Review: Mega Man 11 (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): October 2, 2018
- Release Date (EU): October 2, 2018
- Release Date (JP): October 2, 2018
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Genres: 2D, Action, Platformer, Shooter
- ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
- PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
The Blue Bomber is back in action, complete with jumpin' and shootin' galore, having returned to his roots in the 2D, sidescrolling, platforming, action-ing style of the bygone NES era. This isn't a simple retread or reimagining of an era caked in that four-letter-word known as 'nostalgia', however, Mega Man 11 proves itself a true evolution to the base formula in many ways, earning its right as a new entry in the series even more than many past titles.
Take it from the Top.
As far as story goes, Mega Man 11 doesn't so much reinvent the wheel as it does recontextualize a small aspect of lore regarding Wily's initial motivation. The game opens by showing us the details of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily's falling out during their college years, something we had never seen before, as a young Dr. Wily (looking absolutely barren-faced without his batwing-esque moustache) had just developed a new technology called the "double gear" system, and is seeking funding from an academic board for his continued research. This tech would, according to him, allow robots to push past their normal limitations by increasing their speed and power outputs damatically, but it would also put a great physical strain on the robots themselves.
(Seems like just sneezing could create a video game villain these days.)
Citing this downside, Dr. Light advocates that Wily's research be forcibly put on hold, instead pushing his own ideal that A.I. must become more human-like, capable of emulating emotion, before mankind will see robots as their equals instead of just tools. Interestingly, Wily aspires to the same goal, however his reasoning is that mankind will only respect robots as their equals when the robots demonstrate sufficient power. It's a somewhat new take on Wily's character, painting him less as a domination-fueled psychopath and instead as one with beginnings as a radical activist for what could be seen as robot rights. The more believable and moderately more complex premise is unfortunately undermined by the silliness of Light using the long-term damage to robots as his reason for having Wily's research stopped instead of, oh, the fact that he's an emotionally unstable fellow with radical ideas who wishes to superpower the entirety of the world's robot population, essentially giving them the ability to wipe out all of humanity if they desired. You know, among other things.
Yet more unrealistic is academia's decision to terminate Wily's research in its entirety instead of repurposing it to be used in another situation and having a critical discussion of his ideals privately so as to retain him as a scientist. The system he developed has a such a broadly reaching scope as to be utilized in any number of different faculties, but instead they just axe the the project completely, leaving Wily a bitter, exiled, vengeance-filled young man. Because of this, he harbors a grudge against Light, and thus why he's been such a foul fellow for so many games. Now, years later, a dream reminds him of his old research from those days, so he resolves to finish it an put it into action. Using his freshly polished double-gear system, he kidnaps 8 robots on whom Light happened to be performing maintenance, instead reprogramming them to serve as yet another batch of robot masters for his private army. After seeing Wily's double-gear in action, it's decided that the only way to stop him is to install the double-gear system inside Mega Man as well. Luckily, Dr. Light had apparently kept Wily's old prototype that he had dashed to the ground, and after some convincing, Mega gets equipped with the tech. Armed with Wily's own tools, Mega sets off to recover his absconded brethren and defeat an eternally salty Wily once and for all. Except after 11 games of this, I think we all know how "for all" is going to play out.
You know the Drill.
Just as always, Mega Man can jumps and Mega Man can shoots, but unlike the most recent MM9 and 10, the full swathe of his base moveset is returned in this new installment. Once more, Mega can slide and charge his buster, a much welcomed return, but yet more control options have also been added on top of that. Now, players can set a designated slide button instead of needing to press down+jump to trigger it, as well as being given a rapid-fire button. In fact, all controls can be freely remapped as well, which is greatly appreciated. Not only was I able to make the slide feel so much more natural and immediate by mapping it to the ZL button, but I also was surprised at just how constantly I ended up using the rapid-fire option when set to ZR. Both Rush Coil and Rush Jet receive their own dedicated buttons as well, meaning that they can be activated while using any weapon at all at any time, a huge blessing in terms of their usability and the pacing of the gameplay. About the only downside here that I found is that the 'down+jump' slide command can never be disabled, so there may be those who trigger it accidentally when trying to jump. I'd made the mistake myself once or twice, so I'd have preferred the option to disable the command entirely.
The classically oriented 2D Mega Man games have always followed a simple formula: pick from any of 8 stages available to you in any order, shoot through challenging enemy layouts, potentially fight a miniboss or two, and then defeat the robot master at the end in reflex-testing, 1-on-1 combat. Upon their conquer, Mega Man acquires their unique weapon, which can then be used to more easily conquer further robot masters, and in some cases like the Pile Driver, perform platforming. The levels themselves unsurprisingly exhibit that most classic of Mega Man design principles: introducing a stage-unique gimmick or feature to the player in a safe environment, putting that unique stage's gimmick into practice with potential for a fail-state, and finally combining it with other known obstacles to create one large challenge. It's a tried and true formula used by many, including perhaps more well know, Nintendo, and this game obviously has a solid understanding of how to implement this ethos. There was not a single situation where I felt I had taken cheap damage, or been struck by an unavoidable death, which is new for even my most favorite of the classic games, and makes for an incredibly smooth, easy to love experience.
Not ones to slouch, each stage introduces more than one interesting new challenge, and they all come together withing a stage to form a cogent theme with the boss of that stage. From Torch Man's lamp-owls which cause the screen to darken when destroyed and the walls of flames which chase Mega, to Tundra Man's sweeping winds accelerating Mega forward and Bounce Man's bouncing boundary balls, each stage is given a distinct flavor of their own which reflect the powers and personalities of the robot masters therein, as well as making each stage feel unique.
While the free-form stage selection model has its obvious benefits by giving the player options in how they wish to tackle stages, allowing for strategic planning or challenging runs if desired, it ended up creating something of a difficulty plateau. Because any stage can be tackled at any time, there isn't a definite difficulty curve over the course of all 8 stages taken together, instead having each stage ramp up from roughly the same level. Each stage needs to be about the same difficulty so that the player doesn't accidentally stumble into the massively challenging stage before they're ready, and while it's an understandable concession, it's a concession all the same. I think the addition of multiple pathways through stages would go a long way in rectifying this problem, as boss weapons could allow access to harder, more rewarding pieces of levels (perhaps containing some large amount of screws or a piece of a powerful item), so that levels could dynamically adapt in difficulty depending on how far players had progressed through the game, without forcing the difficulty change upon them. It would also give a greater sense of pathfinding and discovery, something we haven't had much of in a Mega Man game since MM7 on the SNES. Granted, this is also a solution which would inherently draw more effort in development, and it may have been crucial that this game's design hadn't been spread too thin.
Granted, the escalation of challenge within each stage themselves is perfect for their length in order to keep players engaged throughout, and their lengths are perfect in order for their unique quirks to not become dry, but as a result, the difficulty curve ends up being quite slight from beginning to end within stages. I can say that Mega Man fans will feel right at home being dropped into a stage and expected to perform well enough to progress, but I suspect that those without the prior knowledge of past games will find themselves feeling a bit as though they've been thrown into the proverbial deep end. This may be in part due to each stage giving ample time to allow the player to become familiarized enough with its staple quirk to avoid any challenges feeling unfair, but perhaps not enough time for players to familiarize themselves with some of the techniques of Mega Man's base moveset. I think things could have been improved for newer players if there were a linear, introductory stage that could specifically teach techniques such as dodging underneath enemies with a slide and how to properly use the speed and power gears to their full potential, before the main game began. Mega Man & Bass had a stage that filled a very similar purpose, and I don't think the game was made worse because of it, however there would be no harm in allowing players the option to skip this stage entirely, for multiple playthroughs and those familiar with the franchise.
Despite these two suggestions, Mega Man 11 has what I believe to be a very fair and very satisfying difficulty curve, if not a bit on the easy side for the robot masters' stages, but trust me, there are challenges the game provides which are sure to sate any hunger for hardcore platforming action, no matter how voracious.
Kicking things into Turbo.
The weapons system in previous Mega Man titles was a sharp idea, but a bit crippled by its cumbersome implementation. Once acquired, a robot boss's weapon would end up in a list to be accessed via the start menu. Selecting any power would require the game to be paused, the menu to appear, the weapon to be highlighted, unpaused, and the menu to close back again. While attempts were made to encourage the player to use some of these special weapons, the process of switching weapons was so obstructive that the time taken to do this almost always eclipsed the time it would take to simply reposition and destroy the enemy with a buster shot. Later games in the franchise added the ability to cycle through one's full list of powers using two buttons, and while this is most certainly an improvement, the problem of it being far slower and more complicated than shooting standard-style still existed, making the system feel vestigial. Avoiding switching weapons fundamentally preserved the pace of the game by circumventing micro-instances of downtime between the normal attacking and platforming, and if one became comfortable enough with the default megabuster, it was often the fastest and most efficient way to make progress through a stage. More than that, most weapons of the past felt so situational and unwieldy as to be all but useless against anything save for the bosses weak to them. There were notable exceptions, of course, such Mega Man 2's infamous Metal Blade, which avoided most of these issues by essentially never needing to be swapped out due to its overwhelming power, utility, and ammo efficiency, but in general implementation, the mechanic made for an incredibly stiff, shallow experience that felt more of a hassle to deal with than to simply avoid entirely.
In its place now is a system by which every weapon collected is added to a ring-menu, appearing around Mega Man by tilting the R-stick in one of 8 directions, and selecting a power once the stick is released, giving instant access to any weapon at any time without any pause in Mega Man's momentum or actions. In terms of game feel and utility, this small feature alone completely revolutionizes the weapon system, and evolves it from the vestigial accessory of games past into a fundamental mechanic which needs to be mastered if one wishes to play the game optimally.
(They liked it, so they put a ring on it)
Because of the immediacy of this system, players are encouraged to train themselves to quickly recognize situations where a special weapon will eliminate obstacles much more easily. The weapons themselves have been significantly retooled in their usefulness as well, with almost every weapon feeling as though it has its place in certain situations. Granted, I found much more mileage in the barrier-breaking Blazing Torch, the aerial-dashing Pile Driver, and the vertically oriented Scramble Thunder, but I found myself using just about every weapon at least once naturally during play. These decisions also feel completely organic to the game design, something I'm actively taking a part in during routing and problem-solving instead of being something I'm outright commanded to use by the game. The system also benefits from the fact that some enemies now have built-in weapon weaknesses, just like robot masters, which allow them to be instantly defeated if you discover the right weapons to use against them, though these weapons are never outright required. There's a bit of a learning curve to memorizing where exactly each weapon lies in the ring, as well as which enemies can be taken out with which weapons, but even using the system inefficiently affords great boon to the player, which is integral to how readily one will practice it. Once you have a grasp on the system and the weapon layout, Mega Man can deftly carve through enemies in a flash, organically switching weapons back and forth on the fly, and these instances represent some of the absolute pinnacle moments this system reaches with this game in terms of player satisfaction and reward for mastery.
The only weapon I never used (aside from against the first phase of the final boss, as he's weak to it), was the Acid Barrier. It has a few downsides, but I think the crux of its weakness lies in the fact that Mega Man must pause for a bit, weather in mid-air or on the ground, to form the barrier around himself before any acid can be shot. For this reason, I actually found it quicker and simpler to use the buster against enemies weak to acid shots, which is reminiscent of the old games' paradigm and a bit of a disappointment. There is one other inherent weakness to this design, but it's so minuscule as to be called a minor nitpick at best. One needs to remove their thumb from the face buttons in order to execute a switch of weaponry, and this regrettably limits Mega Man's dexterity ever so slightly during the tiny timeframe of the switch. In truth, it's less a problem with the design of the game itself and more down to simple controller limitations, as there's no better way to map these controls given the joycons. Ideally, there could be some way to activate all of Mega's powers using a rear-mounted interface of some kind, that being additional buttons or another analogue stick, so that the player's thumb needn't jump back and forth from attacking/jumping to switching weapons, but as things are now, it's barely a detriment at all.
In addition, there's a desperation mode one can trigger by pressing the Speed and Power gear buttons simultaneously while at low health, which gives the powers of both at once, but cannot be cancelled and puts Mega Man into a state of critical overheat after it finishes, where he can only shoot a single, uncharged pellet at a time for a prolonged length. This concept, while appealing on paper, does feel like the closest thing to an 'easy button' that the game has, and that's not a good thing. The mode simply lasts much too long and is much too powerful, allowing one to pull victories against robot masters from even the worst performances. Excellent idea, but the execution lacks balance.
A Spark of brilliance.
The benefits of the weapon wheel truly cannot be overstated, but it's certainly not the only new thing on the Rock. Mega Man 11's staple mechanic is a pair of "gears", known as Speed and Power gears, which allow the Blue Bomber to perform two new abilities. While active, these continually build an "overheat" bar, so time needs to be allowed between usages, preventing their abuse. The Power gear triggers a state which significantly boost the damage dealt by the megabuster, allowing a single charge shot to become two more powerful blasts back to back, but it also changes special weapon attacks into stronger versions of themselves, covering a wider area and dealing more damage while also requiring a bit more ammunition. It's a unique mechanic, and quite fun to use when it's applicable, but I found it most useful during fights with robot masters rather than during stage play. Still, when the moment comes that it does feel useful, it's quite satisfying to use.
The Speed gear, on the other hand, slows down time for all elements on screen. This also includes Mega Man, which might make it seem a bit useless at first, but there's so much more mileage and mechanical significance to this aspect of the Speed gear than one would imagine. Because this power is intrinsic to Mega Man, something made available from the word "go" and accessible at any time, the skill ceiling of MM11 can, and has, been busted wide open. Certain enemies, stage hazards, minibosses, and most certainly robot masters, have been allowed to be much more aggressive now to compensate for access to this ability, and the player ends up challenged in new and interesting ways. Actions can now be performed in windows tighter than most robot masters of the past, and it feels incredibly satisfying to activate Speed gear at the last second and watch in slow-motion as active hitboxes just barely skirt past Mega Man's body. What's even more crucial to this mechanic's success is the fact that the Speed gear slows all screen elements by the same factor, meaning the physics of slow-motion are 1:1 with the physics of the normal game. Whether for normal or Speed-time, Mega Man needs to perform the exact same movements and the exact same jumps in order to dodge any attack, meaning that there is, in the most technical sense, no such instance which requires Speed gear to be dodged. All it allows the player is reaction time, and 'no Speed gear' runs of stages are not only entirely possible, but extremely satisfying to pull off.
But this mechanic also introduces a dynamic so subtle as to be impressive in its simplicity: the Speed gear is the game's most helpful, yet invisible, tutorial tool, and the fact that all objects are slowed equally is paramount to achieving this effect. Minibosses and robot masters can move so quickly and attack with such fervor that players will inevitably reach for the Speed gear, and when they do, they get to see exactly what they need to do to avoid what might have looked like an unavoidable barrage at first. The exact spacing they need to take, where and how far they need to jump, how long the boss's attack lag will last, if they have just enough time to build up a full charge shot before the boss's vulnerable phase ends, if they're missing opportunities to deal extra damage that they couldn't see... the Speed gear breaks any micro-instance down in beautifully cathartic slow-motion, and the player can dissect, digest, and internalize the aspects of a fight at a massively accelerated rate. Once activating the system becomes reflexive, the same is done for stage hazards and normal enemies, naturally revealing to the player every pixel to which their movements and actions can be optimized, organically planting the thirst for speedrunning directly into the player without even a shred of force. 'No Speed gear' runs are not only entirely possible, but the player idea of them is constantly being planted into the player's subconscious as the Speed gear itself trains them for its absence.
Don't think that the Speed gear is simply the game's 'easy button', however, as nothing about the mechanic is automated in the least. Using it fills the overheat gauge quite quickly, so players must make quick decisions regarding when to activate and deactivate it in order to use it as well as possible. It's because of this new instance of decision making, this new factor that requires management, that the Speed gear is something which adds complexity and not something which trivializes the game. The usage of this system itself into a skill to be learned, experimented with, and internalized, rather than a simple boost in abilities. After all is said and done, not only does the player become familiar enough with the game to handle situations they once thought impossible without the power of the slow-mo, but it becomes simple to do so. That's the genuine beauty of this design: it functions simultaneously as not only a way to challenge the player and add a layer of complexity to the game as a whole, but as an incredibly potent, invisible teaching mechanic, which serves to turn the player into a master in an incredibly short amount of time.
Things will get... Hard.
And right as you hit the end credits, riiiiight as you're feeling cocky about your newfound abilities, the game hits you with its records system, challenge modes, and Superhero difficulty. The main campaign itself is quite short, having taken me 10 hours on a first playthrough, but being entirely beatable in under just 60 minutes, according to the records system. Despite the initial brevity, there's significantly more fun to be had in these extra modes and systems, and what's enclosed in this Pandora's box will likely test even the most veteran of Mega Men.
The records serve as this game's equivalent of achievements/trophies, and frankly, it's a bit of a mixed bag. There are some very dull requests, such as destroying 10 enemies in a single speed gear usage, or destroying an Arc Weldy obstacle, but there are also some absolute zinger challenges in there which can greatly extend the game's playtime, such as defeat all 8 robot masters without using special weapons on one run, complete the game without getting a game over, complete it within 60 minutes, etc. These are the kinds of challenges I like, and are honestly things I'd have likely done on my own had the game not told me. That this simple system is here is a true boon, as it does genuinely extend my enjoyment of the game significantly. Even if the good records are sprinkled with some duds, it accomplishes what it needs to, so full points on that front.
What is disappointing, though, is that for some unfathomable reason, multiple records are kept a mystery until you unlock them. I suppose I can't speak for everyone, but the fun of challenges like these is actually being posed the challenge itself rather than the act of achieving it. If I just happen to stumble upon it randomly during normal play, where's the satisfaction in that? What has it really provided in terms of gameplay beyond what I was already doing? All this means is that people either need to start guessing at what the game wants, or simply look it up, which is an unnecessary waste of time. Either that, or they're in my position of being a day-one player, in which case all I can do is twiddle my thumbs and wait until people figure it out.
Records aside, the game also features a rather robust, and perhaps excessively lengthy, challenge mode, wherein Mega is dropped into instanced locations or stages in order to perform certain tasks. There's the generic Time Attack mode, which consists of running through stages as quickly as possible, modes which challenge you to both jump and attack as little as possible, a mode to maximize your score by defeating multiple enemies in quick succession, one to selectively strike blue balloons in stages while avoiding the red, another to quickly collect medals while going through the stages, and more. The time and score requirements for achieving a gold rank on some of these can be quite strict, so prepare to be spending quite a bit of time on all of these should you strive for gold. In all honesty, the sheer volume of challenges here feels daunting and a touch discouraging, though I suppose more content is always good for those who desire it.
Finally, there's Superhero difficulty, a mode which is actually available from the very start, but one I wouldn't recommend partaking in on your first run for a number of reasons. Firstly, health and weapon refills, along with E tanks and 1-ups, will no longer drop nor appear in stages. Enemy layouts remain unchanged, but enemies take slightly more hits to kill and damage taken is increased. Most importantly, however, are the changes made to the bosses. The robot masters are not only made to move faster and hit harder, but their attack patterns have been tweaked, making them far more dangerous. Block Man now drops a 3-row checkerboard pattern of blocks instead of a row and enters his second phase much later, Acid Man utilizes speed gear earlier and shoots two more projectiles during it, Impact Man has had his movements and vulnerability windows sped up significantly, etc. One will need to spend a good amount of time re-learning boss patterns all over again to squeeze victories out, and it makes the game feel quite fresh. That is, assuming you don't cheese things with bought E tanks. But don't do that. Only villains do that.
Then what is this that feels like... Junk?
Woe is me, that I must now discuss a daunting downside. No matter how much I played, no matter how much I practiced, I couldn't shake a faint feeling of faint unresponsiveness when it came to some of the tighter jumps and movements. Occasionally, I would slide off a ledge that I could swear I jumped in time for, and so I began to suspect a touch of input latency between control and action. Upon investigation... yes, there is indeed a delay of around 4-6 frames (/60fps), but that's not all. As a matter of control, I also took some rough measurements of the input delay of other Switch games, both docked and handheld, and found almost identical results. Hyrule Warriors, Dragon Quest Builders, Breath of the Wild; all these displayed around the same latency as Mega Man 11, so in this sense, I suspect that the latency is by no means the fault of a bad port, but simply inherent to the platform itself. Until now, this latency has gone unnoticed, but the demand in Mega Man 11's harder challenges has apparently pushed things far enough as to make the lag noticeable to me. What is on the fault of the game, however, is the single frame of windup animation Mega Man performs before actually taking to the air. In animation, this is part of what's known as "anticipation frames", and it's a crucial part of giving weight to animations, but while it does make the act of jumping look nicer, it negatively impacts the gameplay for obvious reasons. The old NES Mega Man titles had just 2 frames of input latency on a standard CRT when played on original hardware, and while I'll admit it can look goofy to watch Mega Man spring into the air with no anticipation as if the ground suddenly became sick of the color blue and violently repelled him out of disgust, those games also had slightly better-feeling platforming. I can say that this latency as it exists in MM11 is not game breaking in any sense, and I did have an impressive amount of fun with this game from start to finish, but I can't deny that this problem did affect things.
This lag issue does not exist with the Steam version, having round around 2 frames of delay using the same monitor on which I tested the Switch while docked. Mega's single anticipatory windup frame for jumping still exists, though, so that translates to 3 frames after button press before leaving the ground. If there are any out there who are particularly sensitive to this sort of thing, then I'd recommend the steam version over the Switch, but I can say that the game still brought a large smile despite this quirk. For those curious, the Steam version also happens to have a 60 fps cap, so there's no framerate disparity between these two versions.
Well, are there any other reasons to avoid the Switch version???
Nope. In most other regards, this is a gorgeous port and an equally viable version of the game. It runs at a pinned 60 fps at all times, both handheld and docked, without a single dip anywhere at all. Visually, the game looks as though just about nothing has been compromised, though the resolution for handheld is naturally limited to 720p. All elements of the game scale well into handheld mode, with no part of the action or the UI being difficult to make out at any point at all. Because of this, most of my time spent with the game was playing in handheld mode, as the dropped resolution didn't bother me at all. Input lag aside, the game seems completely on-par with the Steam version.
+ Weapon ring allowing for instantaneous switching completely flips the previously flawed weapon system paradigm.
+ Brilliant implementation of the speed gear serves as both an evolution of gameplay complexity as well as a phenomenal analytical tool for the player, fostering an inherent impulse to optimize and master the finer points of gameplay.
+ Rock steady 60fps in both handheld and docked modes.
+ Just $30. Wow! What a steal! What a deal! Save for meals!
- Unfortunate input lag (4-6 frames/60fps), seemingly by way of the Switch itself and not due to the development team.
While nothing mind-blowing, the transition into 3D visuals for Mega Man has served the game nicely. Animations read extremely well into a 2D perspective, profiles of enemies and obstacles are unique and easily identified, shading and color palettes make the game look at once cartoon-ish and quite detailed, foreground elements never blend with those in the background, each stage is given its own unique style, and the visual design in general feels at home in the Mega Man universe.
The input lag is a disappointment, but I was able to force myself beyond it, and in the rest of the game's design I found genuine greatness. Yes, even so much as to warrant an 8 in this category, despite the somewhat soggy jumping. The mechanics in Mega Man 11 represent not only a massive boost in the game's quality of life elements, but a substantial step forward for the fundamentals of the franchise as a whole. The constant 60 fps in both docked and handheld helps things out significantly as well. Were it not for the lag, this would have easily reached a 9 for me, hands down, so if perhaps considering the Steam version from what I've said in this review, consider this category boosted.
The main campaign is short, but the extra challenges, trials, and records will keep players occupied for a very long while. It isn't just the fact that they're present either, it's that the game organically conditions the player to see exactly where their movements can be optimized, providing adequate feedback to instill a desire for growth from start to finish. Extra content is no use if the player has no impetus to engage with it, after all, and I can say that, for me, that's definitely not the case here.
out of 10
(not an average)
Mega Man 11 is frankly something I consider fantastic. I unfortunately don't particularly anticipate this title bringing in newcomers who previously disliked Mega Man, just by means of the added complexity and much raised skill ceiling (even though the floor has also been lowered slightly), as well as the fact that it is still every bit Mega Man at its heart, for people who are already fans of the franchise, I'd be surprised if they weren't extremely satisfied with Mega Man 11, as there's a LOT this entry improves, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is by far my favorite entry into a franchise I already had a fondness for, and I'm pleased as a peach with what they've put out.