Why the weapon design of Mega Man 11 is the best in the series
One of the most common criticisms of Mega Man games is that the weapon design has gotten stale. Only a few entries in the Mega Man series really had unique weapons. Most were just remixes of weapons we have seen before. Mega Man 9’s Laser Trident was essentially just a better Mega Buster.
Any version of a weapon that fires in multiple directions is inevitably compared to the Metal Blade. Then there are any number of weapons which are simply too unwieldy or too weak to use in any context other than against the boss that is weak to them. In fact, poor weapon design tends to be a deciding factor in whether or not a Mega Man game is good.
And I’m here to tell you that Mega Man 11’s weapon design may just be the best in the series. Why? Because they took all the familiar weapon types and remixed them in a way that made them feel truly unique and special.
Granted, one of the reasons the development team could do this was because they had the extra dimension of the power gear, which allowed them to give weapons a second powered-up mode. However, Capcom has done this very thing with charging enemy weapons in the Mega Man X series and, to be honest, it feels better here. Mega Man X used charged weapons to give you a completely new attack. Power Gear enhanced weapons, however, still feel like the same weapon with only one or two key differences. In effect, Mega Man 11 does a better job of powering-up enemy weapons than Mega Man X ever did.
There’s no real way to explain why the weapon design of Mega Man 11 is do good other than to go over each weapon one by one and examine it in comparison to similar weapons across the Mega Man franchise. So let’s dive right in.
The Acid Barrier
Mega Man has had a lot of shield style weapons over the years, but they all operated the same way. They were essentially just rotating projectiles that spun around Mega Man and acted as a sort of defense. Sometimes Mega Man could fire the shield off, like the Leaf Shield, sometimes he could make it explode, like the Scorch Wheel. Good shields usually provided enough protection to allow Mega Man to easily work his way through stages while bad shields either provided poor protection or hampered Mega Man’s mobility.
The Acid Barrier, on the other hand, is different. While it is primarily a shield, it isn’t composed of rotating projectiles. Its defense is perfect. The only catch is that it doesn’t actually destroy enemies. It only destroys enemy projectiles. To fight back against enemies you have to use the Acid Barrier’s attached acid gun, which fires in an arc. This lumps together a shield weapon and a projectile weapon all in one, without requiring the shield to be dropped before firing.
But let’s say you want to have that perfect protection that projectile shields granted in the past. You can have that too! By enhancing the Acid Barrier with the Power Gear, your shield will do damage to enemies. The only catch is that it shrinks over time and while it might kill enemies, they might also hit you at the same time. So you still have to think about how to use your acid gun, rather than just running into enemies like every other shield weapon in the past.
The Pile Driver
Mega Man has also had his fair share of movement based weapons in the past as well. The Top Spin and the Charge Kick come to mind. The thing is, most of these movement based weapons didn’t actually change Mega Man’s movement options. They just added an attack to Mega Man’s existing repertoire.
The Pile Driver is different. When use on the ground it allows him to dash, much like in Mega Man X. When used in the air, he can air-dash like Mega Man X2. This fundamentally changes the way that Mega Man moves. It not only makes platforming easier, it becomes the quickest way for Mega Man to move making it a must have weapon for speedrunners.
Its primary weakness is in direct opposition to its strength. Actually landing a hit on an enemy causes Mega Man to stop and recoil backward. This is fine if you are using it for actual combat but bad if you are using it for traversal. This is where the Power Gear version comes in. This allows Mega Man to dash through enemies without stopping, allowing it to be used primarily for traversal without the worry or recoiling into a pit. You naturally start using this version of the weapon when your weapon energy is low as destroying enemies gives you a chance to picking up a weapon refilling power-up.
The Bouncing Ball
The Bouncing Ball combines three of Mega Man’s common weapon types: the multidirectional weapon, the wall bouncing weapon, and the spread shot. By doing so, it creates one of the best all-purpose weapons Mega Man has ever had.
Since the Bouncing Ball naturally spreads, you can simply use it as a shot gun to take out powerful enemies or groups of weak enemies. It takes almost no weapon energy to fire a shot of the Bouncing ball making it a perfect replacement for the Mega Buster.
However, since the Bouncing Ball ricochets off walls, it only gets more powerful in tighter quarters, as opposed to most weapons that become difficult to aim in constrained spaces. Speaking of aiming, Mega Man can aim it up or down, not quite with the amount of directional freedom the Metal Blade had but with the spread of the Bouncing Ball it doesn’t even matter.
In short, you want the Bouncing Ball to create bouncing chaos on the screen whenever you can. Simply firing off this weapon will create a bullet hell for your enemies to avoid. Using the Power Gear version makes balls fire from the front and back of Mega Man, creating even more chaos and effectively doubling your power while protecting you from attacks from behind. Mega Man has never had a “Mega Buster replacement” style weapon that did all that.
The Block Dropper
Vertically dropping weapons are a bit rarer in Mega Man history, but they always had the same issue. They were hard to aim. This is because dropping weapons always dropped a single projectile right in front of Mega Man making them too unwieldly.
The Block Dropper fixes this by creating a whole line of blocks in front of Mega Man, making about 10 character widths a no-fly zone. The Block Dropper also starts dropping high above Mega Man as opposed to other dropping weapons that only start a small bit above Mega Man. This, coupled with the fact that the Block Dropper pierces through platforms, allows Mega Man to use it to hit enemies above him that might be out of reach. The Power Gear nearly quadruples its power, dropping a huge wave of stone blocks. This gives Mega Man a huge power upgrade in exchange for the unwieldy firing arc.
The Chain Blast
Here’s another standard for Mega Man; the explosive weapon. These normally fire slow, stick to something, and then explode for massive damage. In general, they aren’t used much because they are simply too unwieldy. You never want to wait for your explosive to detonate when you are fighting random enemies. You want to be able to kill them as fast as possible so you can focus on platforming.
The Chain Blast has a couple interesting innovations that set it apart from other explosive weapons. First of all, you can detonate it whenever you want. This alone vastly increases its utility. Second of all, it has slight homing properties, sticking to any enemy that comes within its radius of effect. Third of all, it’s spammable. You can fire multiple explosives at once, which is very unlike Mega Man’s other explosive weapons. This allows you to fight multiple enemies or, by chaining the explosions together, create one big explosion with a huge area of effect, perfect for taking out clustered foes. Finally, it’s powered up version gives you a huge projectile that immediately grants you its maximum area of effect. This allows you to fire it wildly instead of needing to aim and time it perfectly like Mega Man’s other explosive weapons.
Scramble Thunder is another weapon that benefits from fusing multiple weapon types together. The initial projectile of the Scramble Thunder fires either directly up or directly down, mimicking other vertically firing weapons from Mega Man’s past. When the Scramble Thunder hits a surface, it splits into two projectiles which then follow the surface on either direction, like a bi-directional Search Snake. Then, when it hits an enemy, it explodes into an area of effect zone that does damage over time, like the Black Hole Bomb.
And that’s really the only reason why the Scramble Thunder is worth using. It takes three unwieldly weapon types and merges them into one, and frankly when you do that, something is going to get hit. This might be the weakest weapon in terms of design in Mega Man 11, but it’s still incredibly useful. Heck, they managed to make it the weakness of the final boss and it wasn’t even that hard to hit.
The Burning Torch is a weapon that is morly unique, a rarity for Mega Man weapons. First, Mega Man fires it upward in a 45 degree angle. Then it explode and fires downward at the same angle. This creates an arc of damage more similar to the Axe in Castelvania than anything else.
The Burning Torch isn’t great for direct combat with enemies. However, it fires a very long distance, does a lot of damage and is capable of hitting enemies through walls. This makes it perfect for indirect combat, allowing Mega Man to take out enemies from behind cover without ever actually directly engaging them.
And its Power Gear form? Well it turns this unwieldy weapon into a wieldy one. It sacrifices the damage from the single projectile and instead makes it split into three projectiles, covering the screen in fire. This allows Mega Man to fight enemies face to face with the Burning Torch, usually when he is caught off guard.
The Tundra Storm
The final weapon, the Tundra Storm, is another vertically firing weapon. However, unlike the Scramble Thunder, it isn’t stopped by platforms. Instead it pierces through platforms, creating a vertical hit box that kills enemies above and below Mega Man. Once again this is perfect for indirect combat, and it’s large hit box makes it much easier to hit with than other vertically firing weapons Mega Man has had in his past. For that matter, it stops Mega Man in mid-air, giving him time to survey his surroundings and complete jumps.
But it’s the Power Gear version of this weapon that makes it special. Turn on the power gear and this vertically hitting weapon becomes a full-screen storm. This is fantastic because it means that Mega Man didn’t have to waste a whole weapon slot on a screen wipe. Weapons like this were almost never used since they took far too much energy to fire, causing players to hoard them. However, the Tundra Storm does not take much energy to fire, at least not more than normal when using it with the Power Gear. Instead, you are filling your gear meter, a secondary resource, in order to make it hit the full screen.
The best weapons yet
In conclusion, Mega Man 11 has the best weapons yet because they all serve a different purpose. He has weapons that move him, weapons that shield him, weapons that replace his Mega Buster and weapons that hit at angles his Mega Buster can’t. He has heavy damage weapons, huge hit-box weapons, homing weapons and scatter shot weapons. He has a weapon for nearly every occasion, but no two weapons are alike. No two weapons do the same thing. This keeps him switching weapons constantly, not just in boss fights but during stages. It’s what keeps these weapons feeling fresh and useful, and that’s exactly the feeling that made Mega Man so much fun in the first place.