mega Man fights bad robots, and they always have a theme: Fire Man, Ice Man, and so on. After all these games, you’d think it would be hard to come up with any strong ideas. And, sure, we do sometimes end up with the umpteenth variation on “Water-based Robot Man.” Yet Mega Man 11 has a lot of creative bosses.
But you need to see their levels and the bosses themselves in action to understand why they’re special. Torch Man, for example, sounds like just another Fire-based robot. But his level has a summer camp theme that makes him stand out from being just another guy that shoots fire and lava. Tundra Man, too, escapes the fate of redundancy thanks to his natural history museum-themed level and his figure skating-based fighting abilities.
Mega Man 11 has four difficulty options: newcomer, casual, normal, and superhero. I’m pretty familiar with the series, so I was comfortable starting with normal mode. But I’m glad Capcom has given newer or lapsed players a way to play through the adventure. Newcomer and casual provide the same game as the normal experience, but you take less damage per hit, and stages have more checkpoints. Yes, it’s easier, but it won’t make you feel like the game is grabbing your hand and dragging you to victory.
Superhero mode, meanwhile, is great for someone like me who wants an extra challenge after beating the normal difficulty. It doesn’t just change damage values. Bosses have new augmented abilities and patterns that make them tougher, and items like E-Tanks (which refill your health) and extra lives that usually litter stages are gone. Enemies also stop dropping items that refill your health and ammo. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one that I’m excited to keep working on.
What you won’t like
An overpowered in-game store
Since Mega Man 7, the series has an in-game store that sells you items that can give you new abilities or passive powers (like reducing how much you recoil when taking a hit), but they also offer things like extra lives and E-Tanks. You could abuse these stores in past games by revisiting old levels and repeatedly killing enemies, which sometimes drop the bolts you need to buy these items.
In Mega Man 11, bolts drop so often that you don’t even need to farm them. Just by playing through the game, I had enough bolts to quickly buy every upgrade. I was also able to max out my lives and E-Tanks. This hurts the challenge of the game. Boss fights become trivial when you have so many E-Tanks that you can just keep refilling your health. You don’t focus on strategy when you can just brute force your way through a fight. Who cares if you take a bunch of hits when you can keep giving yourself more health?
This especially becomes a problem during the Dr. Wily levels. These stages are traditionally the hardest in the series. You access them after beating the eight Robot Masters. Usually, you have to beat every Wily stage in a row. If you run out of lives on the last one, you have to go back to the first. That might seem harsh, but the difficulty boost makes those levels more exciting and rewarding to beat. In Mega Man 11, not only can you save your progress after you beat every Wily level, but you can go back to the shop and keep maxing out your supply of lives and E-Tanks.
Short Dr. Wily section
Speaking of the Dr. Wily levels, Mega Man 11 doesn’t have many of them. You have two that are traditional levels with their own bosses, one that has you fighting the eight Robot Masters again, and one for the final confrontation with Dr. Wily himself.
That’s four total Wily levels, with only two of them feeling like proper stages. Compare that to Mega Man 2, which has six Dr. Wily stages.
While I wish that the in-game store was better balanced and that we had more Dr. Wily levels, Mega Man 11 still does an excellent job of keeping what makes the series great while adding — mainly through the Double Gear system — just enough to make it feel fresh. The multiple difficulty options make Mega Man 11 more accessible to new players, but the superhero challenge will give veterans a real test of skill.
Mega Man 11 shows that the franchise doesn’t need to just be a nostalgia act. Beyond the new gameplay features, the 3D visuals help enrich the experience. It’s a beautiful game with background and character animation that — while I do love that retro look — you couldn’t do with 8-bit sprites. The new look still captures the simple, cartoon-like feel of the original Mega Man, but the colors are richer and the shapes are softer.
If you’re a fan of Mega Man but feel uneasy about how Mega Man 11 looks or adds to the formula, don’t. This is a fantastic 2D action game worthy of the Blue Bomber’s name.
Mega Man 11 comes out on October 2 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Capcom gave us a PS4 code for this review.