Mega Man 11 is both a welcome addition to the series as well as a breath of fresh air for the series, but that new coat of paint comes with a couple smudges.
Background With Mega Man
I am a diehard Mega Man fan, but unlike a lot of the Blue Bomber’s fans, I did not really grow up with the franchise. In fact, my only exposure to the original Mega Man series prior to the turn of the century was actually one of the mash-up games on the Game Boy, Mega Man II. I would not play another Mega Man game until I played Mega Man & Bass for Game Boy Advance. It was not until I saw the anime, MegaMan NT Warrior, and I picked up the Mega Man Battle Network series that I really got into the series overall. From there I started collecting playable versions of the older games including the original Anniversary Collection, an original Mega Man X cart, the original X Collection...by today, I have played pretty much every mainline game from every series other than Legends.
I have been a fan of all these older series despite their then outdated visuals, but I was still a bit disappointed when they announced Mega Man 9 & 10 and they were in the original NES style. I enjoy those games for what they were, but I felt that for a new game they needed to go with a new graphics style. They had released a remake of Mega Man only two years earlier on PSP with a new graphics style and, while I was not super thrilled with the chibi direction they took, it was at least an attempt at moving Mega Man into the modern style. A much better variation of this though was with the earlier Mega Man X: Maverick Hunter X which faithfully recreated the style of the original Mega Man X, but with 3D modern visuals.
Mega Man 11’s Reveal
In the years since then, I have come to be wary of 2 dimensional gameplay with 3 dimensional visuals. While they tend to look more modern and impressive, I learned that the necessary overhead, both in terms of computation as well as animation, has a tendency to give the game a sluggish feel. So, you can understand my trepidation when Mega Man 11 was announced and showcased 3D visuals for traditional 2D gameplay. The model for Mega Man himself was pretty nice, but he had a walk cycle that was just...off…
That walking animation really was the only thing that really stood out to me as potentially being a problem during that initial reveal in the end though. The levels themselves looked fairly well designed, properly scaled, and the movement on screen looked very similar to the older games in the series. We also got some glimpses of the new enemies, Robot Masters, and Mega Man even changed his shape to reflect his current weapon. All the things they were showing presented as normal and fears were tempered though not quite removed entirely.
Something that bothers me on some level is that for decades now, developers have always created demo builds of their games for events like PAX, Gamescom, Space World, and most consistently and probably longest, E3. These are builds which are incomplete, but are intended to be used to present the game, in some small part, to the press in order to gain public interest and potentially create a pre-release hype for their games to get positive word of mouth going. They have these demos already built, but so rarely do we get game demos and we rarely did in the past. There were collection discs at times and that gives a good indication as to why demos were not a thing in the past...distribution. Demos typically came in a collection disc back in the day because the cost to produce discs made a single demo financially questionable at best. In the modern day though, we have digital distribution which should allow for demos to be shared with the world the same time as they are shown on show floors at events like E3. That of course will not happen for a bevy of reasons including the fact that it would largely make these public shows redundant, but also because the Internet just loves to datamine anything they can get their hands on.
So, color me impressed when Capcom releases a demo for Mega Man 11. As far as I can tell, this is the same demo presented at E3 2018 which was presented on the show floor, not the version that the press was apparently able to play which included a different Robot Master. Being the Mega Fan that I am, I of course downloaded the demo ASAP, but sadly work and other responsibilities kept me from playing it until Friday evening after work where I had about a half hour to spend some time with it.
Now, before I ever get into the game proper, the first thing I do of course is hop in the options menu to verify the settings before I play. Taking a look at the controls, the defaults are right in my personal comfort zone, though I do go ahead and add the optional button assignment of “Slide” to the A button. For purists, you can just leave it unset as it comes by default.
Next, I check the brightness settings only to discover that when playing the Switch in portable mode, nothing actually happens when you adjust it. I would have known this all along had I read the little note in the bottom lefthand corner first though…
I made the usual changes in audio to bump voices up above the other sounds since the voices always tend to get drowned out by background music and/or sound effects and also adjusted the audio device to “Speakers”, though I’m not sure if this is meant to represent the Switch’s speakers or a speaker setup...could be this had no real impact in handheld mode like the brightness, but there is no message clarifying that if it is the case.
Everything else, including language, rumble, and special weapon shortcut, was left on default settings and it was time to get started. First, there was one more choice to make though...choosing the difficulty for your playthrough. I like the way they are labelled and I feel they are probably good ways to indicate to players what level of difficulty they would be most comfortable with. The difficulties and their descriptions are as follows:
- NEWCOMER - For those who’ve never played a Mega Man game!
- CASUAL - For those who love Mega Man but haven’t played in a while!
- NORMAL - For dedicated Blue Bomber fans who love a real challenge!
- SUPERHERO - ???
You are free to play the demo in the first three difficulties in the demo, but SUPERHERO difficulty is not selectable and therefore has no description. I have to wonder if that is due to them not having it ready to go for the demo or if perhaps there are certain gameplay aspects that make it incompatible with a demo. Perhaps it is a type of New Game+ which would make being limited to two weapons a poor representation of the actual mode. We will just have to wait for release to be sure.
I, of course being a big fan and having recently played through the Mega Man Legacy Collection, selected the NORMAL difficulty and did not even load up the lower difficulties, but I assume it is mostly enemy placements and the easiest mode actually protects against bottomless pits ala Beat from previous games. Once you have selected your difficulty, you are presented with a prompt which asks if you wish to view an explanation of the new Double Gear system and the chance to try it out in a tutorial as well.
The Double Gear system is a means of augmenting how Mega Man behaves and, as the word “double” probably gave away, there are two gears: speed and power. Activating speed gear starts what is essentially bullet time where everything moves slower and allow for more reaction time, including Mega Man though to a lesser degree. While speed gear is pretty straightforward, power gear is a bit less so. It slightly boosts your base buster power, allows for a double charge, and if you fully charge the power gear, you will get a single massive, piercing shot. However, when you do this, you overheat the Double Gear system and it results in you being unable to use speed or power gear until it cools. This also applies to the speed gear if you use it for too long as well.
When you are done playing with the Double Gear system, you will be asked if you want to learn about the Double Gear technique. The naming is a tad confusing and I actually skipped this the first time around because I thought it was asking the same question. In reality though, it is a different, new ability which the Double Gear system affords Mega Man: his own pinch mode. As many people know, most bosses in games such as Mega Man have a point at which the boss has taken enough damage to change their behavior to be more aggressive and/or powerful. This is known as “Pinch Mode” and now Mega Man gets one too. When Mega Man has taken significant damage and is near destruction, he can activate both the speed and power gear simultaneously for a last ditch attempt to cling to life. Be careful though because if you do not take out the enemy before the Double Gear system overheats, you will be without it while it cools as normal, but you will also burn out your Mega Buster which means its firing rate will be significantly impacted for a short time.
From there, it drops you into the level select screen where you can go back to the options menu, open the “pause” menu where you can see your weapons (which you can also test here) and items, or you can actually pick a level...the only level in this demo, Block Man.
Block Man’s stage is set in what appears to be Aztec themed robotic ruins. While that sounds completely absurd to a normal human being, it is 100% par for the course with Mega Man and is visually appealing and true to form for the series. It starts with a relatively flat area with no enemies and just some jumps to get you right into the mechanics if you happen to be unfamiliar with Mega Man. You are quickly introduced to your first non-enemy threat: blocks which drop from the top of the screen. While they are on a timer and will fall at regular intervals, there is the addition of a visual cue of a bit of dust and rocks falling into view just before the blocks themselves fall. Just after the first block, a couple of simple floating enemies come up which do not attack, but will fly towards you very slowly and will do damage if they touch you.
Next you come across a flat area and a green guy riding an armored monowheel. This particular enemy in a nice touch and highlights some of the design behind enemies and abilities in this game. The armor around the wheel has a slot which rotates as the character rides around. You can keep some distance between you and rapidly fire at him as he approaches and with a little luck you can take him out. The fact that he is also a mobile enemy means that in many cases you can simply jump over him and he will ride off into a hole or off screen.
Where the design for this enemy shines through though is the methods via which you can use abilities to defeat him. One ability you can use is the Scramble Thunder weapon which you receive for the demo. As it runs along the ground (as well as walls and ceilings), it can quickly intercept the wheel and once it does, it explodes into a ball of energy that quickly destroys the wheel and you can carry on. This works well for the convenience of it, but it does come at the price of weapons energy which can be a problem with excessive use or if the weapon is needed for some other portion of the level. While in previous Mega Man titles, that would have meant you had to brute force the issue as described above, Mega Man 11 gives you a renewable option: the speed gear. By slowing down time, you are able to get the2-3 shots needed to destroy the enemy in a single rotation of the wheel. Once you have done so, you are able to turn of the speed gear and that gauge will begin to empty. Mega Man 11 gives you plenty of options, all viable though some are easier than others, to give you the ability to spice up your gameplay and gives players the opportunity to play the way they are most comfortable without lowering things to some lowest common denominator.
The last enemy on the screen also presents with multiple options for interaction. Firstly, it is a heavy hitter with a heavy hammer it swings down to hit the ground. The enemies thus far had been destroyed by 1-3 hits, where this last enemy takes significantly more hits of even Mega Man’s charge shot. While this effectively sets this enemy up as a gatekeeper of sorts, there is a side benefit to its hardy nature. Just above and behind the enemy is a small ledge which contains a screw (historically, screws have been a form of currency in Mega Man games) which is just out of reach of Mega Man’s normal jump. However, when the hammer enemy attacks, the arms leverage up a portion of the enemy’s head which then functions as a platform you can jump on and then up to the screw. This option is slightly risky since you must first bait it into attacking you, but you also have to time your jump just right in order to avoid the hammer and jump off the enemy before it resets and will damage you once again.
The safer but more expensive option is straightforward and simple though: Rush Coil. Rush is a staple of the Mega Man franchise as this point and he has in the past functioned as a jet, submarine, and motorcycle, but probably his most common means of helping is when he works as a springboard for Mega Man to reach higher areas. Mega Man 11 has improved on the previous games here once again by changing Rush Coil from just another selectable weapon in the menu to a weapon which is assigned its own button instead which saves the player a lot of time cycling through menus or weapons.
Speaking of cycling weapons, this is a good point to bring up how you can change weapons in Mega Man 11, a staple of the series. While you can of course change weapons via the pause menu as was originally the case for the series, this method is the slowest method available to the player, though there may be times where you want to take that time to read some descriptions or test out an idea to solve a problem as you are learning the game. The second method of cycling weapons has become a bit of a staple in recent years and that is by using one set of the shoulder buttons to cycle through the weapons from “left to right”. This is quicker than the menu, but for weapons in the center of that list, it can still take 3-4 button presses to get to the ability you need.
Mega Man 11 introduces a third option for weapon selection: a radial menu. The menu is accessed via the right stick and the powers are arranged in a grid much the same as the level select, so I can only assume that the powers will correspond to where the Robot Master appears on the level select screen. So, with just a flick of the stick, you can assume whatever power you need. While this will inevitably take some time to learn and get used to once you have all the special weapons, I expect that this will be an excellent method of weapon selection for this game and likely any games to follow. Also, a quick click of the stick reverts Mega Man to his normal state. I can see this becoming my default method of selecting weapons and then switching the gear systems to the triggers since they are more natural for me than the buttons.
After this the levels continues as you would expect from a Mega Man title. They introduce some ladders, conveyor belts, and an enemy that only fully appears when you approach, though there are subtle hints of their presence. Shortly though you come to my first major problem with the level: the miniboss. Technically, this miniboss shows up twice in this stage and the second one is the bigger problem, but the first instance is not a picnic by any means.
The miniboss is a spiky totem style enemy that splits into its four layers to attack by dropping from above. It bears some resemblance to a smaller enemy from Mega Man 2 in that only one particular layer is vulnerable to attack, though in this case that layer shifts up and down on the totem after each attack. When it attacks, each layer of the totem falls on the ground, thankfully in patterns rather than completely randomly. The problem with this though, especially with the second fight which introduces a conveyor belt into the mix, is that all four of these layers combines makes up much of the available floor space of the screen. Many times the layers will fall down in such a way that you have only enough room for Mega Man to stand and sometimes they are actually touching, effectively making a single large layer. This becomes especially frustrating when you are on a conveyor belt being constantly moved when you are in a safe space that is barely large enough to hold you to begin with. I understand the intent behind the design since it is clear they intend on you using the speed gear to help get you in the right position of safety, but in leaving so little wiggle room on the conveyor, they take a clever idea and turn it into a rather unforgiving task if you happen to make a mistake.
Shortly after the miniboss, you come upon a conveyor that actually moves entire setpieces which effectively creates a small autoscroll section without ever locking the camera. The sections (there is a second one later) are not particularly difficult or engaging, but the idea there is clever. I hope they capitalize on it better in the Wily Stages.
After the second instance of the miniboss, you get your first glimpse of some sort of new enemy. It appears at first glance as an extra life. As you approach though, the enemy pops up from the ground, runs a short distance away, and then dives off the screen, taking the extra life with him. As of this article, I have yet to catch and destroy the enemy, but I have to assume if you do, the extra life would be yours.
A bit later, after a second pseudo-autoscroll section, you come across the first real case of needing the speed gear for a non-combat scenario. While the speed gear can help in many of the previous platforming challenges already presented, this is the first that seems to clearly intend for that to be the solution rather than just an aid. One of the falling blocks from before comes down, but next to it is a high ledge with an energy tank, a one-time full refill of your health which can be used later and is carried with you until consumed. You can here use the speed gear to properly time a jump onto the block as it falls and then jump up to the ledge. Even with the speed gear, the timing is tricky, but I imagine it is near impossible to do without, though I am sure some speedrunner will figure it out eventually.
After this, you have one final gauntlet which consists of three or four screens which combine the elements you have seen thus far: a vertical climb with conveyors and falling blocks, a horizontal jaunt with lots of bottomless pits and falling blocks along with those hidden enemies from before, and lastly a vertical climb with monowheels who are enclosed and therefore have to be dealt with rather than completely avoided. Oh, and the last enemy before the Robot Master? Another one of those enemies that has an item and steals it from you just to pour a little salt in the wound.
At this point, you have reached the end of this little jaunt, but there is one thing standing between you and victory: Block Man. While I said earlier that Mega Man got his own pinch mode, the Robot Masters of Mega Man 11 will be no slouches in terms of pinch modes either if Block Man is any indication. This is due to the fact that all the Robot Masters of Mega Man 11 were also installed with the Double Gear system which is why Mega Man go the upgrade himself.
The base attack pattern of Block Man is pretty simple with him simply moving back and forth either by walking or jumping and then dropping blocks evenly and conveniently Mega Man sized spaces away from each other. After he reaches half health though, he goes into a pinch mode where he forms his blocks around himself in order to form a giant golem that takes up half the screen. While this form looks intimidating, it’s actually not that difficult. He has tells which let you know where you will be safe: near him, in the corner, or a quick move from the corner to near him. Once you take down his golem form, he goes into a final desperation mode (not to be confused with a desperation or suicide attack), where he sets up on one side of the stage and hurls blocks at you at an incredible speed. While clearly intended to highlight speed gear and possibly the Double Gear technique as well, I personally found it simpler to just jump over the blocks repeatedly and charge shots since they would pierce the blocks and strike Block Man whereas the speed gear would only destroy the bottom block and leave the middle and top blocks to still hit you unless you slide...too much coordinated effort for these old hands for too little advantage.
You can never base an entire game on the limited experience presented by a demo. Mega Man however is structured in such a way that it actually presents better than most. It could be that every other level in the game is broken beyond all reason, but the mechanics, visuals, and design presented thus far in Block Man’s stage are a good sign that there is a solid core to Mega Man 11. The only thing that is really missing from the Mega Man formula so far seems to be the usual rockin’ (pun totally intended) soundtrack that these games are known and named for.
Mega Man 11 seems to be a return to form for Capcom while also being something new and fresh. Will it stand up to the legacy of the first ten games in the series? We will just have to wait until October 2nd to find out for sure.
RadzPrower is a Georgia native with an interest in video games, science fiction, and comic books. He is a software engineer, but enjoys writing in his spare time. He has three kids ages six, three, and two, the eldest of which has started playing game alongside him. For a more in-depth bio, read here. For more information about the Guardian Gaming series, you can check here.