By Tyler Lubben / May 10th, 2014
|Title||Mega Man VII
|Release Date||September 1995|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone|
Up until 1995, all the mainline (i.e. not Mega Man X) NES and Game Boy Mega Man games had one thing in common: the art style was, more or less, unchanged. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – recycling sprites and other effects means less work for developers to do for subsequent installments. However, as the first mainline title to hit fourth gen systems, fans would expect something more from Mega Man VII than what the previous titles offered, and that means better graphics! And, as we all know, better graphics always means better game. Fans had already gotten a taste of what things might be like with the first two Mega Man X games, released a few years prior, but this is the first time the mainline series was able to show off its stuff. So, with that in mind, let’s jump in and give this much better game the attention it deserves.
All joking aside, not only did Mega Man VII bring a few new elements to the franchise – some of which remained prevalent in later games – it also managed to connect itself well with the mechanics of previous games, making it feel like a proper sequel, even with such a distinct overhaul in graphics and game progression. Mega Man VII is also a fairly divisive title – while it certainly looks nice, a few of gameplay changes introduced rubbed some fans the wrong way. I think it’s important that we take a look at these changes and see just how they affected the overall experience of the Blue Bomber’s first SNES outing. But first, some context.
Mega Man VII is something of a direct sequel to Mega Man VI, taking place six months after the events of that game. Dr. Wily has finally been brought to justice, and is now doing time in prison. However, it wouldn’t be a very fun game if the villain was just chilling in jail, so, during the game’s opening stage, four new Robot Masters descend upon the prison and free their creator. Meanwhile, Mega Man meets a new rival named Bass, though it’s initially unclear whether he’s a friend or foe… to some people, maybe. So, with the story now laid out, Mega Man and Rush head out to end Dr. Wily’s new reign of terror.
The most immediate change that fans will notice, as I just mentioned, is the fact that Mega Man VII contains an intro level before getting into the game proper. Previous titles immediately threw players into the stage select screen, but, in an effort to bring more story elements to the series, this beginning stage introduces well-known supporting characters like Mega Man’s sister, Roll; his creator, Dr. Light and support robot, Auto. Once players complete this stage, they will finally be taken to the Stage Select screen, and the next big change is immediately apparent. Rather than the usual eight Robot Masters, players are given a choice of only the four original bosses that freed Dr. Wily. It’s certainly an… interesting design choice, but once those four are taken down, Mega Man fights through another short story section. After this, the other four will be revealed. I personally did not care for this mechanic of locking players out of half the Robot Masters’ stages. Having control over how you play the game is one of the main draws of the series, and, by forcing players into a more story-centric layout, it takes a lot of that choice away, which hurts the replay value in my eyes. Anyway, griping aside, the most important thing is how the game plays, so let’s move on.
As far as gameplay goes… there really isn’t much to say. Players are still running the tried and true “jump ‘n’ shoot” formula, having Mega Man run, dash and blast his way through waves of enemies on his way to the boss at the end of each stage. However, Mega Man VII did introduce a few new elements to keep things fresh. While previous games saw Mega Man’s powers used chiefly for combat, some of the abilities that he acquires in VII can actually be used to affect the environment. From powering machines to freezing lava to changing the weather, this new element to your powers helps make them more than just weapons, and encourages players to try out different abilities in various situations. Additionally, Auto runs a store, which Mega Man can visit by pressing the Select Button while on the Stage Select screen. Here, Auto will sell various items like Energy and Weapon Tanks, as well as certain upgrades in return for Bolts that Mega Man finds during gameplay. Some of these can be fairly expensive, though, if you’re able to find a special item for Auto, he’ll cut all his prices in half, as well as expand his inventory.
As a sequel to Mega Man VI, the game also draws elements from that game. One of VI’s major features was the Rush Adaptors – fusions between Mega Man and Rush that gave him new abilities. This feature prevails in VII, as well, but, rather than receiving it by defeating bosses, it acts as one of the game’s secret unlockables. The first four bosses’ stages each contain a R-U-S-H plate for Mega Man to find. Once he collects them all, he unlocks the Super Adaptor. This is something of a mix between the two suits from Mega Man VI – giving him a second jump in the form of a jetpack, as well as a powerful rocket punch to attack distant enemies. Other unlockables, like new abilities for Rush; the robotic bird, Beat; and Proto Man’s Shield can also be acquired, so there’s a lot of incentive to explore each stage at length.
I think a lot of the heartache that long-time fans feel for Mega Man VII stems from the way that the boss battles were handled. In previous games, the powers that Mega Man received from Robot Masters would give him a slight edge over another boss, creating a fairly roundabout rock-paper-scissors chain of strengths. The difference in Mega Man VII is that using a boss’s weakness on him gives Mega Man a huge advantage – both dealing an increased amount of damage while also locking most Robot Masters into an extremely predictable attack pattern. The patterns are, for the most part, incredibly easy to avoid or, in some cases, prevent bosses from being able to attack at all. This takes a great deal of the challenge (read: fun) out of the game, which, obviously, is going to hurt its long-lasting value. Interestingly, the same cannot be said for Dr. Wily. It almost seems as though they saved all the difficulty in the game for his battle, which is easily one of the hardest of the series. Even with a full count of E-Tanks, I still managed to just barely beat him by the skin of my teeth. Sadly, one tough fight doesn’t make up for the borderline-boring battles leading up to it. If you’re looking for a challenge, though, most of the Robot Masters are pretty tricky if you don’t use their weaknesses against them.
As I already mentioned, Mega Man VII completely overhauled the art style that we had from the mainline series up to that point. Character sprites, effects and environments are all wonderfully detailed and colorful. They’re also… bigger. While this means that Mega Man and his many opponents have never looked quite so good, it also means it’s harder to maneuver. This is most apparent during the boss battles where, while the sprites are bigger, the arenas are not. As some of the Robot Masters are pretty quick, these fights could have been much more challenging if not for the issues with their weaknesses. Even so, it’s a serious step up from the presentation of the NES era, and it’s only complemented by the music. The soundtrack is just a continuation of the high quality we’re used to from the franchise. Almost every stage theme is incredibly catchy, and I know most of them by heart, even years after the first time I played the game. The original music is memorable, as usual, plus, the remixed tracks from earlier games used for a certain stage are wonderfully nostalgic, as well. And, as far as I’m concerned, the secret track for Shade Man’s stage is its official song.
I joked at the beginning of this review that better graphics always make sequels better than their predecessors. However, while we all had a good laugh at my very clever joke, the fact of the matter is that, while Mega Man VII looks quite pretty, and continues with the tradition of tight gameplay and catchy music, it was more than a little overzealous in the story department. Locking players into only four stages in the beginning for no discernible reason is extremely bothersome. This, coupled with the fact that using a boss’s weakness makes most fights overly easy, greatly damages the game’s hopes of being one of the greats in the franchise. Even so, for the four or five hours it takes to complete, it’s a consistent experience in the gameplay department, and I’d recommend playing it if you have the means. Unfortunately, since the game is not available on the Wii Shop Channel or Wii U eShop, you’d better be willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks on Amazon or eBay if you’re looking for an original copy. Even so, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and, while it might not be the best Mega Man title out there, it still carries on the tradition well.
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