Capcom should probably send a thank you letter to Keiji Inafune before the year’s out. While it could be argued that the Japanese publisher has been laying the foundations for a new Mega Man with various re-releases and compilation packs, it doesn’t take a cynic to suggest that Mighty No. 9’s enormous Kickstarter success may have proved the dash-kick in the derriere that the company needed to bring the Blue Bomber back.
It even looks like the concept art for Comcept’s failed side-scroller: the cel-shaded look of the eponymous hero and Dr. Wily’s minions pop on top of subdued backdrops, while polygonal assets are used to form the environments you’ll have to navigate. At times, like in Block Man’s Mayan-themed environment, it looks truly impressive on a PlayStation 4 Pro; other areas underwhelm, like Impact Man’s dismal underground cave network.
There’s really not much time to admire the artwork either way, though, because in keeping with the series’ traditions, this is a rock solid release. There are difficulty options to make the experience that bit more accessible to newcomers, but unless you have the reaction speeds of a certain Marvel web-slinger, you’re probably going to struggle with the devilish platforming on display here. Fortunately, ol’ Rock Man has a few new tricks up his sleeve.
Mega Man 11 has been designed around two brand new mechanics: the Power Gear and the Speed Gear, which improve the hero’s potency in attacks and slow down time respectively. Each can be triggered with a tap of one of the shoulder buttons, and when your health is low they can be combined to initiate a super move – albeit at the expense of a pretty debilitating cool down should you recklessly overheat.
While you probably could beat the campaign without either of these abilities, it's not wise to ignore them; the game wants you to pat your head and rub your belly, as you toggle between bullet time and super shots on the fly, leaping across chasms and avoiding incoming attacks. As per past instalments, you’ll also absorb the abilities of any bosses that you off, so designing your own strategies is part of the fun.
It’s different, but there’s a rhythm to the whole thing that’s delightful when it clicks. One mini-boss in Blast Man’s stage sees you initiating bullet time to avoid a roller-coaster doing a deadly loop-the-loop, and then firing explosive grunts into the carriage in order to take it out. There’s some exercise in trial and error as the developer toys with you, reversing the motion of the ride just as you think you’ve got it figured out – but that’s part of the fun, right?
The final fight against Blast Man himself, which takes place in front of a collapsed Ferris wheel, sees the pyromaniac tossing bombs all over the stage – and weaving in and out of these while trying to land a flukey hit requires the Speed Gear. Impact Man, meanwhile, attempts to rush you – stunning himself as he slams against walls, giving you a split second to use your Power Gear to take him out. The patterns aren’t complicated, but they’re punishing to say the least.
And yet, when you find the zone – if only for a split-second – you can see what Mega Man 11’s trying to do. It’s unashamedly old-school despite its fresh lick of paint, but it also feels new in a way that the retro-themed Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 never did. Exactly how long-time fans will take to the changes remains to be seen, but we reckon Capcom’s done a decent job of toeing the line between familiar and fresh.
Now we just need to practice. Like, a lot.
Will you be blasting your way through Mega Man 11 come 2nd October? Have you got the platforming chops to beat this on its hardest difficulty tier? Wince at a billion Game Over screens in the comments section below.