Mega Man X7 was once believed to be that game. The summer of 2002 yielded an early look at X's first foray into the third dimension, with promises of never-before-seen spectacles. As exciting as that was, there was something else that manged to caress the fanboy heart: multiplayer.
According to the game's infamous E3 '02 product description, MMX7 was being prepped with co-op play:
"Take advantage of the new Double System, where you and a friend can play together simultaneously. Fight bossed cooperatively and execute the new change combo attack by switching characters at any time."
Holy moly. This was it, man. This was the multiplayer Mega Man game! Oh did we ever set ourselves up for disappointment.
X7 arrived in our hands multiplayer-less. Attempting to rationalize the situation, the fanbase of the time concluded that multiplayer was never a sure-fire thing after all. They theorized that the prospect of multiplayer was nothing more than the Double Hero system -- the ability to switch between two characters, on the fly, mid-gameplay -- grossly mistranslated.
It was certainly a viable theory, given Capcom's early 2000 mistranslation track record. Well, guess what? It's time to give that theory the boot, because Mega Man X7 once DID have multiplayer, and its inclusion was confirmed by none other than the game's producer....
An old, overlooked interview holds the key. In a 2003 Q&A session with Game Bunker, Tatsuya Minami actually confirmed the presence of simultaneous two-player.
GB – How many people can play at once?
Minami – With the inclusion of so many other characters in the game we decided to make it possible for two people to play at once.
Three characters is many? Eh, I wouldn't look into that too much, but still, there it is: X7, at one point in its development, had multiplayer. The E3 pamphlet was right all along.
The interview was conducted Spring 2003, but wasn't published until later that summer. With X7 due for release in July (Japan), we can assume co-op play was dropped within a rather short time frame. Question is, why? Time to do what we always do best -- theorize.
While certainly a far cry from being an awful game, X7's production values took quite a tole on the final product; the game's quality suffering as a result. Capcom wanted X7 out the door ASAP, rushing the title to completion. Designing stages around the idea that two players could explore simultaneously may have proven too daunting a task, given time and budget constraints. Co-op play was ultimately dropped in favor of allocating resources to complete the game's core, single-player experience.
To my knowledge, no one has unearthed any remnants of multiplayer assets. More often than not, final code contain traces of beta and even alpha material. Mega Man games are no exception. It's just a matter of someone taking the initiative to dig around X7's guts.
Regardless the outcome of that venture, it's a shame co-op play was omitted in the first place. It's 2011 now. The franchise is nearing its 24th anniversary. Where's our co-op Mega Man game?
One day, maybe.