Where do you start when you’re in double-digit sequel territory, three decades into a franchise, which is where Capcom finds itself with Mega Man 11? According to game director Koji Oda and producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya, the answer is research — a lot of research.
“We wanted to see what fans were saying,” producer Tsuchiya told Polygon at E3 2018 through an interpreter. “We wanted to do some more marketing research and figure out, ‘OK, what do the fans want? What kind of Mega Man game would they like to see? What about people who know of the brand but haven’t played the game? What kind of games do they play and what are they interested in? If they were to play a Mega Man game, what kind of aspects of the franchise would they find fun?’ And on top of that, I mean just the fact that there hasn’t been a brand new Mega Man game in a very long time. Would it make sense to kind of throw a curveball and make a brand-new Mega Man that no one’s aware of?’
“So, in commemorating the 30th anniversary, we felt like it made the most sense to create a numbered classic Mega Man game, but a game that would not just tap into the nostalgia of the franchise, but to also jumpstart it and kick it forward.”
Based on those conversations during a time when Mega Man 11 was little more than a concept, the game began to take shape. And according to director Oda, the developers also identified what they believe lies at the core of a Mega Man game — in his words “jumping, shooting, and eventually sliding.”
“We wanted to make sure that the core gameplay was kept simple and easy to pick up, and we didn’t want to deviate from that,” Oda said. “We understood that that’s where the main fun came from. And much of the player satisfaction comes from the fact that you’re able to pick it up and play, and the controls are very tight, and Mega Man responds in a way that he does what you want him to do, and you’re not fighting against the game — you’re fighting within the game, and getting better within it.”
To achieve the feeling they were looking for, Oda said that they had to find a balance between the look and the feel — to make sure that the graphics didn’t impede the controls.
“I think it’s easy to say that nowadays games have just unbelievable graphics, and one of the objectives is always to make the game look as best as possible,” he said. “But with really smooth graphics and smooth animation, there can come a detriment where it could affect the controls. So for us it was trying to find a balance between making the controls as tight as possible, and still also making sure that our game fit that modern feel, that modern look, and trying to make our game look as good as possible. So we definitely looked at the classic games to see how that gameplay felt. How it feels to pick up the controller. And trying to make sure that that same feeling applies to Mega Man 11 as well.”
Based on my hands-on time in the Fuse Man level, Mega Man 11 is gorgeous. It looks like what I imagined video games would look like when I was a kid — basically indistinguishable from Saturday morning cartoons. The controls are tight and responsive. It feels in every way like my memories of playing a Mega Man game.
The Double Gear system
Perhaps the biggest departure from prior games is the addition of the Double Gear system in Mega Man 11. Mapped to the L1 and R1 buttons on the PlayStation 4 DualShock controller, they allow you to temporarily slow down time, supercharge your weapon or, when your health is low, summon what amounts to a combination of the two.
According to Oda, the Double Gear system meets both of Capcom’s desires for Mega Man 11: keeping the core while evolving the game.
“And for your other question about the Double Gear system,” he said, “we wanted to make something that didn’t overcomplicate the controls — to make sure that the controls were still simple and tight, and also to create something that wouldn’t completely impede gameplay, that gameplay would seamlessly keep moving forward. So that was kind of where the starting point was, and we threw out a lot of different ideas to figure out what would stick, and ultimately we felt that having this Double Gear system was the best way of emphasizing the core gameplay that was already there.”
Double Gear moves aren’t difficult to understand or to execute, but they do require a bit of relearning. In the 20 minutes or so that we played Mega Man 11, the hardest part about them was remembering that it exists — remembering that there were new tools in my arsenal. It seems likely that this is little more than a shallow learning curve, and that spending more time with the game will make it easier to remember my options.
When I did remember the options at my disposal, I slowed down time to make difficult platforming puzzles easier to navigate and unleashed massive amounts of power on enemies and bosses. The Double Gear system feels like a natural extension of the core Mega Man gameplay.
What makes a Mega Man game
So what makes a Mega Man game, three decades and 11 numbered titles into a franchise? Mega Man 11 is Capcom’s answer, and its director and producer believe they have the answers.
“For me,” Oda said, “I think it’s having simple actions. Having actions that have a one-to-one responsiveness between what the player wants to do and it appearing on screen, so that they’re able to have that satisfying level of gameplay where you can feel that like, ‘Oh, I am definitely getting better at this.’ And pairing that up with charismatic characters.”
“For me,” Tsuchiya said, “I think it’s having that iconic blue character represent that hero that every kid wants to be. I think that’s what really represents Mega Man.”
Mega Man 11 is headed to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on Oct. 2, 2018.