There was a time after Mega Man X and X2 when we weren’t really sure if the original Mega Man series would continue. But sandwiched in between Mega Man X2 and X3, Capcom released the long awaited sequel to MM6 on the Super NES. Well, it was the second longest gap in between sequels, at least. Mega Man 7 is a refinement of what the series had done on NES and Game Boy, combined with some of what Capcom had done with Mega Man X. It laid down the blueprint for what a Mega Man game would be like going forward in terms of both presentation and features. It's as much of a turning point in the series as Mega Man 3 was.
Mega Man 7’s story picks up 6 months after Mega Man 6’s ending, in which Mega Man arrested Dr. Wily. Knowing that this was a likely scenario, Dr. Wily laid out a fail-safe plan in which 4 Robot Masters would wake up and go looking for him if they did not receive any communications for 6 months. When the Robot Masters woke up, they attacked the city and broke Dr. Wily out of jail. Now, Mega Man sets off to stop Wily once again.
This game was also the first appearance of Bass, a mysterious robot who’s a bit like both Protoman and Zero in some ways. He shows up a few times throughout the game and you’re never sure if he’s friend or foe. It’s not made clear why Bass can't decide if he's a heel or a babyface, but it is revealed that he and his dog, Treble, were created by Dr. Wily.
I loved the cutscenes and attention to detail in MM7. Yeah, the story is a lot like the story in previous Mega Man games, but the improved graphics and all the little Mega Man universe references really bring the presentation up to a new level. Stuff like Eddie and Auto’s shop, the story taking MM6’s ending into account, old Robot Masters in the museum, and Cutman in the newspaper made this game feel like the best realized Mega Man world up to this point.
Mega Man 7’s graphics were technically surpassed by Mega Man 8, but stylistically, MM7 is my favorite looking game in the series. This game looks closer to the original series artwork than any of the other 2D games ever did. The character designs in particular look closer to the Mega Man we saw on Famicom game covers than both the 8-bit games and MM8 did. The backgrounds look as good as anything the MMX series did on the SNES, and I played the game on both MMLC2, but the framerate on the SNES version is much better than in any of the SNES MMX games, too.
Mega Man 7 feels like a game that’s trying to bring the best parts of all the previous games together. It didn’t really do a lot of new stuff, but it refined and fixed things that had sort of gone off the rails with the NES games. One of them being the return of Rush. MM6 replaced the Rush Jet and Rush Coil with the Rush Adaptors, and while Rush armor is cool in its own way, it's great to see Rush as a separate character again. MM7 also brought in the MMX style exploration and hidden items. The last couple of NES Mega Man games had some of that, but MM7 went all the way with the branching paths and Robot Master weapons that could be used to discover secrets and open up new paths. MM7 also brought a new version of the shop from MMIV and V on Game Boy to the main series.
Game progression in Mega Man 7 is pretty different from the NES games. You still fight 8 Robot Masters and use their weapons against each other, but in a very Mega Man X kind of move, we got an intro stage for the first time in the main series. This game only lets you choose from 4 levels at the beginning, too, because that was the original premise of the story. Dr. Wily activates the other 4 Robot Masters halfway through the game, after you fight a boss in a separate unselectable stage. Another first for the series. MM7 also lets you go back to the stage select screen after beating each section of Wily’s castle, just like Mega Man X. This comes in handy if you want to go get hidden items you might have missed.
It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning that the difficulty in the game feels a bit unbalanced. Most of the game is pretty easy by Mega Man standards, but the hard parts are usually way harder than anything else. The final battle against Dr. Wily in particular felt much harder than it should have been. Luckily, being able to go back out to the stage select screen means that you can stock up on E cans and 1ups at Auto’s shop before the final fight.
The soundtrack has some good tunes that go very well with their stage, like Junk Man’s stage theme, and a lot of great tracks that evoke the music of the NES games, like the Museum theme. I especially like Shade Man’s stage themes, one of which is a remix of the music from the first level of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, since his stage is a tribute to GnG. There are some songs that sound a little too wacky for my tastes, like Spring Man’s stage theme, but overall, it's a pretty good soundtrack.
Mega Man 7 is not the most innovative game in the series, but it's definitely not a bad game. Having just played through MM1-MM6, I’d say MM7 ranks pretty high among the rest of the original series. I liked that it brought Rush back and how it found a spot for most of the supporting cast. (Where's Tango, though?) Bass was a cool new character, the presentation and story were the best in the series at the time, and its art style is still my favorite in the series.