After the last post about Mega Man 11, I’m interested in taking a closer look at the game’s level design. However, Mega Man games as a whole are distinct from other games I’ve analyzed fully in that their levels are completely unordered. From the start (or occasionally after a quick intro level), the player is dropped into a level select screen.
With a couple of exceptions in Mega Man 7 and 8, every one of each game’s bosses is available to challenge from the start. This unique design choice presents particular constraints to player and designer alike. As such, this shorter post will focus on the factors which influence the chosen stage order, as well as more universal attributes of Mega Man 11’s design as a whole.
One of the primary mechanics of the Mega Man series is the titular protagonist’s ability to copy weapon data from the bosses he defeats. Completing a stage and taking down the boss character at the end permanently augments the player’s arsenal with a new, unique weapon. This new weapon, in turn, is particularly effective against one of the other bosses. In the case of Mega Man 11, the weakness of the boss tends to be effective against one or more obstacles in their stage as well.
Part of the puzzle of completing a Mega Man game thus becomes working out the weakness of each boss—a task which varies from straightforward to obtuse. Added to that is the fact that they only receive new weapons from defeating bosses, so they must defeat at least one with nothing more than their starting Mega Buster.
All this is not to say that weapons are the only tool at the player’s disposal. Each game has its own set of mobility tools unlocked at various points throughout.
In Mega Man 11, the player starts with Rush Coil, a transformation for Mega Man’s robot dog companion which summons him as a spring the player can jump on to reach a greater height. After completing four stages, they unlock Rush Jet, another transformation which instead summons the dog as a hoverboard. In this form, Rush automatically moves forward, but the player can adjust their speed and height as they fly.
Because it isn’t unlocked until the player clears half the stages in the game—any combination of four of them—none of the initial stages require Rush Jet to complete. However, most stages do include an extra item or two which can only be obtained with the power-up. These, along with the myriad platforming obstacles flight makes easier, serve to incentivize the use of every tool in the player’s toolkit while leaving them open to whatever playstyle they may prefer.
The final, more variable influence on stage design comes from the shop. The shop provides items in exchange for screws, the currency defeated enemies can drop. While these items include consumables—extra lives, recovery tanks, and single-use protective gear—there are also various upgrades available. Their effects vary, but frequently make it easier to either traverse the terrain or fight enemies.
Naturally, it’s up to the player’s discretion to acquire and use the items in the shop, but they won’t be able to purchase them before at least attempting a stage. This also creates a negative feedback loop for a struggling player; items like screws are preserved on game over, and some items are only added to the shop if the player falls enough.
The extent of Mega Man’s nonlinearity makes for a design philosophy—and an analysis thereof—which differs substantially from the games I’ve looked at in the past. I hope this post has shed some light on just what informs this philosophy, so we can dive right into the first stage next time. Meet me back here in a couple of weeks!