Mega Man X was one of my favorite games as a kid. My cousin and I would stay the night at my grandmother’s house and stay up until the wee hours of the morning trying to make our way to the final battle with Sigma. I think, in all the times we tried, we actually made it once. Sure, it would have been easier if we had actually bothered to write down the passwords you get after defeating each boss, but for us part of the experience was mastering each level and retreading familiar ground. We happily took turns switching the controller and trying the levels in all sorts of different orders, and when we played pretend we fancied ourselves to be other robots in the game’s technological dystopia.
While Mega Man was a huge part of my childhood, as I got older his presence in my life diminished somewhat. This was due in no small part to the lack of Mega Man games Capcom put out into the universe. Sure, there were legacy collections from time to time, but for the most part what I would consider to be the “true” Mega Man platform shooter experience was a thing of the past. I moved on, and even when new Mega Man games did finally start to come out again, I had so many other gaming interests that I left the Blue Bomber alone.
When I started hearing buzz about Mega Man 11, I once again found myself disinterested. There are so many games coming out this year, from local multiplayer heavy-hitters like Super Mario Party and Smash Bros Ultimate to entries in other favorite series of mine such as Dragon Quest and Pokemon. Why would I take time – not to mention spend limited funds – on a series I hadn’t touched in years? The opportunity to discover the answer to that question for myself came when Nintendo announced that a Switch demo of Mega Man 11 was ready to download. I’m a big fan of using demos to gauge my interest in a title, so I quickly scooped up the game in hopes that I’d find a reason to put Mega Man back on my radar.
The Mega Man 11 demo has a pretty simple premise – you get one out of the eight different levels to try out, giving you the opportunity to take on one Robot Master. The villain in question is Block Man – no, not the superhero from Mischief Makers, but a grey robot made of bricks who brings to mind classic Mega Man villains like Guts Man. Before you play, you have the opportunity to learn about a new gameplay mechanic called gears via a pair of quick tutorials.
In this game, Mega Man has two different gears he can shift in to in order to change how he plays temporarily. There’s the Power Gear, which gives a boost to his rate of fire and the power of the charged shot on his Mega Buster. Then there’s the Speed Gear, which causes Mega Man to move so fast that time around him seems to slow down. These gears are activated with the L and R buttons respectively, and another press of the button turns the gear off. Using the gear for too long causes both gears to burn out, leaving you without them temporarily. Finally, turning both on at once activates the Double Gear Technique, a boost of both speed and power that then leaves Mega Man weaker while the gears recharge.
This is a simple addition to the game that greatly expands the strategic options available to you during play. When I played through the first time, it took me a little bit to learn to recognize opportunities to use the gears. Particularly fast enemies and puzzles with quickly moving platforms are perfect opportunities to utilize the speed gear to slow things down. Even a tough enemy can be easily dodged once you can memorize its patterns in slow motion. The power gear seems initially less useful because of how little it does for your strategic options, but it has more interesting effects when combined with the different special weapons in the game, enhancing their effects to make them more useful.
Besides your typical Mega Buster, you get two Robot Master weapons you can try out in the demo: Scramble Thunder and Pile Driver. Scramble Thunder is an electrical attack that is fired either downward or upward. Once it makes contact with the floor or ceiling, spheres of electricity travel along the surface and even along walls, making this a weapon with a strange area of coverage that’s ideal for enemy types that stay above you or in tricky spots on walls. The Pile Driver launches you straight forward with a melee attack, giving you a new horizontal movement option. With the Power Gear on, these moves become even more deadly. The demo also gives you the Rush Coil right from the start, giving you a great option for vertical movement by springing off of the back of your helpful pooch.
All of these options can be read about in more detail from the submenu, which also gives you an idea of other items and tools in the game. Screws serve as a form of currency similar to Mega Man 8 (though it’s hard to tell from the demo what you can buy with them). There are energy tanks and weapon energy tanks for restoring health and special weapon energy, but also mystery tanks which either restore both or turn all of the nearby weak enemies into one-ups. It’s easy to see how this is valuable, as one-ups don’t grow on trees and the platforming here offers a challenge. There are items that bring Mega Man’s other partners into play, too. Eddie can bring you items and Beat can rescue you from falling into pits. We don’t get to see any of these tools in action in the demo, but it’s cool to see what your options might be in the future.
I mentioned the challenge of the platforming in the game. Mega Man, particularly the oldest entries in the series, is notorious for difficult platforming. While I’m sure a series expert might say that Mega Man 11 is kiddy stuff in comparison, for a washed up veteran like me Block Man’s stage presented some tough challenges. I played on Casual difficulty, the description for which was “for Mega Man fans who haven’t played in awhile,” and because I was focused on taking screenshots for this review, I actually lost all my lives and got a game over during my first run of the game, dying in the battle against Block man. The hardest difficulty available in the demo is Normal mode, but you can see that the full game will have a Superhero mode as well.
So let’s talk about the gameplay itself. Mega Man experts will find a lot of familiar elements here. The Blue Bomber runs with the control stick, jumps with B, and shoots with Y. Holding Y charges the Mega Buster, and releasing it fires a bigger shot that pierces through weak enemies or breakable objects in the environment. X activates the Rush Coil, L and R turn on the different gears, and pressing down and B at the same time causes him to do a sliding move. As someone who has played a lot of Mega Man, I instantly felt comfortable with the controls – except for trying to hit the screenshot button when fighting or platforming, but that’s my own fault I suppose.
Block Man’s stage relies on block puzzles in a couple of different ways. Sometimes over gaps or conveyor belts you’ll see trails of dust indicating that a block is about to fall. Get stuck under a falling block while you’re over a gap and you’ll plummet to your death. I assumed that if you got caught beneath a block on a platform, it would crush you, but I ended up finding out the hard way that it simply deals damage. Sometimes the blocks had to be used as platforms, and there was one particular room in the level where you had to avoid falling blocks while running on conveyor belts, then jump on them to give you the elevation needed to jump to the next platform and keep moving. In rooms like this where timing is significant, I became good friends with the speed gear.
There are also breakable blocks in the environment that often come in thick clusters. Shooting a basic bullet with the Mega Buster will break one, while a charge shot shatters multiples. These blocks are used in many ways. Sometimes they keep enemies from reaching you, so you have to strategically shoot them at a time when you are ready to face the robot on the other side. Other times they keep you from getting where you need to go, and quickly breaking them so you can avoid trouble behind you is key. There are two sections of the stage where a spinning spike column behind you brings instant death if you touch it, with a conveyor belt constantly pushing you towards the column. As you jump along the conveyor belt, moving sections of platforming challenges travel along the belt towards you with breakable blocks blocking off the platforms. You have to quickly shatter the blocks and platform through the jumps and narrow spaces all while moving away from the spinning column of death. It took me way too long to realize how valuable the speed gear was in these situations, and I died multiple times as a result during these sequences.
Enemy placement is another constant source of challenge during the stage. There are a few different enemy types, from the familiar Mettaurs (little dudes with construction hats) to pesky flying drones to more complex enemies that are unique to this game. One enemy type is specifically designed for the speed gear, robots piloting a spinning wheel with only one narrow opening to shoot through. Trying to hit the opening when they are moving is tricky, and if you miss your shot they’re likely to ram into you and do some damage. There are also eyeball enemies which are invisible until you’re somewhat close to them, preventing you from shooting them from far away. Their bullets spread out in all directions, making it difficult to dodge the closer you are. Often the key to defeating these guys is recognizing that they are nearby – there’s some visual cues of their presence when invisible, like the distorted waves of heat rolling off of hot pavement. If you know they are there, you can make them appear and fire your charged shot before they get a chance to shoot. This is simple enough in straightforward hallways, but when you’re jumping on top of blocks moving along conveyor belts while also trying to shoot drones spawning from the walls, it gets tough.
Still, while I certainly didn’t have an easy time while playing through, I never felt unreasonably challenged by the game. Every death I could look and say “oh, I should have done this,” and many of my lost lives were simply because I rushed instead of taking a moment to be patient and think a puzzle through to its logical conclusion. In this way, I felt the challenge was satisfying – I had to pay attention to get through, but once I was focused and had some experience with the game mechanics I was able to run through the entire level without losing a single life. It’s worth noting that the level is short enough to allow that sort of play – I got all of my dumb mistakes out of the way on my first run and then was able to breeze through in minutes once I knew what I was doing.
As for the Robot Master, Block Man, at first I figured this guy was gonna be a joke. His main moves seemed to be slowly jumping from one position to another and then causing some well-spaced blocks to fall from the ceiling. However, after doing about 25% of his health in damage, he transforms into a giant block monstrosity with lots of reach that takes up most of the stage. This form was much harder to deal with, as it isn’t really clear how to get around him once he backs you into a corner. Every time I tried to dash between his legs I seemed to take damage – perhaps the key is having his weakness? To be fair, I didn’t really try either of the special weapons given to you to test if they were his weak point. I prefer to fight bosses with the Mega Buster as that seems to be the “true” experience of the battles, but that’s just a personal preference.
Even defeating the giant form doesn’t finish the battle. After bringing the giant down to zero health, Block Man’s normal form returns with about 25% of his HP. At this point he just starts sending wave after wave of blocks charging towards you, the blocks just spaced so that jumping over them isn’t really practical and you don’t really have time to charge up in order to blast through them. I think the idea here was to use one or both of the gears, but I had enough health that I was able to soak a couple of hits so I could charge up and then blast Block Man into oblivion. The game even gives you the satisfaction of trying out his special weapon, Block Dropper, which causes a multitude of blocks to drop from the ceiling ahead of you and crush enemies underneath. You don’t get to use it on the stage, but it’s neat that you can get an idea for three of the eight special weapons in the game.
Overall, I had a fun time with the demo. It was short, sweet, and did exactly what it set out to do – it told me what was unique about the Mega Man 11 experience. The levels are compelling without being overly long or complicated, the puzzle design and enemy types make use of the gear system, and the bosses aren’t just straightforward battles with a single attack pattern to memorize. This feels like classic Mega Man while also feeling like a fresh take, something that for me makes the game more appealing as a consumer. Based on my experience, I would purchase this game (or more likely, add it to a holiday list since I have a birthday and Christmas around the corner!). If you’re interested in trying out Mega Man 11 for yourself, I definitely recommend giving the demo a try. I was able to download and play the demo all the way through within the span of an hour, so it’s a great way to kill a little time without investing a whole afternoon or evening in the endeavor.
If you’ve tried out the Mega Man 11 demo for yourselves, adventurers, I’d love to hear your thoughts! What do you think of the gear system? Did you enjoy Block Man’s stage? What about the special weapons, enemy types, or platforming puzzles? Do you plan to get the game? I’m excited to talk about this fun little demo, so feel free to share your own opinions in the comments below! Thanks for reading!