Tag Archives: level design

FGC #580 Mega Man Powered Up

There was a meme circulating recently that asked a simple question: if you were able to “takeover” any company/production studio/IP with impunity, what franchise would you helm and/or revive? Obviously, my mind races at even the suggestion of such a scenario. Is it finally time for Gitaroo-Man to take the stage again? Or can I decisively make that “Metroid 5” title that sees Samus somersaulting through a 2-D, futuristic/abandoned city (well, it’s not technically abandoned, there is a lot of sand around)? Or would I zero in on one of my most beloved/expansive franchises? Trade Mighty No. 9 for that all-important Mega Man Legends 3? Continue the X franchise into the real 202X? Or would I turn my gaze elsewhere? Would I settle for a sequel to an all-but-forgotten PSP game?

Would I demand Mega Man Powered Up 2?

Let’s talk about Mega Man Powered Up (1). Actually, wait, let’s talk about Mega Man (1). Mega Man has been discussed on this blog before, and we came to an unfortunate conclusion: it is not very good. It is not bad! It is just not very good, and, considering there are five other Mega Man titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System (and at least two Gameboy games!), there really is not a reason to play Mega Man (1) beyond morbid curiosity. Sure, Mega Man is where it all started, but it is by no means an essential entry in the franchise that would shortly thereafter allow a player to whack a sentient fan with all the strength of a dog punch. And perhaps it was this unfortunate fact that prompted Keiji Inafune, Mega Man’s adopted father, to produce Mega Man Powered Up, a game with the basic premise of Mega Man (1), but more than a few significant changes.

Swing itFirst of all, as one would expect, the original Mega Man graphics of 1987 were updated to something that would be a bit more appropriate for nearly twenty years later. This was a carefully measured graphical upgrade, too, as the target system for Mega Man Powered Up was the PSP, a very particular handheld with its own widescreen dimensions. Mega Man was made for a big fat TV that could host a fighting robot just as easily as Star Trek: The Next Generation, but Mega Man Powered Up had to fit a world that was much more rectangular. Given this shift to a different aspect ratio, Mega Man’s levels had to be reformatted into something less vertical, and generally more horizontal. And, hey, the fact that nobody had to fight the memory constraints of an early NES cartridge probably changed a few things, too. And speaking of constraints, every Mega Man game after Mega Man 1 featured eight robot masters, while Rock’s first adventure only included six opponents. How about another two for the road? Include some dubious voice acting and a little extra personality for every ‘bot, and then you’ve got a proper Mega Man that matches the style of the contemporary Mega Man titles of the era. Mega Man is all dressed up and ready for modern times.

Except Mega Man Powered Up was a snip ahead of its time.

Let’s talk about the PSP for a moment. The PSP was Sony’s first prominent videogame handheld, and the intended rival to the Nintendo DS. And while the UMDs of the PSP could boast more intensive experiences than anything on the DScitation needed, one thing the system lacked was a touch screen. This would be rectified with the PSP’s successor, but the feature that would launch a thousand mobile games was wholly absent from the Playstation Portable. And, lest we forget our history lessons, the PSP was also riding high right on the cusp of wireless internet functionality being standard. All PSP systems had online capabilities, but, if you were off a college campus, the average PSP user didn’t have easy access to that functionality until late in the system’s go-based life. This led to a few curious scenarios wherein game designers practically begged their audience to go hook up to a McDonald’s hotspot, and maybe the prompted players could get a little bonus The good doctorfor actually connecting to the wi-fi. An easy and relevant example: Mega Man Powered Up would offer a playable Roll only through a PSP system-based download, and you could connect again later to get some seasonal costumes. The message was clear: kids, please go online, and we’ll give you free stuff. Just go online, players, you’ll like it, we swear.

These two failings of the PSP are relevant because Mega Man Powered Up could have really used a touch screen and an audience with extensive online support. Why? Because Mega Man Powered Up featured a pretty robust level editor. And who wouldn’t want that?! Make your own Mega Man stages! I’ve been doing that with graph paper and my grandparent’s colored pens since I was seven! The only issue was that, without a touchscreen, the controls were cumbersome, and without a reliable internet connection, there was no way to share and trade with others. The functionality was technically there, but the community decidedly was not. So Mega Man Powered Up: Make Your Own Levels was little more than a five minute novelty, and not the Mario Maker it could be today with a potential Mega Man Powered Up 2.

But if we’re being honest (and what is a videogame blog without honesty?), the whole “Mega Man Maker” of a potential Mega Man Powered Up 2 would be completely perfunctory next to the real reason this humble blogger wants to see Mega Man Powered Up 2: MMPU let you play the whole game (and multiple challenge levels) as all the Mega Man Robot Masters.

Freeze!And it is hard to overstate how this is simultaneously the best and worst idea for revitalizing Mega Man (1). On one hand, who doesn’t want to play as the bad guys? It was fun to grab Cut Man’s rolling cutter, but why not have the man with the head-blade himself? And who wouldn’t want to run around blasting away with atomic fire that also inexplicably works as headgear? But, unfortunately, the original Robot Masters have more problems than dangerously themed hats. The original Mega Man bosses were extremely limited in their movesets, and Mega Man won everything upon stealing their master weapon. Elec Man has an amazing Elec Beam, but take it away, and he is no different than Mega Man. Run, jump, unique weapon, the end. And some of those weapons/robot masters don’t even work. Guts Man is an iconic opponent, but his Super Arm is situational at best, and outright, irredeemably useless at worst. Even granting Guts Man the ability to summon new blocks only upgrades him from “ineffectual” to “at least he’s not worse than anyone else”. Playing as the bosses of Mega Man is pretty great, but, for the purpose of unique, interesting gameplay challenges, this is the worst crop in the franchise.

But the potential cast of Mega Man Powered Up 2? Now there are some luminaries. Air Man can blow out multiple tornados, and potentially use his winds for platforming hijinks. Flash Man can stop time and spread his pellets around. Quick Man would be an amazing mix of agile mobility and a hypothetically inefficient offense. The invincible dash of Heat Man. The leaf rain of Wood Man. The mettle of Metal Man (he lives every second knowing that one day that Metal Blade will toll for him). Mega Man 2 has one of the most amazing lineups for any Mega Man title (the whole thing would be perfect if Crash Man would just curl up and explode), and the promise of Mega Man Powered Up 2 allowing these Wily Bots to rampage along would be more than enough to guarantee a hit. Hell, you don’t even have to make ‘em good guys! Go the Mega Man & Bass route, and have any given character rebel for no reason! I would give my left pinky for a Bubble Man that is boiling over and taking no prisoners!

Clean up the placeAnd, yes, that is my immediate thought for what game I would petition for a “new” version. I like to imagine I would come up with some game that is innovative, original, and unique in the gaming sphere, but I know what I want. It’s Mega Man. It’s more Mega Man, based on the combination of two really good Mega Man games. Mega Man 2 and Mega Man Powered Up? Mega Man Powered Up 2, please.

And then when we get to Mega Man Powered Up 3…

FGC #580 Mega Man Powered Up

  • System: Playstation Portable, and only PSP. You’re not even allowed to play this bad boy on the Vita. Probably something to do with the online functionality.
  • Number of players: You could share your levels with the whole world, but you’re probably just going to be playing alone.
  • Is the Yellow Devil still terrible? Absolutely. Worst part of the challenges, worst part of the game, worst part of the franchise. It is appropriately named.
  • Favorite Robot Master: Apparently my original choice for Mega Man 1 was Ice Man, but I want to give Time Man a nod on this go round. He can slow down time! But not stop it! We had to save that for Flash Man, apparently, and it’s that kind of continuity that always makes me happy. Also, Fire Man ranks as low as possible on this list for being just south of straight up revisiting Flame Hyenard. What is with Fire Masters with voice acting?
  • Favorite Robot Master (To Actually Play As): Now here is where Ice Man wins. I love ice beam-ing through levels, and it is rather fun seeing just how much of any given stage can be transformed into one continuous series of ice platforms. That said, though, unfreezable bosses are a lot more difficult with that plinky little blaster.
  • Vaguely offensiveHe is not Slick: Oil Man is the other new Robot Master, and he is… a tar baby. Like, straight up, that is exactly what they were going for with the lips and coloration. And that makes sense! Tar, oil, it’s all connected! That said, just because something makes a kind of rational sense doesn’t mean it isn’t hurtful and racist, so someone down the lane should have noted that this was a terrible idea. And the fact that he has a… let’s say “colloquial” accent that involves other Robot Masters calling him a “thug” absolutely does not mean the localization helped. Love that oil slide move! Everything else deserves a rewrite.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: If you were wondering why I have such an exact memory of the state of internet connections at Mega Man Powered Up’s release, it’s because I had to “overwrite” my MMPU save with Gamefaqs-provided data in order to “download” Roll. What was I supposed to do? Purchase a wireless router? I was a poor college student, dammit, and the campus wi-fi isn’t quite there yet!
  • Did you know? Keiji Inafune claimed that the “chibi” style of Mega Man Powered Up was always intended from Mega Man’s inception, but was impossible with NES technology. So we can conclude that, much like George Lucas, Keiji Inafune is a confirmed liar.
  • Would I play again: Probably… but only if the PSP miraculously becomes a lot easier to pick up an’ play. I appreciate that my ol’ portable still has a working battery, but it is a whale of a lot easier to play Mega Man 2 on any given videogame system (and certain toaster models).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… . Hey! That looks like math! I was told there would be no math! Bah! Regardless, please look forward to it.

Guess he got blocked
This is the only blocking in a fight I support.

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #14: Kingdom Hearts 3

You said it, AxelSo, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts game since 2005, eh? How’s that working out?

Excuse me, but, despite the seemingly simple numbering of the third installment, there have been approximately twelve billion Kingdom Hearts titles in the last (nearly) fifteen years. And that’s something of a problem! All of those titles were very much Kingdom Hearts stories, but all of them (save Dream Drop Distance) primarily featured side characters, like Roxas, Ventus, or Aqua. And, because the Kingdom Hearts franchise has literally no idea how to write an ending, each of those characters wound up with unresolved stories begging for a climax come Kingdom Hearts 3. And does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders? … Wait, should that be a question?

Does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders?

Pretty much! It’s actually kind of impressive how many “side stories” have built up over the years, and Kingdom Hearts 3 ties up nearly all of them with a neat little (inevitably heart-shaped) bow during the final world.

Wait… “during the final world”? The game doesn’t gradually solve these problems over the course of the entire 20-30 hour game?

Oh my no. Have you played a Kingdom Hearts game before? All of that messy plot is saved for the final couple of hours, and the rest of the game is having fun around Disney-based worlds while creepy dudes in coats occasionally discuss their favorite Netflix shows (Ansem is apparently really into Ozark).

That sounds… bad.

That’s not a question. It’s a statement. A correct statement.

So is Kingdom Hearts 3 bad?

Poor girlCertainly not. In a lot of ways, Kingdom Hearts 3 is what the Kingdom Hearts titles have been striving for since the initial announcement of Squall Leonheart meets Dumbo. Disney worlds are huge and varied, NPCs actually exist (where appropriate) so Planet Tangled feels populated by actual people (as opposed to the Agrabah Marketplaces of the past that had apparently been struck neutron bombs), and the various worlds often contain mechanics that unmistakably separate the “levels” by something other than your Disney-approved guest characters. There are (relatively) Giant Robots in Toy Store world! A sailing system reminiscent of a mini-Wind Waker in Pirates of the Caribbean world! Big Hero 6 features a Crack Down-esque super-hero city playground! It’s pretty great, and a far cry from the themed hallways of some of the previous titles. In fact, in a weird way, it makes some of the more classically “videogame-y” worlds worse by comparison. Frozen is basically the ice level (complete with ice maze, ice tower, and the return of Square-mandated snowboarding), and Monsters Inc.’s factory stage is another fine showcase for our gaming friend, the conveyer belt. But those worlds aren’t bad! Just kind of ordinary when compared to exploring a gigantic toy store filled with murderous tsum tsums (which is rarely a destination for old-fashioned Chocobros).

So play Kingdom Hearts 3 for the Disney experience?

It’s certainly what is front and center. Four of the worlds are basically “play the movie” experiences wherein Sora gets to tagalong while a film unfolds (and, for some reason, a complete cutscene featuring the entirety of Let it Go), one world serves as a quasi-sequel (and inadvertent condemnation of capitalism), and two worlds seem to be excuses to hang out with a cool cast of characters. And that’s fun! It’s all very entertaining, and the only thing that really separates this whole experience from the much-missed Disney Infinity is that that “real” plot keeps rearing its ugly head (and Anna doesn’t get a grappling hook).

So the Kingdom Hearts plot is the worst part of Kingdom Hearts?

Not exactly. The narrative just…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?

FGC #417 Mega Man 11

Here comes a Mega Man!So here’s why Mega Man 11 is an excellent videogame, but an awful Mega Man game.

Good videogames are good teachers. Whether you’re a veteran of gaming culture or a random scrub that was just handed a controller, if you’ve ever played a videogame, you first had to learn that game. And while there’s always going to be some overlap between disparate games (Super Mario Bros. and Bioshock both, technically, have jump buttons), every game has its own rules and tricks that must be memorized. Heck, right from the get-go, most videogames ask you to do something you’ve been doing for years, like walking forward, but all sorts of buttons and levers must be employed to do this simplest of tasks (or, well, at least one button). As such, any game worth its salt takes the time to teach the player “the basics”, and then gradually ramps up the difficulty as the adventure progresses.

Yes, this is all a basic way of saying “Level 1-1 is easier than 8-1”, but I like hitting a word count sometimes, okay?

Mega Man games are their own little universe, however. Somewhere out there (or right here), there’s a poor child (who is now an adult, and me) that fired up Mega Man 2 for the first time (because Captain N was a cool television show), was greeted with the ability to choose his first level (unlike every non-Duck Tales NES game ever), and immediately chose Quick Man (because head-boomerangs are awesome). This ended incredibly poorly, as this poor boy (who is literally writing this article) was forever scarred (not really) by immediately and unmercifully dying repeatedly to the instant death lasers of Quick Man’s stage. And an attempt at the deadly platforming of Air Man’s stage didn’t go much better! It wasn’t until Flash Man’s stage that the poor boy discovered that one of these stages could end. Mega Man 2 Crispypossesses no tutorial or opening stage, so, without trial and error, the instant death of spikes is initially equally as threatening as a common mettaur. It is only through trial and error that these lessons are learned, and if you chose the hardest stage to start, well, hope you have the patience to discover the rest of the game isn’t nearly that punishing.

Mega Man 11 tries something a little different.

Mega Man 11 does not include an introductory stage, so, once again, you are given the choice of where exactly you would like to begin your Robot Master rampage. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to showcase Acid Man’s stage. Why? Because it’s color-coded.

The theme of Acid Man’s stage is “chemistry”. Or… maybe something to do with how liquid changes colors? Ugh, you know what? It’s a water level. It’s the water level of the game. The end. Water levels in Mega Man games are always interesting (if not fun), as water makes Mega Man move slightly slower, but with an incredibly high jump. And you can get your sealegs pretty easily in the opening, blue areas of Acid Man’s stage.

Acid!

Look at that! There might be a few hazards around, but life is better down where it’s wetter in the opening bits of Acid Man’s lab.

Acid!

Things escalate by the middle area, though. It’s still pretty easy, but instant-kill traps are more prevalent. Yes, they’re effortlessly avoided, but the very fact that your adventure could be over in a hit is now going to be the new normal. Will things escalate for the Blue Bomber? We’ll find out, right after this break!

Acid!

Yay! Mini-boss! These things are apparently required by law now, and we’re lucky that this beast only pops up once in this stage (other stages seem to feature “a big guy” twice, once ala carte, and once with some extra stage hazard added). Unfortunately, since this device only has one chance to shine, it’s kind of a bullet sponge, and feels like it overstays its welcome by about half. Does this mean we should use the new Power Gear? Probably! But good luck timing/aiming that sucker properly.

Acid!

Now we get a checkpoint, and Mega Man 11 really kicks into gear. We’re still in the yellow area, but either thanks to the close proximity of the respawn point or the fact that we’ve now entered flavor country, there are a lot of spikes around. You must either know the exact arc of Mega’s signature water jump, cheese your way through with some invincibility-through-damage, or die. Yes, Mega Man will be teleported back to life nearby, so it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s clear at this point that the kid gloves have come off the robot kid. And should you survive…

Acid!

Now we’re in the thick of the “old school” “you gonna die” “exploding robots forever” challenge of Mega Man games of yore. There are spikes everywhere. Entire rooms are just instant death traps, and, even with that brand new Speed Gear, you damn well better know exactly how Mega Man controls, or you’re dead. It’s not the end of the world, these are challenges you can complete, but…

Acid!

Never mind. This is bullshit. Don’t make me do this! Don’t make me perfectly navigate some wall of spikes, or jump up through a vertically scrolling area that may or may not have a ceiling full of instant death (okay, the ceiling is, obviously, completely fatal, but the question is how close is that ceiling). This is the closing rush before the finale, but it doesn’t have to be this bad. I would kind of like to see that Robot Master I selected.

Acid!

Oh, there he is. Time to beat down Acid Man and call it a stage clear. Wow, nothing about this fight could be as difficult as the challenges that preceded it. Is that a problem? Maybe. But it’s not the problem.

The problem is that this level design is incompatible with the lives system of classic Mega Man titles.

Mega Man 11 emulates the traditional Mega Man style of defaulting to three lives to complete a stage, and, should you lose those lives, it’s back to the very beginning. This setup carried us blissfully through all of the NES titles (and a few X jaunts), and, while there may have been a problem with the system here or there (hello, damn Boo Beam Trap), it worked out well enough that Mega Man became a cherished franchise complete with this “handicap”. Even though Mega Man 11 showcases some new advances (like being able to replay Wily stages, or really excellent weapon switching), the “lives factor” wasn’t the worst part of the classic series (that would be the Boo Beam Trap, again), so that tradition should have worked out just fine.

It didn’t. It didn’t work out at all.

Lose all your lives, and it’s back to start. It is tradition, but it completely fails in a game that so rigidly adheres to the “graduating lesson” structure of every Mega Man 11 stage. Fail at the opening? No big deal, you start back right at the start. But fail in the middle, and you have to repeat the basics of the beginning all over again. Got past the miniboss? Well, that’s super, but you’re going to have to waste time on that bullet sponge again if you only got that far with zero lives remaining. And the final gauntlet areas? Awful, because these areas are literally designed to kill you quickly and often, and you’re going to boomerang back to the easy opening all over again if you lose your precious 1-up stock. And that makes it nearly impossible to clear the most dangerous areas, because, in order to practice the difficult parts, you have to waste time on the tranquil bits over and over and over again. By the time you return to your robotic remains, can you even remember what killed you the last time? Oh, right, it was those spikes. Back to the top.

And let’s not pretend this was always a problem with the Mega Man series. Yes, the lives/continue system was always there, but what happens on literally the second screen with buoyant water in the franchise ever?

Bubbles!

Sink or swim, Mega Man. Classic Mega Man stages are less about teaching the player new tricks, and more about tossing ‘em in the deep end right from the start.

Bubbles!

Or at least like ten seconds later. And, don’t worry, this kind of thinking did continue when classic became slightly less classic, as, lest we forget, the most unforgiving jump ever in the franchise is before its stage’s midway point.

Run the Jewels!

And, while my ruler might not be close enough at hand to give it a check, it seems Mega Man 11’s levels are longer than most of the classic stages. Which makes sense! When you’re ruled by the concept of gradually increasing difficulty through three-part stages that include a generous sprinkling of mini bosses, you’re going to wind up with a lot o’ level. And it means you’re going to repeat a lot of those levels.

And the saddest part of all of this? There was a modest solution to avoiding this mess built right into the Mega Man formula: Dr. Wily Stages. Take all those “final”, super difficult areas, and weld them together for the actual final areas. Make four Wily stages by combining the hardest bits of eight Robot Master stages. Simple! It’s happened before! It’s worked really well before!

So, in the end, Mega Man 11 winds up being a game that uses traditional videogame structure in a traditional franchise that does not work well with traditional structure at all. Mega Man 11 is a great game, it’s just not a great Mega Man game.

FGC #417 Mega Man 11

  • Look out!System: Available now for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. And PC! The only system actually seen during the game…
  • Number of players: Capcom refuses to acknowledge my requests for a Secret of Mana-esque Mega Man adventure featuring Bass and Proto Man, so just one.
  • Hey, why don’t you just crank down the difficulty, smart guy? If Capcom wants to claim one difficulty is “Normal”, then I’m going to assume that is the way the game is meant to be played until further notice.
  • Special Ed: Yes, I did have to pay a premium to buy the version with an amiibo, stickers, and a microfiber cloth (which I think is a kind of Final Fantasy equipment). If you thought you lived in a universe where I would not buy such a thing, then hi, welcome to GoggleBob.com for the first time!
  • Classic Rumblings: Electric beats ice, ice beats fire, fire beats… bomb? Bomb beats the dude with the blocks. This is the foundation of our universe.
  • Favorite Robot Master: I still think Bomb Man has the dumbest design. And, appropriately enough, Blast Man seems to have a similarly lazy visual design. But there is more to Blast Man than his dumb haircut, and this explosion loving pyrotechnic and his dedication to theme parks has won me over in a big way. You’re a blast, Blast Man.
  • Did you know? This is the first time a new “classic” Mega Man game has had a physical release on a Nintendo console since Mega Man & Bass. Am I talking about the original Super Famicom release or the aggravating Gameboy Advance rerelease? Yes!
  • Would I play again: I really like this game! It makes “lives” the worst thing ever, but the rest of the game is tops. I’m a lot more likely to play this again than Mighty No. 9, and, frankly, I think that says it all.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen to take Halloween off, so we’re going for spooky times with… Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon! Yes, two modern-retro style games in a row! It happens! And maybe there will be skeletons! Please look forward to it!

Little Devils