Well…didn’t see this coming.
In my First Impressions piece for The Messenger, I mentioned how Mighty No. 9 was a half-baked effort by Keiji Inafune to recapture the glory of his beloved Mega Man action-platforming heyday. Easy as it is for onlookers to say backers were idiots, those people weren’t stupid. After Mega Man 10, Inafune’s departure from Capcom and several game cancellations in 2010, everyone—myself included—genuinely thought the Blue Bomber would be a victim of bad blood.
You can imagine the collective shock when, last year, as part of a 30th anniversary live stream, Mega Man 11 was announced as a project by the developers of the second Legacy Collection. Given that compilation included 10, along with Mega Man 7-9, this made sense, and at a glance, this would seem like everything fans wanted. But in this instant-gratification age of save states, XP boosts, and instant rewinds, does this modern Mega Man still provide an 11/10 experience?
We Are the Robots
On the surface, MM11 appears straightforward: Players pick from one of eight available stages, defeat the Robot Master at the end, obtain their power, and choose another. Basic in concept, but in execution, it’s hard to explain. In fact, it’s literally impossible to explain.
Let’s start with the difficulty select screen. Players have four options: Newcomer, Casual, Normal, and Superhero. (For context, I beat Normal in just under 5 hours.) It’s easy to assume Normal means the same thing as Moderate or Approachable, especially for a game about jumping and shooting. But no, Normal just means STANDARD, and the standard in Mega Man 11 can wear your teeth and gears down to a fine powder via excessive grinding.
Nothing about the game’s mechanics or rules are explicitly explained, so trial and error isn’t just an approach—it’s arguably the only method for success. Enemies hound you with reckless abandon, and coupled with precision platforms and limited lives, there WILL be deaths around every corner.
Notice I didn’t say CHEAP deaths. With a few minor exceptions, the controls are responsive and obstacles are clearly telegraphed to give players a chance to react. The aforementioned Newcomer and Casual difficulties, along with bolts that can be spent in Dr. Light’s Lab for items and upgrades, take the edge off.
Any Mega-masochists hoping for an experience as unforgiving as 9 might be disappointed, but if it ensures we get a wide enough audience for a Mega Man 12, then so be it.
Double Gear? It Can’t Be!
Even on Superhero Mode, Mega Man has one ace up his sleeve, or rather, two: the new Double Gear system. You have a Power Gear for boosting attacks and a Speed Gear for boosting player movement. You can also combine these tools for a low-health desperation move that can get you out of a hairy situation. It sounds overpowered, but because the version here is a prototype, strict cooldowns make them just extra tools instead of a crutch to lean on when the chips are down.
Robot Masters, however, have no such limits and won’t hesitate to pound you into Mega-Mulch. But like the general levels, boss fights are consistent with their attacks and won’t outright curb-stomp you without warning. Yes, you’ll die multiple times figuring it out, but each death is a positive learning experience.
These gears also exist at the crux of a surprisingly decent story for Mega Man 11: Dr. Wily revives his Power Gear system from university days as part of a world domination scheme. Even though the focus is on challenging platforming, the cutscenes and moral conflict between Wily and Mega Man’s creator Dr. Light do enough to add narrative tension without distracting.
The rest of this presentation follows the same modest approach, for better and worse. Gameplay is strictly 2D, but everything is modeled in 3D to give the illusion of being an interactive cartoon. Basic and straightforward as it is, characters are expressive and well-animated, with a framerate that remains consistently fluid.
On the flip side, the music, while inoffensive and not without its moments, lacks the punchiness fans have come to expect. Don’t expect anything that transcends, like Mega Man 2‘s Dr. Wily Stage 1, even if the tunes can stick in your head and keep you in a good mood.
All Good Robots Go to Heaven
The good vibes represent Mega Man 11 on a whole. Any fears of a cynical nostalgic cash grab can be set aside, as the new team has crafted a sequel with genuine humanity amid all the machinery. Double Gears, permanent upgrades, and a surprising emphasis on story show effort at modernizing the series while still retaining the classic flavor.
Mega Man 11 will need time, speedruns, and repeat playthroughs to see how well it stacks up to its predecessors. But the fact it feels like a continuation rather than a cheap imitation is worth celebrating. Let’s Rock, Man.