Three and Out – Mega Man 11
After an eight-year long hiatus, Mega Man is back with a brand new entry into the classic franchise. The movement, shooting and level design harkens back to the NES-era. The art style and voice acting are distinctly “Mega Man”, even when employing 3D models as opposed to the classic sprite style. Nothing feels out of place and everything flows just as it used to. Beyond that, Mega Man 11 attempts to stand on its own. There is a small glimpse of a backstory and introduction of the new gear mechanics that, for better or worse, try to make this game stand out from the rest of the franchise.
Every single stage has its own gimmicks and aesthetic so each level feels distinct. Torch Man’s stage is set at a campsite, so there are tents, lantern enemies, and forest fires to contend with. Acid Man’s level is a unique take on the typical water stage; special enemies spray acid into the water, slowly making it more acidic and eventually dangerous to go in. Each underwater segment also changes colors as you make progress into the level, showing how the pH level is rising as you get closer to the boss. Every level is full of interesting bits like this, and the enemy variety is full of just as much charm. The boss design is also a step above what you would expect. Their attack patterns, voice lines, and visual identifications lend each boss a fantastic personality that’s fun to engage with. Unusual for the series, however, is the music – it’s not nearly as memorable as it was in the past. The melodic lines are difficult to hear at times and there is a techno back-beat that tends to take priority over everything else. Regardless, it still fits the aesthetic for the game.
New to the series are the two “Gear” functions, adding an extra layer of depth to what may have been simplistic gameplay in the past. The “Power Gear” lets you fire extra shots with the standard buster, or amps up the special attacks to even greater heights. While most of the normal weapons are viable in their own right, and the buster can easily be used to clear the game by itself, the upgraded versions function in ways that can make difficult segments vastly easier. Tundra Man’s weapon, for instance, is normally a vertical weapon, only attacking above and below you. When powered up, this weapon now clears the whole screen of all enemies. These weapons use extra ammunition, but there’s no shortage in each stage. The Mega Man X series did something similar to this in the past, and it is certainly a welcome addition to the classics. The other gear function, “Speed Gear”, is more instrumental to the design philosophy of the game as a whole. This ability lets you slow down time, letting you outwit obstacles in a timely manner. As a result, many of the stages introduce segments that, instead than causing minor damage, kill you outright. The aforementioned forest fires on Torch Man’s do just that, blazing across the screen at a brisk pace. The Speed Gear makes these segments bearable, but can be downright maddening at times without. Rather than build the game around the classic style and letting you get an edge with these new abilities, these stages go out of their way to encourage their use. Once you’ve learned the stages, though, the game becomes quite smooth on subsequent playthroughs. The stage lengths are quite long as well; this is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the game ends sooner than expected. This pacing places a much heavier emphasis on the longer Robot Master stages as opposed to anything afterwards.