Mega Man 11 Hands-On: The Polar Opposite of the Nostalgia-Laden Mega Man 9 and 10

Mega Man 11 Hands-On: The Polar Opposite of the Nostalgia-Laden Mega Man 9 and 10

We take a look at Mega Man 11's new gear system and ponder the direction of Capcom's latest revival.

It was a decade ago that Capcom shocked and delighted retro purisists with Mega Man 9—a brand new adventure in the 8-bit style. It successfully brought back the series to its roots, reawakening fond memories of Mega Man 2.

Mega Man 11, which is billed in part as a celebration of the franchise's 30th anniversary, is basically the opposite of all that. Where Mega Man 9 deliberately uses 8-bit sprites, Mega Man 11 has a new cel-shaded look. Where Mega Man 9 hews as closely as possible to the original mechanics, Mega Man 11 dramatically expands them. Indeed, it's apparent that Mega Man 11 is out to reinvent the 30-year-old formula that has served the series so well.

Central to this new approach is the fresh system that was hinted at in the announcement trailer, and is now being shown for the first time. Called the Speed Gear and Power Gear, it allows Mega Man to either get a short burst of powered shots or what amounts to bullet time. If you're damaged enough, you can combine them into one powerful attack, though you will subsequently be hampered by a lengthy cooldown and a slower shot rate.

Levels in Mega Man 11 are clearly balanced around the Speed Gear.

It was apparently developed by Dr. Wily in his college days—yep, he's back—and dug up to "overclock" his new line of robot masters, which includes Block Man and the newly-revealed Fuse Man. When you fight them, they activate their own gears, forcing you to adjust your strategy accordingly. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about the art style—the backgrounds in particular feel a bit plain—but I won't deny that the effects when, say, Fuse Man activates his Speed Gear look cool.

Outside of the boss battles, the levels are plainly, ahem, geared toward the new system. In Block Man's stage, for instance, you'll fight a robot consisting of a stack of discs that break apart and lands in different patterns, affording you precious little time to dodge and find an opening. Accordingly, your best bet is to use the Speed Gear to slow time long enough to figure out where the pieces will end up.

At other points, tricky platforming spots practically beg you to activate the Speed Gear to negotiate the tight jumping windows. Bulky enemies like a robot wielding a large hammer demand the Power Gear to be quickly dispatched. It's possible to get through Mega Man 11 without using gears at all, but well, it's very hard.

The difference is most apparent in the aforementioned boss battles. You still have to deftly dodge attacks, such as Block Man's rain of stone from above, but you also have to deal with multiple forms and super attacks. After taking a few hits, for instance, Block Man will activate his Power Gear and become absolutely enormous, forcing you to dodge a new set of attacks as he slams the ground and swipes debris at you. Fuse Man, as I mentioned earlier, will activate his Speed Gear and zap around the stage on a trail of lightning, which is best countered with a Speed Gear of your own.

The hardest thing for me has been adjusting to the start-and-stop nature of the Speed Gear. Decades of playing Mega Man have honed my sense of timing, and Mega Man 11 unwinds that a bit. There were times when the new abilities felt less helpful than mandatory, railroading me into a style of play that I didn't like to negotiate unbalanced levels.

At least, that's what the "It's different so I hate it" part of my brain is saying.

The truth is that evolution is painful and messy sometimes. Absent a few new power-ups here or there, Mega Man has been largely the same since the early '90s, making it a comfort for retro enthusiasts. The flipside of innovation is that it forces you out of your comfort zone. And that's exactly what Mega Man 11 sets out to do.

Block Man activates his Power Gear.

Mega Refresh

Anyway, this all brings me back to my original point, which is that Mega Man 11 is the opposite of Mega Man 9. Inti Creates' opus was a celebration that successfully brought the series back to its roots. It shed all the insecurity of previous eras and owned its retro identity, and it was a pretty darn good game to boot.

By contrast, Mega Man 11 feels like its intent on looking forward rather than backward. It has updated graphics; and four difficulty levels ranging from easy to hard (its hard even on normal, actually), new mechanics. It's not above wallowing a bit in nostalgia—multiple enemies return from the previous games, for example—but it's clearly here to refresh the formula.

I think this is generally a good thing for Mega Man. I want it to continue as many as anyone else, and innovation is certainly one path forward. I think my only concern is that it might come at the expense of the balance of the core gameplay—the very essence of Mega Man. The second you mess with that, you risk the series losing its identity entirely. Just ask Star Fox.

One way or another, though, this isn't the classic Mega Man of the '90s, and old-school fans will be in for as much of a learning curve as the newcomers. This could well be the freshest the series has been in years. But amid its departure from the comfort zone of 30 years of design, the jury is firmly out on Capcom's latest attempt to revive the Blue Bomber.

Mega Man 11 will release on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch on October 2.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Read this next

Nadia's Top 10 Games of 2018: Diablo Dungeons & Dragons

Let me show you my Pokeymans. And my Dragon Quests, my Octopaths, and my sushi rolls.

Now Mega Man's Getting a Live-Action Movie Too

Mega Man joins Pikachu, Mario, Lara Croft, and Sonic on the big screen.

Mega Man 11 Review

Get equipped with a happy resurrection.

Mega Man 11 Fans Are Already Doing Gearless Runs of the Demo

Mega Man runs into the fray without his L.A. Gears.

Here's Why Mega Man 11's Boss Doors Have People Riled Up

Wiping your feet before entering Block Man's lair is mandatory.

More Analyses

A Fresh Look at New Super Mario Bros. U on Switch: Does it Measure Up to the Classics?

Where does New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe rank alongside Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World?

The State of Destiny 2 After Forsaken: A Game That Can't Shake Its Troubles

Forsaken was a solid start, but it wasn't enough to pull everyone back.

Sorry Pokemon Fans, Your Gold-Plated Cards from Burger King Aren't Worth Squat

Burger King's Pokemon cards from 1999 look kind of nice and they're fun to remember, but they're barely worth the cost of a milkshake.

More on PC

Battlefield 5 is Going Back to the Series' Roots With the Upcoming Pacific Update

A full reveal of Chapter 5: War in the Pacific will come later this week.

Fortnite Medals Punch Card - How to Earn New Medals and Refresh the Punch Card

This is our full guide to the new Fortnite Medals system, including how to earn them, and times for the Punch Card refresh.

Axe of the Blood God Reviews Three Big RPGs for October

Kat and Nadia are joined by Mike and Nadia to talk about Trails of Cold Steel 3, Disco Elysium, Little Town Hero, and more.

Crusader Kings 3 is Happening, And It Has Some Much-Requested Features

The fan favorite strategy series from Paradox is back in a big way.

What's Your Favorite Video Game Monster?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | We love to be scared of 'em.

More Platformer Games

Okami Sequel Teased By Noted Twitter Troll Hideki Kamiya

I mean, it'd be nice if it were true.

The Good Version of Sonic the Hedgehog Is Coming to Super Monkey Ball

The HD remake of Super Monkey Ball's Wii installment is getting a classic, blue-quilled bonus.

Check Out Sega's Surprise Remix of a Classic Sonic Adventure Tune

Maybe don't get your hopes too high that this means anything, though.

"How Big Is This Going to Get?“: The Future of Killer Queen And Its Console Counterpart

Talking with developers and a few members of Killer Queen's dedicated New York arcade scene about the new multiplayer spin-off.