Thirty years. That’s how long it’s been since Mega Man, the Blue Bomber, first graced our games consoles. That’s a hell of a legacy, spanning pretty much every console generation, gifting the gaming world with an iconic character who stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Mario, Sonic and Pac-Man and is still recognisable to a new generation of gamers. What’s more impressive is how the formula has largely stayed the same – tackle a bunch of levels in any order you like, taking down various bosses and using their weapons as upgrades to make your life easier. Sure, there have been tweaks here and there such as the faster pace of the Mega Man X spin off series, or the introduction of anime style cutscenes in Mega Man 8 on Playstation, but the games have a degree of familiarity to them that benefits a series of this age.
So, it’s 2018 and we’ve got a new Mega Man. What can we expect? While the last two “new” games in the series, 2008’s Mega Man 9 and 2010’s Mega Man 10, favoured nostalgia over progression, utilising visuals and sound reminiscent of the series’ time on the NES, Mega Man 11 is very much a proper modernisation of the formula. Gone are the 8-bit visuals in favour of cell shaded 3D graphics, the controls are familiar but slick and responsive, and there’s a distinct feeling that the game has been designed to be a bit more accessible with the inclusion of a broader range of difficulty levels and a shop in which you can buy upgrades, power ups and extra lives. It feels very familiar but with one big addition to the formula which adds a genuine level of freshness to the proceedings – the “Gear System”.
The gear system is a real game changer for this series
Story wise it’s the same old same old – Dr Wily is up to his old tricks and has weaponized some of Dr Light’s robots. It’s up to Mega Man to save the day (seriously, why doesn’t Wily just take over Mega – he’s clearly the strongest of the robots.) This time he’s using a prototype gear system that, while it seems kind of important to his plans is actually more beneficial when Light implements it for Mega. Honestly, the story here exists only really to get Mega Man into levels and battling robot goons. The gear system, though, is a real game changer for this series. It provides Mega with two distinct new abilities – tap the right bumper and you’ll slow down time, while the left bumper gives your weapons a power boost. These effects only last so long, though, and if you keep them active they’ll overheat meaning you’ll need to let them cool down before being able to use them again. Part of the new level puzzles, then, is learning when to use the gear abilities to your advantage which can often turn some of the more insurmountable areas trivial.
What can also trivialise the game to a degree is the shop system. Any bolt pickups you gather in levels stay with you even after death. At any point you can jump back to Light’s workshop to upgrade or buy more lives and health regenerations. There’s a point fairly early in the game where you realise this mechanic is actually fairly easy to cheese, especially given that static bolt pickups in levels respawn on every run. Gather enough and you can power yourself up enough to start making some areas ridiculously easy, something you don’t necessarily expect from a Mega Man game. That’s not to say the game is a walk in the park, though.
There’s a great Saturday morning cartoon feeling
Mega Man 11 is still a tough game with pixel perfect (is that a term we can still use when we have 3D visuals?) jump timings, enemy patterns and layouts to learn if you want to avoid those ever deadly insta-kill spikes. And it’s fun. Even though there are screens where you will die over and over again, it never wholly feels unfair because you know you have the tools at your disposal to overcome the enemies and environments, and the feeling of finally reaching a checkpoint is euphoric. It’s also a gorgeous game, from the slick, locked 60 FPS presentation through to the cell shaded graphics and environmental and enemy design, there’s a great Saturday morning cartoon feeling that the previous games in the series really haven’t evoked. It’s a shame, then, that the story feels so thin, being told only through static images. It would have been great to see fully animated sequences akin to the aforementioned Playstation outing.
It’s still a great Mega Man game, though, essential for series fans, but if you’ve never tried a Mega Man game before you should definitely give this a look. There’s a demo available on all systems and it’ll give you an idea of what to expect from the game by taking you through what you could consider to be the first (certainly the easiest) area. For such an old series this instalment feels like a genuine commitment to keeping the character relevant to modern audiences.