Mega Man X7 marks the series' first entry on the PlayStation 2, and as if to commemorate this, it's been given a pretty severe graphical overhaul, bringing the game into 3D, and it includes a few new gameplay bells and whistles. When Mega Man X7 sticks to its old-school roots, it can be pretty enjoyable, if a bit predictable. But when it ventures into new territory and starts tinkering with the tried-and-true Mega Man formula, things start to go wrong.
The plot behind X7 includes an excessive amount of backstory, involving conflicting ideologies, which the game tries to present with a weird high-mindedness, but ultimately, it can all be summed up as the age-old struggle between good robots and bad robots. The story is entirely disposable, which can almost be expected, considering the caliber of past Mega Man X stories. But unfortunately, you can't just skip past the between-level cutscenes, which forces you to either savor all of the bad-anime-style dialogue or switch over to the original Japanese voices.
As has been the case in the past few Mega Man games, you'll play through large portions of Mega Man X7 as characters other than Mega Man. Returning from past Mega Man X games is Zero, a gruff, battle-worn robot who uses an energy sword and can also perform a rather useful double-jump maneuver. New to X7 is Axl, a younger robot who wields a pistol, can perform a Princess Peach-style floating jump, and has the special ability to temporarily take on the form and abilities of robots he has bested. Before you go into a level, you choose a pair of robots to fight with, which you can swap between on the fly with a tap of the L2 button. It's a novel idea, and you'll find a few areas in each level that take specific advantage of each character's different abilities, but it's a concept that's not taken as far as it could have been.
Most of X7 is built with polygons, even though large portions of the game still play from a side-scrolling perspective, imitating the gameplay style of its predecessors. But the game will regularly change to a third-person behind-the-back perspective, giving you a whole new axis to run around and shoot robots on. Maintaining the tone of past Mega Man X games, X7 is unrelentingly difficult, and its instituting of the old-school three-life limit can make things especially punishing. A high level of difficulty is acceptable, but when the game shifts from side-scrolling action to the behind-the-back perspective, it introduces some frustrations that are unacceptable. The controls don't translate from 2D to 3D very well, and this is exacerbated by the game's reliance on nick-of-time platform jumping and by its unwieldy camera. The new 3D graphics are definitely a welcome touch, especially since the sprites in X6 were starting to look a little rustic, but X7 would probably be a better game had it stuck to its guns and stayed with the series' 2D platforming action.
Though it's not the first time we've seen Mega Man rendered in 3D, X7 features one of the better-looking renditions of a 3D Mega Man to date. The art style is markedly different from the Mega Man Network spin-off series, sporting a grittier, more serious look, but the game is technically comparable to Mega Man Network Transmission for the GameCube, as it too features cel-shaded versions of the main characters, though X7 admittedly has less flash overall. It's a decent-looking game, but its scope never goes beyond standard 2D platforming fare, which ultimately limits its potential to really impress. The sound in Mega Man X7 is consistently unimpressive, though the voice acting during the cutscenes really stands out as being especially awful. The music is generic Mega Man fare, the kind of background noise that you might not have heard before, but it's derivative enough of past games that it sounds familiar.
Though there have been some weird mutations within the Mega Man franchise over its 15-year history, the 2D platforming action is what has kept hardcore fans coming back, over and over again. X7's new 3D look and corresponding gameplay mechanics seem like another attempt by Capcom to draw in a broader audience. The problem is that the game still tries to appeal to core Mega Man fans with its referential storyline and high level of difficulty. What you end up with is a game that will draw a lukewarm response at best from either crowd.