Mega Man 11 Xbox One Review
Capcom has spent the better part of the current console generation reviving many of their long-dormant franchises as well as revitalizing several of their diminishing ones. The company has been making impressive strides to win back the goodwill of their jaded fanbase, but they still have a long way to go and a lot of errors that still need course correcting. Of all the Capcom franchises in need of a return, no single property has been as long overdue as the Mega Man franchise, which has been completely inactive and criminally ignored for over eight years following the departure of Kenji Inafune (who went on to tarnish his once-upstanding legacy with the critically panned successor Mighty Number 9).
It has been far too long a wait, but finally the Blue Bomber has returned with Mega Man 11, a sequel Capcom was quick to showcase as a no-frills, hardly experimental release that captures the same iconic 2D action and platforming that made Mega Man one of the longest-lasting retro mascots in the history of videogames. For better or worse, Mega Man 11 delivers exactly what was promised, albeit with a few interesting changes added to shake the formula up…or at least give it a tiny nudge.
First thing’s first: if any longtime fans of Mega Man X are hoping that this entry will finally be the one to link the two series together with the eternally-teased encounter between Mega Man and Wily’s “masterpiece” creation…it doesn’t happen. It’ll probably never happen, so don’t bother. Instead, Mega Man 11 opens with a flashback to Drs. Light and Wily’s younger days as partners with aspirations to advance the field of robotics. Despite the two working together as colleagues, they quickly come into arguments concerning Wily’s untested invention, the Double Gear System. Determined to be too dangerous despite its power-boosting applications, the other scientists decide to go with Light’s proposal instead, which focuses on creating robots with more independent thinking and free will.
Tragically, this begins the endless feud between Wily and Light, and the creation of Mega Man to defend the world from Wily’s rampaging Robot Masters. This time around, Wily has reprogrammed eight new robots and imbued them with the Double Gear System, enhancing their abilities far beyond previous Robot Masters. To even the playing field, Light has given the same upgrade to Mega Man, which grants him new abilities so that he can combat the latest threat and put an end to Wily’s schemes once and for…well, until the next time there’s another game, which hopefully won’t be nearly as long a wait.
The Double Gear System makes up the sole new mechanic added to the standard gameplay, which long-time fans will instantly recognize: all of Mega Man’s old tricks are here, from sliding to charging his Mega Buster to calling up his robo-dog Rush to act as a jump pad or jet, respectively. A few new shortcut features make swapping between the various powers and abilities much faster, including dedicated buttons for the two different Rush modes. Another small but noticeable change is that collecting power-ups that refill Mega’s life energy or weapons will no longer pause the screen while his bars fill up…instead, the replenishing is instant. This may seem inconsequential, but it adds up to the feel of the overall game, which is a touch faster-paced than the previous games. Make no mistake, the old-school challenge that has defined the series is still intact, from instant death pits and spikes to screen-filling enemies that can deal massive damage. The stages are significantly longer as well, with checkpoints fewer and farther between, which is why players may find themselves stocking up on items in Dr. Light’s lab more often than naught (one new item that is especially helpful is a new type of E-Tank that completely fills up both health and all of Mega Man’s weapons…but if both are filled to capacity, then using the item will turn all on-screen enemies into 1-ups. When used wisely, this can net a massive supply of extra lives).
But it’s the Double Gear System that brings the biggest changes to the established formula. True to its name, Double Gear offers two temporary boosts to Mega Man’s abilities, Speed Gear and Power Gear: Speed Gear is the ability to slow down time, and Power Gear boosts attack power. Both Gear abilities run on an independent gauge that depletes while the Gear power is active, and automatically refills when turned off. If the Gear’s gauge runs out, there is an extended cooldown until it can be used again. While only one Gear ability can be active at a time, players can bust out an all-for-nothing attack when low on health that allows both Gear powers to work together, which slows down time and adds more powerful attacks. This clutch boost comes with a heavy cost, however, as the cooldown period lasts even longer and Mega Man’s standard Buster shots are severely weakened.
If the Double Gear additions sound too overpowered, there are many new elements and enemies that encourage players to make use of the new powers. In truth, however, it’s the Speed Gear that will be used most of the time: not only are many of the stage hazards tailored to slow down time to make it through, it also trivializes many of the series’ formally frustrating enemies (including Sniper Joe, who can be taken out instantly). By comparison, Power Gear only offers a minimal power boost that pales in comparison to rapidly firing off standard shots through Speed Gear. On the other hand, Power Gear will also enhance the extra weapons Mega Man collects from Robot Masters, transforming them into particularly deadly attacks, including a double tornado that clears the entire screen of enemies.
Speaking of the Robot Masters, the latest group of 8 are some of the most unique bosses ever seen in the series. This is largely thanks to each boss having an additional phase during their fights, which brings about a temporary transformation that completely changes the pattern of their attacks. This can result in something as simple as faster attack speeds to something bigger and more dangerous, once again theming the gameplay around the Double Gear System. In classic Mega Man tradition, however, once a boss’s weapon weakness has been determined, they can be easily dispatched without much trouble. The same rule applies to the later bosses found in Wily’s Castle, although strangely enough the very first boss of Wily’s stages doesn’t have a weakness, thus making it the most difficult boss in the entire game (hint: it’s a returning nightmare for older fans).
Overall, Mega Man 11 is every bit as entertaining as most of the Blue Bomber’s numbered legacy, though it also plays a bit too safe. The new mechanics and switch to 3D models does little to innovate the formula, though no doubt many old-school fans will prefer it that way. Still, considering the long absence since his last title, a bit more effort could have been put out to make Mega Man’s return feel a bit more special (compare this to the “everything including the kitchen sink” mentality that is going towards Devil May Cry V). The additional challenge modes and a surprising story emphasis to humanize Dr. Wily are appreciated touches, but are still minimal in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, Mega Man 11 proves that the Blue Bomber hasn’t lost his touch, and that the games can still prove entertaining even during a time where there is no shortage of 2D successors. We can only hope that it won’t take nearly as long for future entries, including a hopeful return of Mega Man X.