Mega Man 7 never had it easy. That 7 in the title was already a bit of baggage, as Mega Man had reached that lucky number so quickly that many claimed each sequel was more recycled than the last. It also didn’t help that Mega Man X – the much beloved spinoff that took the series in an innovative new direction – had been released a mere year beforehand. While Mega Man 7 is no Mega Man X, and certainly no Mega Man 2 or 3, it is a better game than it gets credit for, and it added some little innovations of its own to the established blueprint.
Mega Man 7 is the first of only two entries in the core series to not be presented in 8-bits, as it brought the series up to speed on the 16-bit SNES console. Naturally, this means that the visual overhaul will be the first thing most players will notice in regards to Mega Man 7. The sprites are more colorful and detailed than ever, and the SNES hardware allowed for more fluid character animations, with Mega Man sprinting with the enthusiasm of Mickey Mouse. Some claim that Mega Man’s new, considerably larger sprite makes some areas feel cramped, but you’ll rarely (if ever) notice any detriments in gameplay because of it.
It isn’t just visuals that make 7 stand out from its beloved predecessors, however, as Mega Man 7 had a few tricks up its sleeve with how you progress through the game and in gameplay.
The most obvious – and divisive – change that 7 made to the formula was that the game’s eight Robot Masters could not all be selected from the get go. After a brief introductory stage, players can choose between four of the Robot Masters. After their defeat comes an intermission stage, and then the additional four Robot Master stages become available.
The change may be a hard pill to swallow for some, as it eliminates some of the non-linear structure of the series by segmenting the adventure. Others might enjoy the change, since it does allow for the game to have a little more emphasis on its story. Separating the Robot Master stages in two halves means there’s time to tell more story in between. While the plot of Mega Man may never display any deep storytelling, it does help give Mega Man 7 a little more of its own identity.
After the events of Mega Man 6, Dr. Wily was (finally) put behind bars. But after six months, four of Wily’s newest robots emerge to rescue their master. Mega Man sets out to stop the mad doctor as always, but now Mega Man is confronted with a new figure named Bass, whose allegiance is a mystery. Bass would later go on to become a more forgettable character (being somewhat akin to Shadow the Hedgehog, though more tolerable), but here he added a bit of intrigue to the simple plot.
Mega Man 7’s shift from the series’ non-linear structure to being more story-based may not sit well with some, but after six entries of virtually the same setup, you have to at least hand it to Capcom for trying something different.
The most meaningful change that Mega Man 7 makes to the series, however, is its stronger emphasis on exploration and backtracking. If you want you can just blast through the stages one after another. But Mega Man 7 includes secret items and upgrades hidden throughout its stages, and those wanting to go for absolute completion will need to make return visits to levels in order to unlock them all.
The best part is that most of these secrets are found by using the Robot Master powers, meaning Mega Man 7 once again makes those abilities relevant after the previous three entries downplayed them. Mega Man 7 also expands what 6 started with branching paths in certain levels, some of which can only be accessed after acquiring particular Robot Master abilities. It’s a small bit of Metroid added into the Mega Man formula, and it ends up giving Mega Man 7 a new layer of gameplay depth.
The Rush Coil and Rush Jet return, and are now joined by the “Rush Search” ability, in which Rush digs into the ground in search of more secret items. The Rush Adapter from Mega Man 6 also returns (this time as a single power-up instead of two), but now it must be unlocked by finding four hidden letters in the first four Robot Master stages, instead of merely handed to the player after completing certain levels. Beat can also be unlocked once again, though he now serves a less overpowered purpose and will rescue Mega Man should he fall into a pit. Additionally, Proto Man can be found in three secret areas in the game (including an optional boss encounter), and will reward Mega Man with his shield should the Blue Bomber find all of his hiding places.
What Mega Man 7 gets right that its three immediate predecessors couldn’t quite grasp is that it introduces these new abilities without sacrificing the importance of the Robot Master powers. All of the abilities gained from the bosses are useful not only against other Robot Masters, but also for discovering new areas and uncovering secrets. Even if you unlock the Rush Adapter and Proto Shield, none of these abilities feel so overpowered as to make the Robot Master’s moves feel superfluous. It may not be the most creative lineup of powers in Mega Man’s history (the Leaf Shield is yet again recycled, fittingly in the form of junk), but Mega Man 7 at least keeps them relevant.
The game makes some smaller tweaks to the series as well: The SNES’ shoulder buttons now give Mega Man an easier means to swap which power he’s using (though pausing is still required to switch to the Rush abilities and unlockable powers). There is also an in-game shop accessed by pressing the select button on the level select screen, which allows Mega Man to purchase items like 1-ups and E Tanks, with the various bolts he picks up by defeating enemies working as currency.
Mega Man 7 provides a good challenge for players seeking full completion of the game – which also extends the adventure beyond some of the previous entries, even without a second castle – but, with the exception of its ludicrously difficult final boss, Mega Man veterans may find it relatively easy when compared to the earlier Mega Man games.
As previously stated, the game still looks great, and the lively visuals are complemented by fun character designs with the standard enemies. The Robot Masters themselves, however, are among the most forgettably designed in the series (does anybody remember Spring Man?). The music is a step up from Mega Man 6, though it lacks the same personality that made the soundtracks to he first three games so iconic.
Overall, Mega Man 7 may not be the overhaul to the series that Mega Man X was, but it did breathe some new life into the long-running series and introduced some depth that Mega Man 6 sorely lacked. It may not be the most fondly-remembered Mega Man title, but the sole 16-bit entry in the core series is not one that should be so easily forgotten.