Mega Man 11
Despite his long slumber, Mega Man has a history synonymous with gaming. With Mega Man 11, the blue bomber is attempting the kind of revival fraught with the same kind of dangers that dozens of other series have tried before with few coming out the other end successful. Mega Man's newest adventure, however, might be more well-equipped for a grand return than any of his former contemporaries.
I got a chance to play the newest build of Mega Man 11, which features BlockMan's Egyptian/Aztec fusion-themed level and FuseMan's newly playable electric bugaloo around a power plant. Mega Man traverses these environments with his usual repertoire of running, jumping, sliding, and holding in the charge button the entire time.
The newest tool for Mega Man to use, however, is the Gear system. Dr. Wily has an epiphany of the gear ability system in his advanced age, recalling that he pioneered the technology with Dr. Light when they were both young. The gears can slow down time, power up a fighting robot, or combine both for a last-ditch effort in battle. Wily decides to power up his current set of robot masters with the gear system and Mega Man insists that he also receives the upgrade from Dr. Light to fight off these powered-up enemies.
Using the shoulder buttons, Mega Man can activate the Speed Gear, which slows down time, or the Power Gear, which powers up his Mega Buster and gives him two full charge shots at its strongest charge. Both abilities are set on a cooldown, meaning you can't just walk through a level with time permanently slowed down. Activating either buys you a few seconds to take advantage of the gear until you stop using it or it runs out, requiring a full cooldown to zero before it can be used again.
Mega Man can also build up a charge through the level that allows him to combine both gears as a desperation move, slowing down time and giving his Mega Buster an extra bit of oomph. The super fighting robot better have defeated the boss with this ultimate attack, though, or he'll overheat and be unable to charge shots for a limited time.
The gears are not an easy button as I initially feared they would be. It allows the designers to be a bit more devilish with the design of optional challenges. An E-Tank in Block Man's stage requires platforming off a falling block to reach, which is doable for those with fast reaction times, but made just a bit easier using the Speed Gear. The Gears alone won't make anyone look like a speedrunner, but they provide a little smoothing out of some of Mega Man's hard edges.
The robot masters also have this same technology and use it to add different phases to the boss fight. BlockMan uses the Power Gear to assemble a block-filled mech that looks like something akin to Mega Man's monstrous rival the Yellow Devil. The gears end up making the bosses feel fresher than if they simply bounced around the stage hitting you with projectiles, as classic as that formula may be.
FuseMan's stage revisits a trope well-worn in Mega Man's long history, an electric-themed stage littered with traps around Mega Man's feet. Fuses shoot electric beams as you go through the stage, invoking a Mario-style level design of introducing a stage obstacle and iterating on its use over the level. Before too long, Mega Man is avoiding moving electric beams while platforming up a vertical corridor and avoiding the exposed flooring.
As someone who has grown up alongside the Mega Man series and counts its games as some of my favorites, I was initially fairly worried about whether the eleventh game could successfully channel the spirit of its predecessors. After having played it, I am confident that the final product feels like Mega Man, and the developers understand just how difficult to define that feel can be. The blue bomber is modernizing, which in itself can be a game of inches, but he has not lost his robotic soul in the process.
Mega Man 11 releases on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 2.