Taking a 30-year-old franchise and shifting gears.
Since Mega Man released in 1987, the principal action of the series could be summed up in three words: jump and shoot. Mega Man 3 added “slide” to the equation. Mega Man 11 has added a new mechanic that can significantly impact gameplay: the Double Gear System. With it, players have the ability to either quickly power up the Mega Buster with the Power Gear or slow down time with the Speed Gear. I had a chance to try out Mega Man 11 for the first time at PAX West this year, and I came away feeling mostly positive about the game.
Fuse Man and Block Man had been playable in previous demo versions, but I was able to play a build that featured Impact Man and Blast Man. I played through Impact Man’s stage first, and one significant difference between Mega Man 11 and previous games in the series is the length of each stage. Even though stages like Quick Man’s from Mega Man 2 could be dangerous, they never felt overly long or arduous. But both stages that I played in this PAX demo took a fair amount of time to navigate. Checkpoints made the going a little easier, but on higher difficulties the checkpoints become less frequent. A variety of enemies, jumps, barriers and mini-bosses attempt to thwart you from reaching the robot master at the end of each stage, and I found just as much challenge in the stages themselves as I did their bosses.
In terms of the Double Gear System, it was a significant adjustment for me to use them during gameplay. Turning on either Gear ability builds up a meter above Mega Man’s head, and if the meter fills up, the Gear System goes on cooldown and can’t be used for a short while. The Gear abilities are turned on with the L and R buttons, but it was easy for this long-time Mega Man fan to forget to use them. Certain enemies and stage hazards are designed to encourage use of the Speed Gear, but with some skill you can usually get by without it. That said, I did find both Gears particularly useful during mini-bosses and the robot master fights.
When Mega Man 11 was first revealed, I was among those who weren’t thrilled by the 2.5D art style of the game, but seeing the game in person has helped to assuage my earlier reservations. The game has a look that is vibrant, colorful, and crisp, and though it might not the be 8-bit aesthetic that we have become accustomed to, it takes the series in an interesting direction. Mega Man games are well regarded for their bumping soundtracks, but I found, at least in the PAX demo, that the music was drowned out by the game’s sound effects. It was hard to hear the background music against the firing and charging of the Mega Buster, the exploding enemies, and Mega Man’s own exclamations. When I was able to hear some of the music in less busy areas of the game, it didn’t give me the same nostalgia that Mega Man 9 and 10 did. I am eager to hear more, but my expectations for the soundtrack are a little more subdued.
A couple other minor gripes involve the boss fights. Hitting the two bosses didn’t feel satisfying or, pardon the pun, impactful. I am used to clear sound effects and visual cues that tell me I am doing minor or major damage to the boss, but it didn’t feel quite the same in Mega Man 11. I struggled to determine if my chosen weapon was doing damage at all, and I found myself constantly looking over at the health meter of each boss to see if it was dropping or not. In addition, Impact Man and Blast Man were constantly grunting and shouting, which drowned out the boss music and didn’t really make the fights any more enjoyable.
Overall, the game played like it belonged in the Mega Man series, but it is different enough to give me pause. I enjoyed the PAX demo, which I played on both Normal and Casual difficulty modes, and I want to see more of the game before passing any further judgements. The developers have added some neat quality-of-life elements to the game such as a radial menu on the right stick for choosing weapons, Rush Coil mapped to the X button, and a practice screen that follows every boss fight, allowing you to practice with your newly-acquired weapon. Mega Man 11 releases on Switch on October 2, and there is a free demo of Block Man’s stage on the eShop. Try the demo and stay tuned for more on the game as we get closer to launch.