By Josh Speer / September 8th, 2014
|Title||Azure Striker Gunvolt|
|Developer||Inti Creates, Comcept|
|Release Date||August 29, 2014|
|Genre||2D platformer, Action|
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I’m the one who decided to review Azure Striker Gunvolt. I mean, I’m a diehard Mega Man fan, I’ve attended the Keiji Inafune panels the last two years at PAX, and I rant and rave about Mega Man on Smashing Saturdays! So, while it might be no surprise that I’m covering Azure Striker Gunvolt, the game itself was quite a pleasant surprise. Not because it’s the next new Mega Man game, but because, in many ways, it isn’t. Rather, it was surprising because it successfully immersed me in an entirely new world, and made me give a damn about the characters in it. That’s not only surprising for Mega Man-type games, but for games in general nowadays. Sure, they’re fun, but how many leave you broken or tear jerked at the end of it? Such a game, for me, was Azure Striker Gunvolt. It may have been a day one purchase for me, but the rest of you are probably wondering if it’s worth the price tag? Read on, gentle viewers!
I won’t go into great detail rehashing the whole plot — just covering the basics and moving on to the good stuff as quickly as possible. In this world, psychics have come into power, and the Sumeragi Group has tasked themselves with controlling this upstart new power. Through subterfuge and cruel experiments, Sumeragi has gained leverage over many of the world’s more powerful psychic adepts, manipulating them with dangerous and addictive technology. Desperate to save other psychics, a group called QUILL has intervened, using their rising star, the 14 year old boy known as Gunvolt. He is sent to murder a mysterious Muse on his first mission, and things change for him irreversibly. There’s plenty more to it, but that’s what you need to know starting up. One of the things that made this concept work so well was the characterization of each and every character, including side characters and bosses. They are all unique and entertaining, as expressed by the many cutscenes in the game. They really showed how talented the localization folks that work with Inti Creates are.
Speaking of bosses, these are easily the highlight of the game. From the magnetic Carrera, who tries to crush you with giant metal fists, to the insane Stratos, who wants to devour you, to the arrogant Jota, who just wants to put you in your place, they are all fantastic personalities. Each and every boss is challenging, fights differently and has an overpowered Desperation attack they whip out towards the end of battle. Some hurt a little while others can instantly kill you. This is the game’s way of forcing you to get better, pay attention and learn attack patterns in order to improve. Which is no surprise, given Inti Creates also had a hand in the Mega Man Zero and ZX series, both known for their style and overall challenge. Though the minibosses don’t have these Desperation attacks, they are no joke either, and force you to pay attention or get skunked.
You start out by selecting a mission and choosing your loadout of skills, gear etc. Once you start, if you do well enough in a stage, you’ll earn a coveted S+ rank. A number of factors lead to this, such as how fast you beat the stage, how skillfully, how many enemies you defeat and more. The real trick? To get an S+, you basically cannot get hit once or use a checkpoint. Doing so will reset your combo points to zero. Given that each stage has multiple sections full of devious traps and cruelly-placed enemies, this takes some doing. In fact, I have yet to get an S+, but that is my goal for consecutive playthroughs of the game. Speaking of which, I should probably mention the actual gameplay.
You probably know the way Gunvolt attacks is by tagging and electrocuting enemies. Sound overpowered? It’s really not, for a couple of reasons. First off, you can’t zap them indefinitely. There is a meter that powers down from 100% to 0% pretty quickly. If it reaches zero, you will redline and be unable to zap anything for a few seconds. Secondly, though your meter will naturally refresh itself, it takes time. About 10 seconds to be precise, and Gunvolt can take a lot of punishment in that brief period. To avoid this, you will need to double tap Down to recharge instantly. You also cannot zap while doing this, so the whole game becomes a complex pattern of tagging, zapping and recharing at the right time. There is an item that lets you instadodge, but I unequipped that early on to increase the challenge. Luckily, there is a lot more to the game than the fantastic battles. There are also lots of mild puzzle-solving and platforming elements. For example, in several levels you can use your electric field to draw things towards you, such as platforms. In another, you are stuck in pitch black catacombs, and the only way to light things up is with your field. Better yet, while using your field, Gunvolt’s physics become floaty and slow, allowing him to safely avoid hazards in his way or jump higher than normal. The number of ways the game innovates is remarkable, and is another reason I enjoyed it so much. Another reason is the beautiful, detailed artwork and the catchy tunes. You’ve seen plenty of examples of the beautiful art, but let me provide one of the music:
Though I admit it’s very J-pop, it is just one example of the catchy tunes. They really do set the mood, especially when you hear this particular song. Combined with the art, this makes the game truly a beauty. However, there were a couple of things the game didn’t do perfectly.
As you can see from the screen above, there are numerous gameplay options I didn’t mention. Some of the more important options are synthesizing items, selecting your loadout, accepting challenges or saving your game. My first complaint is the Synthesis screen. You get currency for destroying enemies, and items for beating stages. You can essentially play levels over and over again to farm items to make new ones. The tricky thing is, the list of synthesis items is huge, and once synthesized, the game doesn’t indicate how many of said item you have in stock. Given that some items are only possible to synthesize by fusing them with a duplicate, this became somewhat frustrating. As far as challenges, I had no real issue with them, except that some are near impossible to successfully accomplish, while others I cannot fathom how to accomplish. For example, one challenge has you going through the aquatic stage without going through any portals. The problem? These portals are invisible, and I keep stumbling into them. They seem like a natural part of the level progression, which makes the challenge peculiar. Another gripe is the Level Up system. You will naturally gain experience from defeating foes, eventually learning new Special Attack skills and getting better stats. I’m fine with the skills, but the stat gain seems underwhelming, at best. In the promised sequel, I would love if the leveling system was scrapped altogether and for it to just focus on items and armor. Finally, I thought it was foolish to map Special Attacks — powered by defeating enemies — to the touch screen, given how fast paced the combat is. Overall, though, these minor quibbles didn’t harm the experience much.
In my final estimation, Azure Striker Gunvolt is a great game, and not just for Mega Man fans. It is a unique adventure with colorful characters, interesting battle mechanics and great music and art. Though some features feel poorly implemented, many more feel just right. Though the game might seem pricey at $14.99, I know of many other eShop games that cost far more for far less. Besides, if you purchase Azure Striker Gunvolt before November 28, you’ll also get Mighty Gunvolt for free, which is a great little extra. Casual gamers can technically beat the game in about three to four hours, but to get the good ending, and find all the hidden items, it should take significantly more time. I spent almost eight hours doing just that, and, given my desire to get S+ scores and beat all the challenges, I will easily be playing for at least another eight hours. I would highly recommend this game to fans of platformers, Japanese style games or just for somebody looking for a great eShop game. It’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things right. Now I will just have to patiently await Inti Creates to give us a release date on Azure Striker Gunvolt 2…
Review copy purchased by the author
3DSAzure Striker GunvoltInti CreatesKeiji Inafuneplatformer