Eight years builds up a lot of rust on the old reflexes, but don’t expect Mega Man 11 to have any mercy on you. This foray shows Dr. Wily at his most vicious, hurling stages filled with cunning traps, clever enemy robots with unique abilities, and bosses with devastating, ever-shifting powers at players. Still, even as you’re exploding, it’ll be hard to wipe the grin off your face.
Dr Wily has somehow remembered an invention he forgot about for the last few decades, one that will increase robots’ powers to dangerous levels. With this forgotten tool, the Double Gear System, he supercharges eight new robot masters, intent on punishing Dr. Light for ruining his research so long ago. Luckily, Mega Man an use the same dangerous system, offering new abilities to use on these new challenges.
Wily has no intention of making things easy, immediately hitting players with eight levels of punishing challenge. For those familiar with the series, you’re likely used to getting to the end of early Mega Man stages without a great deal of effort. Mega Man 11’s level (on Normal difficulty) all feel like end-game Wily Castle gauntlets, each filled with pits, spikes, and rough enemy placements. They also feel like they go on much longer than they did in past titles, demanding perfection for much longer periods.
These stages all have a special charm, even as you’re dying repeatedly. They’re all built around colourful gimmicks, with Acid Man making special use of water and chemical flows or Bounce Man having players pinging all over his ball-lined stage. They all play around with platforming in their own memorable ways, making the game feel like its play is constantly reinventing itself.
Mega Man 11 continues this focus on reinvention with Mega Man’s abilities, too. The Blue Bomber’s hopping and shooting will be instantly familiar to series fans. On top of this, you also get the Double Gear System yourself, being able to slow time or increase your shot damage for limited periods of time. Smart use of these abilities will go a long way to getting players through these tricky stages, as they’ve been made much more punishing to balance out the ability to slow time whenever you like.
Those who’ve been playing the games for years may be at a disadvantage, though. The action is so familiar that I often forgot that I had new powers in this title, or felt that I was cheating for using them. It’s not the game’s fault in the slightest, and I imagine highly skilled players won’t need these abilities, but series veterans would do well to swallow their pride and use them or try not to get so lost in the familiar play that they forget their new powers.
Purchasing items does take some of the pressure off, too. Players can collect bolts they can spend on minor upgrades and consumables that will protect you from a tumble down a cliff or onto spikes, or halve all damage for a while. They’re helpful, but bolts are somewhat uncommon to collect, making it a bit of a chore to earn enough to buy a bunch of life-saving items.
Once you’ve put in a ton of practice (or lowered the difficulty level, the lowest of which protects you from spikes and pits while giving infinite lives), you’ll get to experience the game’s bosses. These block-dropping, ice-skating, fire-flinging machines are all extremely aggressive, making for some pitched, exciting matches where you’ll need to make use of your Double Gear powers, if only to get a moment’s breath. Each is a thrill to fight, using their powers in clever ways that, while dangerous, didn’t seem too difficult to overcome.
Again, past experience can be a tipping point. Most past Mega Man bosses only had a handful of powers they used the entire fight. Wily has equipped these machines with the Double Gear system, though, giving each one a sort of desperation state that cranks the challenge through the ceiling. Bosses will fill the screen with an inferno, shifting into crushing colossi or take on whole new boss forms to be dealt with in mid-battle.
Not only are these battles exhilarating and chaotic (until you learn them), they’re gorgeous to behold. Flames and acid and electricity flow out in striking, colourful displays, their glows painting everything in a lethal array. I often found myself mesmerized just watching these robots tear me apart, taking in the visual detail that went into their attacks. The creativity and beauty of these attack patterns made these bosses tower above their predecessors, giving Mega Man 11 some of the greatest fights in the series’ history.
And the powers you get from them? All offer widely different, powerful attacks that do more than just give you an elemental-themed variant on your basic gun. Allowing you to shoot arcing fireballs, do crushing charges, drop boulders on half the screen, and more (especially in tandem with the Double Gear system), they reinvent how you approach stages afterwards. They’re all quite useful in various ways, meaning players will get a ton of use out of all of them.
It’s a shame that the audio doesn’t quite match up to the kind of unforgettable music that came out of the series. Mega Man 11’s tracks are good, but despite the dramatic flair in the boss fights and the clever challenges of the stages, the music feels uninspired by comparison. It’s an enjoyable soundtrack, but its music failed to capture the memory like other elements.
Mega Man 11 may be ruthlessly challenging at first, but its creative stages make wanting to practice a little easier (even if they do tend to overstay their welcome). Its bosses may crush you, but the flow of battle and the thrill of avoiding beautiful, devastating attacks will keep you coming back. Through taking the classic formula and supercharging it, Mega Man 11 offers a welcome return to our sapphire hero, one that will keep dragging players back in.