Having ended its run with a severe case of creative burnout, the Mega Man series received a new lease on life when Mega Man X debuted in December of 1993. A distant sequel to the original set of games, Mega Man X had a noticeably darker tone than any entry in what enthusiasts would retroactively dub the classic series. Combined with fast-paced, exploratory gameplay and a plethora of new mechanics, Capcom had yet another hit on their hands. With the release of its own sequel, Mega Man X2, the following year, an entire new series for Capcom’s signature franchise was confirmed.
Although Mega Man X was well received, fans of the classic series were a little worried. It was clear Capcom had struck gold with Mega Man X, so a sequel seemed inevitable. This caused fans of the NES games to worry if the classic series was effectively over. These worries were eventually assuaged when Capcom announced the development of Mega Man 7. Yes, for those put off by the dark tone of Mega Man X, this game would be a compromise, ignoring the new direction while still letting it develop and finding a way to revisit the series’ roots at the same time. In fact, such was the zeal for a continuation of the classic series that when Capcom revealed they did not intend to release Mega Man 7 despite having finished an English translation, the overwhelmingly negative reaction made them rethink their plans.
Timing and scheduling conflicts ensured a fairly difficult development cycle. Despite bringing the series to a new platform, the team had only three months to complete the game. Despite these setbacks both primary artist Keiji Inafune and Director Yoshihisa Tsuda felt the experience to be a lot of fun. The latter compared it to being part of a sports team camp, although he wished he and his team had another month or so to work on it. Regardless, the game was completed and eventually released domestically in March of 1995 under the name Rockman 7: Showdown of Destiny! Thanks to the efforts of Western fans, the game saw a release in North America and Europe later that year, renamed Mega Man 7 – the subtitle removed once again. In the wake of Mega Man X, what does the continuation of the classic series have to offer?
Analyzing the Experience
At long last, Mega Man has apprehended the nefarious Dr. Wily. However, it turns out the doctor had an ace up his sleeve. Knowing that there was a possibility he would be imprisoned, he constructed four secret Robot Masters as backups in a hidden laboratory: Burst Man, Cloud Man, Junk Man, and Freeze Man. If they did not receive any signal from him in six months, they would activate and begin searching for him. Sure enough, after six months, they spring to life and begin ravaging the city in which Dr. Wily is imprisoned. With the world in danger once more, Mega Man is called into action.
Although Mega Man 7 did implicitly promise a gameplay style more akin to the classic series, it nonetheless borrows one key element from Mega Man X. Rather than bringing players to the level select screen upon starting a new game, it throws them into the thick of things via an opening stage.
The superior ROM size of the average SNES game allowed for more dynamic storytelling than what was possible on the NES wherein space limitations could be reached by having an excessive amount of text. As such, an increasingly common practice was to show players the story’s basic premise through onscreen visuals as opposed to relegating it to the instruction manual – a trend reflected in this game as well. Auto, one of Dr. Light’s robotic assistants, drives Mega Man to the heart of the city before unfavorable road conditions force the title character to venture forth on his own.
Despite the presentational upgrade, the core gameplay of Mega Man 7 is identical to its six predecessors. It provides a platforming experience with run-and-gun sensibilities. To hark back to the classic series gameplay, Mega Man 7 notably forgoes the new ideas Mega Man X brought to the table. While Mega Man will receive many power-ups throughout this game, his progression is far more static with a life bar that cannot be extended and an inability to permanently reduce damage taken or learn new moves outside of what the various upgrades provide.
As in any good Mega Man stage, the opening sequence culminates in a boss fight, although with respect to its early occurrence, it is appropriately simple. Once Mega Man prevails, he faces off against a mysterious robot named Bass and his dog Treble. After a brief battle, Bass reveals that he attempted to stop Dr. Wily while Mega Man was away. Commenting that Mega Man is every bit as good as everyone says, Bass leaves the rest to him.
Once this stage is completed, you are taken to the familiar screen Robot Master selection screen, albeit with four choices as opposed to eight. Despite this, the idea behind how you’re supposed to tackle these stages is the same as it has always been. Through trial and error, you must defeat one of the Robot Masters to gain their weapon. After that point, you have effectively broken into the cycle and can now take out the remaining Robot Masters using their weakness.
If it’s one thing I will give Mega Man 7 credit for, it’s that, partially owing to the upgraded presentation, there is a bit more creative energy than there was in Mega Man 6. By that installment, the team was thoroughly exhausted and out of ideas. Here, the stage design is a bit more inventive, and it is the most obvious when examining Burst Man’s stage. His stage features many platform bombs, but also incorporates elements of water stages by forcing Mega Man to traverse large pools of oil. Because you also must dodge spikes while doing this, you have a stage that greatly challenges your sense of timing.
Burst Man himself is the obligatory demolition-themed Robot Master, but his weapon, the Danger Wrap, is quite a bit more inventive than that of predecessors Bomb Man and Crash Man. It encases Mega Man in a bubble, which floats upwards towards the spikes lining the ceiling. Fortunately, they can be broken with enough Mega Buster shots, but it’s a great way to keep players on their toes. When you get to use it yourself, you’ll realize it’s amazingly effective against certain enemies – Cloud Man in particular.
The most significant feature Mega Man 7 introduces involves newcomer Auto. As one of Dr. Light’s assistants, he is a remarkable inventor. Throughout the stages, in addition to the standard energy pickups, you may find screws. They are found in the same, exact manner as any other pickup, either appearing in fixed locations or dropped randomly by enemies. By giving these screws to Auto, he can craft extra lives, E Tanks, and other helpful items.
Essentially, the screws are a currency system, but what I like about them is that they give the player more leeway in how they go about playing the game. Before, it was typically luck of the draw as to what the player would receive while exploring a stage, but the screws allow them to choose the power-up they need for a given situation. This alleviates the need to depend entirely on the level layout for helpful items, instead placing the onus on you to spend the screws wisely. Later on, you can find an item called the Hyperbolt. Once Auto installs it on himself, he can create any previously available item for half the number of screws. In addition, he can craft even more items such as the Energy Balancer and the S Tank, which fully restores Mega Man’s energy and weapon charges.
I find myself giving the developers a lot of credit for having tinkered with the basic structure of their series. If you thought it a bit strange for Mega Man to only be fighting four Robot Masters this time around, you have successfully called the designers’ bluff. After defeating them, Mega Man will learn that Dr. Wily has attacked the Robot Museum. He isn’t able to prevent Dr. Wily from stealing a Guts Man model, and must therefore defeat it in battle. Upon achieving victory, the evil scientist sends four more Robot Masters after Mega Man: Slash Man, Shade Man, Spring Man, and Turbo Man.
Although it may seem like an insignificant change, it does have a subtle impact on the gameplay as a whole. In previous installments, Mega Man would eventually need to use the Robot Master weapons to progress in certain stages. However, these stages would, without exception, be relegated to the endgame. It stands to reason, for the Robot Master stages can be completed in any order; the developers would therefore have to design them around the idea that the player could play any of them first.
What Mega Man 7 does by introducing a second tier of Robot Masters is, much like with the revisited stages in Mega Man 3, allow for a greater number of stages that would require inventive use of the copied weapons in order to progress. This way, you can familiarize yourself with them before the endgame when you inevitably have to use them all at some point.
It also helps that these designs continue the trend the first four Robot Masters set by having more distinctive themes than what the most recent classic installments had to offer at the time. Slash Man’s stage is heavily influenced by Jurassic Park, which puts an interesting spin on the blade-wielding foes Mega Man usually faces. Shade Man, meanwhile, manages to put a Mega Man spin on another Capcom franchise, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, throwing robot zombies and werewolves at the Blue Bomber. The Robot Master himself is a mechanized vampire that can drain energy from Mega Man, adding it to his own. And then there’s Turbo Man, who offers an interesting take on the fire-based Robot Master by being modeled after a race car.
Although Mega Man was never renowned for its gripping story, this installment does have a welcome addition in the form of Bass. When going through Shade Man’s stage, Mega Man happens upon a wounded Bass. Mega Man offers Bass Dr. Light’s services to help repair him. However, it later turns out that Bass and Treble are working for Dr. Wily, and proceed to destroy Dr. Light’s laboratory.
With Proto Man having established himself as a staunch, if aloof ally to Mega Man, Bass fills the void the former left after the NES hexalogy by becoming the latter’s rival – even boasting a robotic canine companion of his own. It makes for an interesting boss fight when you encounter him in Dr. Wily’s newest fortress, as he combines with Treble much like how Mega Man utilized the Rush Adapters in Mega Man 6. As a similar power-up exists in Mega Man 7, the battle can potentially become a duel in the purest sense of the term.
Now, despite all of the good things that can be said about Mega Man 7, I do have to admit it, like its direct predecessor, is quite flawed. The most persistent issue with the game concerns the size of Mega Man’s sprite, which is noticeably larger than in his 8-bit outings. This has quite the negative impact on the experience as a whole, for the level design is not scaled accordingly, featuring simpler layouts and cramped boss arenas. This is primarily because, while Mega Man’s sprite is larger, individual rooms usually only scroll in one direction whereas boss arenas are typically the size of the screen, making maneuvering around them more difficult.
While the methodical pacing of the game ensures enemies will likely not jump into the frame to ambush Mega Man so easily, the size of his sprite can still lead to a few instances wherein your inability to look forward results in what would have been an easily avoidable collision in any Mega Man installment leading up to this one. I can understand wanting to show off the capabilities of the new hardware, but Mega Man X did not make this mistake. Its own title character had a sprite that, while larger than his predecessor’s, was reasonably sized and still allowed for dynamic level designs and intricate boss fights.
Otherwise, what I find to be the game’s defining weakness is that it has one of the most bizarre difficulty curves in the history of the medium. If you ask a fan of the series how Mega Man 7 fares in terms of raw difficulty, chances are they would rank it fairly high. The interesting thing is that, for a majority of the experience, Mega Man 7 manages to be one of the easier games in the series. It’s not as though the game expects you to take on the Yellow Devil with zero E Tanks or anything. Instead, the difficulty launches into the stratosphere at the very end of the game after you defeat Dr. Wily’s first form.
Once you do, Dr. Wily hops into his signature Wily Capsule and will proceed to completely destroy you. And no, it doesn’t matter how good you are; those going into this encounter blind will almost certainly lose. Why? According to Yoshihisa Tsuda, Keiji Inafune once said during development “Let’s make the very last fight insanely hard”, and playing through it yourself reveals they succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations.
The capsule disappears and then reappears whereupon it launches four spheres of energy and a larger shot of electricity that diffuses upon contact with the ground. The spheres can be in three different colors: yellow, blue, and red. Yellow spheres shock Mega Man, but the latter two freeze him in place and burn him respectively, usually causing him to get hit with the second attack. These attacks in tandem are nigh-impossible to dodge – to the point where many guides actually advise you to deliberately get hit by the yellow spheres, as they cause the least damage. You know things are bad when repeatedly taking advantage of the standard post-hit invincibility is a recommended strategy.
What really makes this battle difficult is the sheer durability of the capsule. A fully charged Mega Buster shot only deals a single tick of damage, so naturally, you would want to break out a Robot Master weapon. Sadly, Mega Man 7 continues the classic series’ time-honored tradition regarding final bosses by making the Wily Capsule weak against the single worst weapon in the game. In this case, it would be Spring Man’s Wild Coil, an unwieldy weapon that fires springs from either side of Mega Man. The springs are subject to gravity and bounce upwards upon hitting the ground, meaning, much of the time, the only real way you can aim with them is to be directly to one side of the capsule, which is where its opening salvo happens to originate. Also, the springs must be charged in order to do more than one tick of damage to the capsule.
Although I can certainly appreciate a final boss that makes you earn those end credits, I don’t particularly enjoy how this encounter plays out. Mega Man X proved you could make an epic final boss without forcing players to use the obligatory joke weapon you would never use other than to exploit weaknesses – if that. The main antagonist, Sigma, was weak to the Rolling Shield: a remarkably useful weapon that served as both a great offense and a stellar defense – going as far as granting X protection against the dreaded spikes. Even so, Sigma was not a pushover, and you had to fight intelligently with the shield to stop yourself from draining its energy too quickly. To see Mega Man 7 go back on that is rather disappointing.
It especially doesn’t help that the final battle is placed directly after the boss rush, meaning you must defeat all eight Robot Masters again if you lose all your lives and want another attempt. Plus, because you’ll want to fight Dr. Wily with as many E Tanks as possible, you’ll likely need to reset the game and use a password to regain the full set you likely purchased earlier. Needless to say, this process becomes tedious very quickly. Sure, there is the incredible sense of triumph when you finally see the battle through, but knowing part of the challenge involved overcoming such irritating restrictions subverts the feeling somewhat.
Drawing a Conclusion
The Mega Man series was thoroughly exhausted by the time Mega Man 6 debuted in November of 1993. It therefore came as a surprise in retrospect that a much-needed shot in the arm would see its release one month later in form of Mega Man X. That game and its sequel may not have strayed too far from what the classic series accomplished, but their darker tone and new mechanics breathed new life into the franchise. Both of those games were new and exciting, so it seemed inevitable that Mega Man 7 would appear unimpressive and outdated by comparison. Several years down the line, however, fans began looking at Mega Man 7 in a more positive light. They felt that the sheer hype for Mega Man X caused Mega Man 7 to be unfairly dismissed, and some even went as far as claiming it to be one of the best installments in the classic series.
While I do think the fanbase initially overreacted when they dismissed Mega Man 7 as outdated, said assessment isn’t entirely without merit. Mega Man 7 isn’t a bad game, but, despite the team’s best efforts, it is guilty of bringing back the creative burnout Mega Man X sought to address. The game does have a few more interesting ideas to pitch than Mega Man 6, and I can certainly appreciate its immensely difficult final boss. However, its overall difficulty is horribly inconsistent as a result, and the size of Mega Man’s sprite results in more simplistic level layouts and problems when platforming. Mega Man 7 does deserve credit for bringing back the classic series after Mega Man X temporarily left its future uncertain, but while it is a step up from Mega Man 6, its lack of impact worked against it in the long term.
Final Score: 5/10