After trying out the demo for Mega Man 11 a while back, I decided I wanted this title to be the one that brought me back into the Mega-fold. The game felt to me like classic Mega Man while also adding some new touches that felt fresh, particularly the Double Gear system which allows you to increase your power or speed temporarily in order to overcome challenges. One of the things I loved about the demo was how it reminded me so much of playing Mega Man as a kid. It had been ages since I experienced the tricky platforming, the irritating hovering enemies, and the excitement of overcoming a boss to absorb their special weapon. So when I received Mega Man 11 as a gift for my birthday, I was pretty excited to take a crack at the full game!
Nostalgia hit me like a bus the moment I arrived at the boss select screen. Mega Man 11 features a selection of 8 different bosses to battle: Block Man, Acid Man, Blast Man, Fuse Man, Bounce Man, Torch Man, Impact Man, and Tundra Man. I decided that I wanted to go ahead and get Block Man out of the way – I’d already faced him down in the demo, so I knew his level and his fighting style. He would be the easiest boss to take out with just my Mega Buster, and after that I could start the process of figuring out which boss was weak to his mighty Block Drop attack.
As a kid, the Mega Man game I played the most was Mega Man X on the SNES. And honestly, I don’t remember ever learning the boss weaknesses in that game. In my memory, it is as if I always knew the relationships between the different bosses. The logical thing here is to assume that someone who had played the game already taught me the proper order, but I certainly don’t remember when that happened. Every memory I have of playing X is one where I already knew that Chill Penguin was the easiest (for me) to fight with the Mega Buster, and to head to Storm Eagle after that, and so on. With this game, I didn’t have that guidance, so instead I had to develop a process for identifying what a boss’s weakness might be.
Once Block Man lay slain at my feet, I stared at the screen pictured above and tried to think about who would be vulnerable to my new weapon. Should I think of it elementally like a Pokemon game? Blocks are made of stone, and stone beats…lightning or fire, maybe? Not every enemy has a clear elemental affiliation, though, and I didn’t want to dismiss Impact Man or Blast Man from my considerations. What element is super effective against “impact?” I decided to think instead of how the weapon operated, thinking that strategic implementation might be more relevant than elemental affiliation. This led me to decide that my next target should be Bounce Man. The way Block Drop works, blocks spawn above the target and fall downward towards them. This seemed like an effective weapon against an opponent who is presumably always bouncing, so I chose Bounce Man and made my merry way through his world.
I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Bounce Man’s level was the most irritating in my experience so far. The place is full of rubber balls which cause you to bounce constantly when standing on them. Holding down the jump button causes you to bounce much higher, and much of the platforming in the level is based around controlling your level of bounce to move safely through obstacles. Bounce too high and you might hit deadly spikes – bounce too low and you might not clear the gap over a bottomless pit. I spent a full five minutes in a single chamber because every time I managed to reach a small platform close to the ladder at the top of the room, I accidentally bounced off of the walls while jumping for the ladder and fell all the way back to the bottom.
Finally, after having to restart the level due to losing all of my lives, I came face to face with the villainous Bounce Man. His strategy worked as I anticipated – his bouncy movements made it tricky to pin him down. Block Drop seemed like the perfect technique to catch him vulnerable in mid-air, but when I busted out the move to wield it against him, I was rewarded with only a tiny sliver of damage. Turns out I’d guessed wrong, so now I would have to face down Bounce Man with the Mega Buster as my best option for dealing damage. Luckily, this didn’t spell my doom – one energy tank later and Bounce Man was in the scrap heap, his parts installed into my Mega Buster.
Now equipped with a second ability, I had two different approaches I could take. I could try once again to figure out who was weak to Block Drop, or I could take a different approach and try to identify the villain weak to Bounce Man’s ability. I decided this time to take an elemental approach using a lesson that still stuck firmly in my mind from years of elementary school science: rubber does not conduct electricity. The rubber balls generated by Bounce Man’s attack seemed like the ideal weapon against Fuse Man, so I made my way to the electrical boss’s lair.
So far in my experience with Mega Man 11, Fuse Man’s stage has been the easiest one to navigate – and that’s even counting that I’d already played through Block Man’s stage in the demo. The hazards on Fuse Man’s stage are based around timing the activation of electrical fields – you wait until you have an opening to move through a laser and then quickly platform your way to the next safe place. It’s complicated somewhat by the enemies which also generate their own electrical fields, but overall this area gave me almost no trouble. It’s the only stage I’ve played at the time of writing in which I did not get a game over and have to restart from the beginning of the level.
And what was my reward for navigating this simple stage? Turns out my instincts were right this time. The bouncing rubber balls of my new weapon did tons of damage to Fuse Man upon hitting him, and my battle against him lasted mere moments as I struck his weak point again and again. After the quickest level I had beaten so far, I wrapped up my quickest boss battle and came away with the Scramble Thunder ability.
I’ve faced multiple bosses since my battle against Fuse Man, and so far the electrical robot master was the only one whose weakness I managed to guess successfully. Even as my weapon inventory expands I’ve been struggling to identify the correct weak points of bosses. I figured Block Dropper would be effective in putting out Torch Man’s flame, and then that fire would melt Tundra Man, but neither of those turned out to be the case. It’s a little aggravating not being able to identify the patterns of strengths and weaknesses, but the biggest thing I’ve learned from this journey is that identifying the “proper order” of the bosses honestly doesn’t matter.
With the exception of Fuse Man and his stage, I’ve gotten a game over on every stage I have played. Without exception, those game overs have all been due to platforming challenges in the level itself. The bosses that wait at the end of each stage are a bit tough, I suppose, but the game gives you extensive resources to deal with them. Most levels I’ve been through have at least one energy tank somewhere in the level, and energy tanks are a rather cheap commodity you can purchase from Doctor Light’s lab. These tanks fully restore your health no matter how low it is when you use them, and you can carry six or nine at a time depending on how upgraded you are.
In my experience with Mega Man 11 so far, having a boss’s weakness isn’t the difference between beating them and losing to them. It’s the difference in whether or not you need to use an energy tank during the battle. Sure, the game doesn’t make it easy to identify what a boss’s weak point might be – you are essentially relying on trial and error – but it doesn’t matter whether or not you figure a weak point out. For all they are worth, the weak points may as well not even be in the game.
I think there are a number of factors that have contributed to my final conclusion that are worth keeping in mind here. First off, I’m playing the game in Casual mode, which is the second-easiest of the game’s four difficult settings. It is recommended for players who enjoy Mega Man but haven’t played one of the games in a while, which is most certainly my classification. I haven’t touched a proper Mega Man platformer in years, and even on Casual the stages themselves are definitely giving me a workout even if the bosses aren’t. However, if difficulty level adjusts the amount of damage that you take, there’s a good chance that I’m facing a much easier version of all of the game’s bosses because of my choice of setting. At a harder difficulty, it’s possible that you need every advantage you can get against the bosses, including their weak points.
The second thing worth noting is that energy tanks are an optional resource. If you’re the kind of player who likes to add some additional challenge to your playthrough, then you can ignore them to add a lot more difficulty with very little effort. Not using energy tanks means that you only have one health bar to work with during any given boss fight, and that bar may already be somewhat depleted from traveling through the boss’s stage. For me, weaknesses have been irrelevant because I can heal whenever needed – without that ability, having the right weapon for the job would be much more significant.
And that brings us to the third thing worth noting: Mega Man hasn’t always had the same tools at his disposal. While a stack of 9 energy tanks is an easily-accessible resource in Mega Man 11, in earlier games in the series you had fewer healing options, if any at all. Bosses having weaknesses isn’t a new feature in Mega Man 11 – that’s been around since the very beginning, a beginning where there was no way to heal and no way to adjust the difficulty of the video game to suit your experience and skill levels. Wielding a boss’s weakness against them was essential back in the day. So even though it isn’t as needed now because of the other tools available, that design choice is a carry-over from a time when it made a lot more sense.
So do Mega Man bosses even need weaknesses anymore? Perhaps not. But to ditch them now after years of legacy would be an odd choice to make. While they aren’t playing much of a role in my experience with Mega Man 11, the game’s adjustable difficulty and the optional presence of the healing resources in the game means that those who want to focus on that aspect of the game are free to take advantage of it. If your ideal Mega Man experience is one in which you discover each and every weakness through trial and error, barely scraping by each boss only because you had just the right weapon for the job, that game is still here. As for me, I’ll be knocking back energy tanks and charging through bad guys with the old reliable Mega Buster. To each their own.