Like many long-time Mega Man fans, my first experience with Mega Man 11's demo has left me feeling like I'm bobbing along like a cork in the ocean or spiraling through limbo. Mega Man's NES library honed my gaming reflexes as a kid, meaning the games' mechanics imprinted themselves into my muscle memory decades ago. I can't "forget" how to play a Mega Man game any more readily than I can forget how to breathe.
Dramatic? Yeah. But I can't understate how strange Mega Man 11 feels to me. Not in a bad way–just in the way I felt when making the jump from the classic series to X in 1993, or the way I felt when I made subsequent jumps from Mega Man X to Legends, and then to the Battle Network series. Despite Capcom's reputation for playing it safe with the Blue Bomber, he's changed his entire identity more often than most long-lived game mascots. But Mega Man 11's Double Gear System marks the first time he's made such a dramatic life change in the middle of one of his established sub-series—let alone a sub-series as ingrained in gaming pop culture as classic Mega Man.
Now take that shift and plop it on top of the fact Mega Man 11 is the first new Mega Man game since 2010's Mega Man 10, a game that purposefully revels in Mega Man's oft-brutal NES roots. My hour with Mega Man 11 felt like coming home, but it also made me feel like a strange guy with a strange dog was hanging out in the rooms I've known intimately since childhood. It's not that I mind making new friends, of course. But it'll take a while for us to really get comfortable with each other.
In case you need a refresher: The Double Gear System lets Mega Man overclock his systems to slow down time (though to be persnickety about it, the Speed Gear actually lets Mega Man move blisteringly fast so it only seems like time slows down) or supercharge his weapons. The former power lets Mega Man maneuver around tough-to-dodge objects, while the latter makes it easier for him to cut through tough enemies.
While you might assume these powers exist to make life easier for less-experienced Mega Man players, Mega Man 11's levels are built around using them. It's not an absolute necessity, but there are definitely moments when refusing to use the powers is courting disaster. One of the stages I tried out, Impact Man's construction site (newly playable at PAX West), has a couple of tricky platforming areas where Impact Man himself sends his parts flying at Mega Man (he assembles himself, Voltron-like, at the end of the stage; it's pretty cool). I only made it through this section of the level by the grace of the Speed Gear, and it was still a challenge. Speaking of challenge, the fact Mega Man 11 offers multiple difficulty options should be proof enough Capcom wants you to make clever use the Gears to complete levels, not simply make the experience easier for you.
Whoa, Mega Man 11 has Mickey's Dick Smasher as a mini-boss. pic.twitter.com/Ddjls5JQCZ— Nadia Oxford (@nadiaoxford) July 18, 2018
After losing all my lives in Impact Man's concrete kingdom, I gave Blast Man's theme park stage a try and had—pardon me—a blast. I have a weakness for amusement park levels, plus the chain reaction explosion hazards that pepper the area helped ease me into using the Speed Gear a little more. By the time I finished screwing up in Blast Man's domain, I finally began feeling like the Gears might eventually become as natural to me as, say, X's dash in the Mega Man X games.
I think most long-time Mega Man fans are going to need to learn how to get comfortable with Mega Man 11's Gears. We might also have to circumvent the mental block that comes with changing Mega Man's mechanics so dramatically in a new classic game (whereas new mechanics and new Mega Man sub-series go hand-in-hand). Yeah, it'll be an awkward couple of days—but I'm also OK with Capcom making a bold change to Mega Man for his first new game in nearly a decade. That takes some Courage, Man.
Disclosure: USgamer is part of Gamer Network, which is owned by ReedPOP, the organizers of the PAX events including PAX West.