Even the last decade’s and reboots hewed to the nostalgic NES style, almost to a fault.
With , Capcom seems less afraid to play around with the formula. The basic run-and-jump-and-shoot gameplay is still there, but the new Gear system brings some major changes to the way the game plays, and new 3D graphics fundamentally change the way this game looks and feels.
Slow it down
Let’s talk about the Gear system first. With the tap of a shoulder button, Mega Man can now get a time-limited boost that either powers up his standard weapon or slows down the world around him. At low health, Mega Man can activate both gears at once for a final desperate salvo.
The weapon-boosting Power Gear is nothing to get too excited about, amounting to a somewhat more awkward version of the Charge Shot in most situations. While this Gear adds some interesting, often enemy-annihilating power to Mega Man’s special weapons, I didn’t end up using it much in my playthrough.
The Speed Gear, though, has a profound effect on the way the game plays in many situations. The ability to slow down the entire world around Mega Man virtually at will makes many of the game’s reflex-based challenges markedly easier. This is especially true about halfway through the game, when Mega Man can purchase the ability to move at normal speed even as everything around him is slowed down. This is a ridiculous superpower that’s reminiscent of those Quicksilver scenes in the movies, and it makes many difficult in-game situations feel almost trivial.
The game’s design seems to take this into account, too. While every enemy attack can technically be avoided at regular speed, many bosses and stage hazards seem to push the limits of human reaction time. With the Speed Gear, though, all of these challenges are much more manageable, as long as you remember to manage that limited, constantly recharging power gauge.
As someone with roughly two extra decades of deteriorating reflexes since he first played a game, I can’t say this is an unwelcome change. Tactical slowdown is an important new addition to Mega Man’s bag of tricks and one that I hope sticks around for future sequels.
Less flat than ever
After blanching a bit at the look of an E3 demo, I thought I’d eventually get used to the new, bulbous 3D look of Mega Man and his antagonists in this game. After spending hours in this new visual style, though, I can say it never really gelled for me.
Everything just comes off as a bit too smooth in this new 3D-modeled world, from Mega Man’s familiar four-frame running animation to bosses that now telegraph their attack with grand, sweeping gestures. The added sense of depth makes everything look a bit too rounded and shiny, too, like it came out of a 3D game engine’s tutorial demo package.
I’m ready to admit that a lot of this reaction is probably the result of a deep and latent nostalgia—a lizard-brain rebellion against a change to decades of 2D, sprite-based Mega Man aesthetics. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. Games like and and the series reworked Mega Man’s look heavily, but those titles still felt appropriately grounded in what came before. Even the extremely “chibi” 3D characters in the PSP’s reboot felt more authentic than what’s found in .
I just can’t get over the feeling that looks and feels too much like a Unity-based fan project in a lot of ways. The changed aesthetic doesn’t ruin the game on its own, but I can’t say it wasn’t distracting, either. Of course your mileage may vary; if the screenshots and video in this piece look fine to you, feel free to just ignore this section.
The more things change…
These major changes aside, is a pretty formulaic game for good and for ill. You still run and jump and shoot your way through generally scrub-like enemies to a themed boss that grants you a new weapon that is extremely useful against another specific themed boss.
The bosses themselves are a bit hit or miss this time around. Some feel remarkably easy to dodge and defeat even if you don’t have the “right” weapon that can take them out in only a few hits. Others feel almost unfair in their hard-to-read patterns and screen-filling attacks; I needed to burn through quite a few energy tanks to take these out even after a lot of practice.
The weapons those bosses grant are more universally well-designed, though. Almost every one gives Mega Man an additional directional option beyond the mega-buster’s usual horizontal firing, letting him hit enemies above, below, or at a diagonal.
Unlike previous games, where I’d usually save all my special weapons for vulnerable bosses, I made generous use of the weapon options in this game to take out enemies in ways that wouldn’t be possible with a standard shot. I particularly liked Block Man’s weapon, which lets you dump damaging blocks from the ceiling and Bounce Man’s spread-shot of rubber balls that reflect around the room.
As for the levels themselves, some parts of that formula are feeling a little dated after so many decades. There are still a lot of challenges where going too slowly or making one wrong step results in instant death to spikes, pits, or even encroaching walls of flame. This adds some additional tension to key parts of the game, but it also ups the annoyance in having to retrace your step from infrequent checkpoints. Plus if you lose all your lives, you have to restart the entire stage.
That old-school system feels positively antique in a world where even ultra-hard platformers tend to give the player unlimited chances and practically instant restarts after every challenge. In you instead have to save up and buy your way to the extra lives and energy tanks that let you brute force your way through the toughest bits, should you need it.
This design quirk is exacerbated in by the fact that levels feel a tad longer than the usual length veterans might expect. At the point in a level you’d usually anticipate a boss door to appear, you more often hit a second checkpoint that presages another one-third of the level remaining, requiring additional endurance. The levels themselves don’t wear out their welcome, though, with clever designs that use platform and enemy placement to good effect without ever feeling repetitive or rote.
While doesn’t completely eradicate the tried-and-true formula, it isn’t afraid to make changes big and small to the way a mainline franchise game looks, feels, and plays. Not all of these changes are for the better, but enough of them are worthwhile that the break from form seems worth the effort. Here’s hoping for more regular releases that mix old-school nostalgia with more modern experimentation from ‘s creators.
The Verdict: Try it if you’re looking for a novel take on a time-tested 2D gaming formula.