With its 31st anniversary in sight, Capcom's Mega Man has returned to its original 2D side-scrolling roots with Mega Man 11, reviving the main series that has laid dormant since 2010's Mega Man 10. With a franchise that has spawned over 50 titles on multiple systems, perhaps it was only a matter of time before number 11 came along.
The story goes a little something like this: there are two doctors called Light and Wily. Light wanted to give all robots self-awareness to help them integrate with humans in harmony, while Wily wanted to make them all powerful. They argued and Light gained a nemesis. At the start of the game Wily uses his double gear tech to power up eight robots into bad guys we then have to face, but Light uses the same tech on the hero, sending Mega Man on his way.
Double gear tech is important to remember, as it gives you two special powers. The first makes your shots more powerful, while the second gives you the ability to slow down time. There are limited tutorials as to how to use all of the abilities, meaning the player is left to find out more for themselves through practice.
The slowing down of time is vital to get through some sections of the levels, such as when you race against a wall of lava. It's not just about using each in isolation though, and if you activate both 'gears' at the same time you become a superpowered version of the hero.
You can choose which of the eight robot boss levels to take on first, which include Block Man, Acid Man, and Tundra Man. Revolutionary in 1987 when the series introduced this quintessential non-linear style, this concept still holds up as a nice inclusion to the experience.
The levels all have the same format, as you run and jump your way through to a final fight with a boss, with a smaller boss appearing halfway through to keep you on your toes. It did become a little bit repetitive and formulaic, and we felt it could have done with a bit more variety. Each boss you face yields new tech for you to upgrade your hero. For example, Block Man gives you a suit to drop blocks from the sky on the heads of enemies, while Blast Man gives you up to four sticky bombs.
The new abilities that you learn have a limited number of uses, dictated by an energy bar. You can get top-ups, but be prepared to conserve your abilities for the final fight. Certain bosses are weak against some special attacks too, such as fire vs ice, which gives the final fights a kind of rock-paper-scissors element.
The eight levels in the first part of the main campaign are all based on their bosses, like Tundra Man's sitting in a snowy kingdom where you can slip on ice, while Bounce Man's level is full of rubbery balls you can jump on. This level - it needs to be said - is absolutely infuriating, and it feels at times a bit too difficult to control.
There are several difficulties to choose from in the game, and on the easiest setting you get unlimited lives and easier enemies. You can put it on Superhero to give you a more punishing challenge that might see you throwing your controller around a bit (if that's what you really want).
Even on the easiest difficulty, some of the jumps were tricky. In one of the later levels there are a series of disappearing blocks, and it felt like the timing on some of them was a bit off, with the one you were standing on disappearing before the next appeared. There might have been a way around it, but it got a bit annoying and we found ourselves using our companion to help us.
Mega Man isn't alone in his quest though, as there's an owl who rescues you when you fall down a pit and a robotic dog that you can use to jump on so as to access higher areas. After an upgrade by Dr Light halfway through, the dog can also be used as a sort of hoverboard, and we used this to skip the frustration of the disappearing blocks.
Much like a summer romance, however, the fun is over all too quickly. In fact, in our first playthrough, we completed it in just over two hours. Don't get us wrong, we had a good time, so much so that we really fell in love. It had everything you need from a classic platformer but could have been a bit longer.
There are some challenges for you to complete after the main campaign, which include completing the levels in the least number of jumps or shots, for example. These are definitely going to be of interest for long-time fans and completionists, and they certainly do add a bit more meat to the bones.
Throughout the levels, some of the enemies you kill leave bolts behind for you to pick up. These can be used as currency to buy power-ups to make it easier in the later levels, helping you shave off minutes in repeat runs. These include ice spikes to attach to your boots to stop you slipping as much on the snow level, and making your blaster stronger.
The game is a beautiful revisit to the original styling of a much-loved gaming hero, and graphically it looks the part. Beautifully shaded textures and nicely coloured backgrounds make this a feast for the eyes; it's simple but impressive. The sounds and music also keep to the pace of the action, and while it was fast-paced, the tempo kept us in the zone.
While it's beautiful to look at and offers a lot for Mega Man fans to enjoy, the length of the game and the repetitive nature of some of the level layouts just tainted it a little bit. However, it's got that certain something that compelled us to keep going back and playing it through again, and that's because it contains the original essence of the series but with just enough modern spit and polish to make it accessible for a new generation.