In the aftermath of the dramatic departure of Keiji Inafune from Capcom back in 2010, it seemed that he had taken Mega Man with him. Capcom cancelled all existing projects and relegated the Blue Bomber to a footnote in the broader company portfolio. There was hope that the spirit would live on in Inafune’s spiritual successor, Mighty No. 9, but… well, we all know how that turned out. Now that Capcom has finally decided to bring Mega Man back, many fans have no doubt been worried that the time gap and different staff will lead to a game that cashes in on the character’s popularity without capturing why fans love the games so much. Fortunately, those doubts can now be laid to rest, Mega Man 11 is looking like it's going to be worth the wait.
After selecting our difficulty setting (of which there are four), the demo we tried at E3 took us through Block Man’s stage, which sees Mega Man fighting through an industrial factory nestled in the ruins of an Aztec-themed city. Conveyor belts, falling concrete blocks, and massive spiked death traps are everywhere; the level design is sure to keep you on your toes. In fact, we’d say it’s every bit as difficult as the original games, if not a little moreso due to the enhanced overall speed of the game. Enemies attack faster than ever before, and there were several set-piece moments that we could barely escape unscathed. If the other stages are anything like Block Man’s, seasoned fans will be in for a real treat; the challenge hasn’t been neutered for a new generation.
Once we finally made it to Block Man, it became quickly apparent that Robot Master fights will also be greatly expanded in scope and intensity. There are now ‘phases’ to the fights; after a relatively easy opener with Block Man, he grew enraged and transformed into a towering colossus of metal and stone that took up about half the screen. Even after a whittling him back down to normal size at the end of the lengthy battle, he still had a few tricks up his sleeves. Unlike in previous Mega Man games, these fights evolve as they wear on, requiring you to change up your strategy and learn new patterns if you want a shot at succeeding. Fortunately, Mega Man is more prepared for the job than ever before.
Alongside the reintroduction of the charge shot and slide that were removed in Mega Man 9 and 10, Mega Man 11 features a brand-new gimmick called Double Gear that allows him to buff his abilities to give him a temporary edge in combat. Using either 'L' or 'R', Mega Man can either slow down time around him to better dodge obstacles and projectiles, or he can boost the fire rate and damage of his Mega Buster. These abilities are governed by a temperature gauge that cools down when not in use, but the longer you use an ability, the faster the gauge fills up; if you let it reach the top, you won’t be able to use either of the buffs for a while.
Double Gear feels just as organic to use as the charge shot and slide maneuver, and the new opportunities it opens up are endless. Capcom has done a great job of integrating it into stage designs, too; certain enemies or obstacles are especially difficult to clear without slowing down time, and some enemy types feel like they were designed to be particularly sturdy so you have to bust out the extra firepower. If Block Man’s stage is any indication, Double Gear isn’t going to be the kind of gimmick that’s only used in a handful of isolated situations; it’s a useful ability that can be used in just about any situation to give you an edge.
Control-wise, Mega Man 11 somehow feels even tighter than the original NES games, a feat that admittedly is hard to believe, even after playing it. Mega Man can turn on a dime and responds to all button inputs immediately; there’s almost zero floatiness to speak of here. Though the slide feels like it’s a little shorter than it used to be, the charge shot feels like it’s been largely untouched, and Mega Man otherwise controls much like he did before, just tighter. Considering the demands of the stage design, the tight controls are welcome, and just go to further cement that Capcom is keen to make this game right.
From a visual standpoint, Capcom has ditched the pixel art that’s defined the series up to this point and opted instead for a cartoonish look that adheres more closely to the game art (no, not that art) that’s been present throughout the whole series. The new visuals admittedly aren’t all that impressive, but they do manage to capture that kind of quirky charm the series has been known for; seeing those cute cartoonish eyes on yet another robot type helps to add some character to the visuals. Capcom clearly didn’t cut any corners with this art style, and though it may not be to everyone’s taste, details like shooting stars blazing across a night sky show that this wasn’t a 'rush' job. The build we were playing didn’t appear to drop frames either, even with plenty of madness on screen, which made for a thankfully solid experience.
Though it’s taken its sweet time getting here, Mega Man 11 is shaping up to be every bit as worthy of the classic series’ legacy as fans could have hoped; even with the change in management, it doesn’t appear that any quality has been lost in this new sequel. The challenging action gameplay is frustratingly hard in the good and encouraging way, and new features like the Double Gear system show that there are still some fresh and fun ideas that can be implemented in this tried and true formula. If you’re a fan of the classic Mega Man games, it seems exceedingly likely that you’ll love this one, too.
Mega Man 11 lands on Nintendo Switch in late 2018.