ROCKMAN 7-FC / Mend / PC
In the beginning, there was Mega Man, and it was ... OK. It was a little too hard and full of cheap deaths, but it was definitely a cut above the standard of run-and-gun action games of the time. Then, there was Mega Man 2, and it was really good. And Mega Man 2 begat Mega Man 3 and it was also good, though not quite as much so. And then these begat Mega Man 4, and 5, and 6, and the X series, and the Battle Network series, and the Zero series, and the ZX series, and the soccer game, and the go-kart game ... and it all got very old very fast, and lo, only the most Faithful stuck with it, except for the first Mega Man X game, which was pretty kickass.
Among this tide of releases was Mega Man 7, a Super NES reworking of the gameplay style of the NES games. It featured better graphics, bigger sprites, and a new level structure, along with a story and dialogue. In spite of all this, it wasn't widely liked, and was released in the U.S. in 1995 (near the end of the Super NES's life span here) to very limited fanfare.
Some inspired soul in Japan saw this, and said, "You know what, this game would be way better if it had been on the NES". So he set about re-making the game ... or perhaps de-making is the correct term. In any event, he re-drew all the game's graphics in 8-bit pixellated style, re-worked the levels to be on an NES scale, re-worked the feel and the gameplay to that of the NES titles, and even made "chiptune" versions of the music that sound like something fresh out of an NES speaker. And he did all this with the precision and care of a master engineer.
Aside from being a technically impressive piece of work, the game is an absolute blast and a joy to play. I never did get very excited about the SNES release of Mega Man 7, quitting it well before the game was completed, but I happily threw myself into this remake over and over until I finally managed to finish off Dr. Wily. It looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes exactly like an NES Mega Man game, and it has become my second favorite of the whole bunch only to Mega Man 2. This guy has outdone Capcom's programming team at their own game, in other words. The game mixes and matches certain elements, for example using sound effects from later entries in the series, but they are all carefully chosen to work so seamlessly that you barely even notice.
How does it compare to the Super NES version? First of all, it excises the "introductory level" and the interstitial level where you fight the goofy clown boss. A lot of the plot elements and dialogue have also been removed. You can now select any of the eight robot masters right from the beginning. Most of the game's hidden items and such have been retained, but Auto's shop is gone, as well as one particular hidden item that related to it. I think the biggest difference, in terms of this being more fun to play, is that the sprite scale is more normalized now - the big sprites in the Super NES release looked nice, but they were crammed into a tiny screen and made the game feel somewhat un-Mega Man-ish.
The game is wonderful, and comes very close to dethroning Quest For Glory 2 VGA as my favorite fan remake ever, but it is not totally without flaw. It incorporates a NES-style password system, which is great for authentic atmosphere, but is also annoying given that we are playing on PCs and a save system could have easily been implemented. The game also does not come with native joystick support; you must use a key-mapping program such as JoyToKey (see link above) in order to use a gamepad or joystick. Of course, it is also in Japanese, and there is some limited dialogue in the later stages of the game that gaijin gamers will miss out on. One also wishes this guy might craft a level editor or something, so that we might use this beautiful engine to create our own old-school Mega Man adventures.
Very minor quibbles, however, in the face of tremendous awesomeness. If you don't have a Wii and feel like you're missing out on the retro Mega Man 9 goodness lately, this should fill the void and then some.
* Download (final2.zip)