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 possesses 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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
- 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!