By Ashley Ring / September 15th, 2017
|Title||Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack|
|Release Date||August 31 2017|
Ever since the release of Mega Man Zero back on the Game Boy Advance, I’ve been a fan of Inti Creates. After seeing Azure Striker Gunvolt, it reminded me a lot of their work on Mega Man Zero, which made me excited to play it. I’ve had this series on my list of games to play ever since I saw the trailer for the second game at MAGfest 2016. Now, thanks to the Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack, containing both the first and second game, I’ve fully played through both games in the series. After finishing them, were the games as good as I hoped?
In the first Azure Striker Gunvvolt you play as Gunvolt, an adept with a superhuman ability called a septima who works for a resistance group called Quill. One night, Gunvolt is sent on a mission to investigate the Sumeragi Group, a shady corporation that claims to be maintaining peace, but is actually controlling other adepts who also developed a septima. While investigating the Sumeragi Group, Gunvolt meets their secret weapon to control adepts, a young girl named Joule, whom he is ordered to dispose of. Choosing to disobey orders, Gunvolt decides to save the girl and take care of her, leaving Quill at the same time.
The plot overall is not very detailed, with most of the important dialogue being told in-between stages through status portraits with text boxes, as well as very nicely detailed anime stills that any fan of Mega Man Zero will recognize. However, where the plot does stand out is the relationship between Gunvolt and Joule. Between each mission you can chose to talk to Joule, which leads to a short but very cute exchange between the two that helps build both their own personalities as well as their relationship. By the end of the first game I found myself really liking both Gunvolt and Joule quite a lot thanks to the large amount of character building scenes.
In Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, the story takes place sometime after the first one as a new shady group rises into power named Eden. Eden’s goal is to create a world where only adepts exist, essentially wiping out humanity. The story’s overall level of detail is about the same as the first. However, this time around there are two different characters to play as, Gunvolt and Copen, each with their own story to follow. Gunvolt’s story continues where the first left off, while Copen’s story adds some more context to Gunvolt’s, while also establishing Copen as more than just a rival character from the first game.
What is probably my favorite part of the story in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is that while playing through Copen’s story, you can chat with his little sister in between missions. These scenes, much like the first game’s scenes with Gunvolt and Joule (which also return), help develop both Copen and his little sister as very likeable and adorable characters.
The story in both games is overall serviceable. They’re not the most developed stories and most of the characters don’t get development. The characters that do get developed though are very likeable, and I found myself feeling a little emotional by the end of the second game.
The biggest problem with the story I have is not the lack of development for many characters, but the sheer amount of chatter during gameplay. Constantly there are large numbers of dialogue boxes that take up a large portion of the screen during every single mission, and even boss fights. Sure, you can make it transparent or even make it go away completely with the minus button, but I just wish the action would pause, especially during boss fights, where it becomes most distracting. It can be very difficult to try to dodge boss patterns and read the story at the same time, making for a bit of a frustrating experience.
The gameplay in Azure Striker Gunvvolt on the surface looks like another classic side scrolling Mega Man type game. Things like side-scrolling run-and-gun action and being able to choose from a handful of stages in any order with a boss at the end of each are all present in both Gunvolt games. Once you start playing through the intro stages, you’ll quickly realize it does do quite a few things differently that make it much more interesting than the standard Mega Man game.
The main mechanic when playing as Gunvolt is that he can tag enemies a certain number of times, depending on which gun he has equipped. Tagging enemies allows him to then use his septima’s power, a large electrical field that surrounds his body and electrifies all tagged enemies for massive damage. In addition to that, you can tag the same enemy multiple times for even greater amounts of damage. This mechanic is honestly one of the most satisfying and fun I’ve experienced in a side-scrolling game. This mechanic never once got old or any less exciting to me in the entire two and a half playthroughs of both games that I did.
It’s not an unlimited ability, however. It does have a charge. As you electrocute your enemies, you’ll notice a blue bar under Gunvolt depleting. When this far is fully depleted, you can no longer use the ability and are left very vulnerable as the electro field can also destroy enemy projectiles. You definitely need to be careful of this, as it’s surprising just how quickly you can go from a full health bar to almost dead during this state, especially during a boss fight. Thankfully, as long as you’re not in an overheated state you can always double tap the down button to instantly recharge.
In addition to tagging and electrocuting your enemies, there are also a number of special skills that Gunvolt has at his disposal. These skills can range from many different things like an even stronger electrical blast surrounding Gunvolt temporarily, to a huge sword that does massive damage, and even healing spells. You can equip up to four different skills at a time and switch between them with the right analog stick. Using each skill also involves pressing in the right analog stick, which caused a few issues for me. Whenever I would press the analog stick, I often found myself accidentally switching to another skill and using that one by mistake. Thankfully, you can remap your controls, so that’s something that I personally recommend doing.
In the second Gunvolt game the character Copen is also playable. Instead of rehashing Gunvolt’s gameplay styles, Copen plays completely different. The tagging system as well as electrocuting your enemies are replaced with stylish dash moves, aerial dashing and flips while shooting his gun. Since there is no tag system, you can lock onto an enemy by just dashing into them, causing Copen to do a backflip off the enemy and it’s during this state that you can unload a barrage of bullets on your enemy. The cool thing about the dash ability is that you can use it in any direction, so you can even dash upwards to get through the stage quicker, as well as try to dash into another enemy to attack. Much like Gunvolt’s charge though, this one is also limited use but can be recharged by double tapping the down button twice.
Instead of having a wide variety of special skills like Gunvolt, Copen has one special attack, one healing attack, as well as a handful of abilities that you receive for defeating each stage boss. These boss weapons for the most part feel satisfying to use since they cause a great amount of damage. They can also really tear through a boss’s health bar rather quickly if you combine using that and Copen’s regular gun attack at the same time. Copen is a really great addition to the series as a whole, and I would love to see him return if a third game is ever considered.
All of the boss fights in the game are really fun as well. Each fight felt well balanced, not being too difficult or too easy in part thanks to both games having infinite lives. All boss fights have three health bars, each health bar representing their phase. Since every boss has three phases, being careful becomes a bit more important as their patterns and tactics change with each form. The last phase is when the bosses start to use their special attacks in a similar fashion to Gunvolt’s. Depending on who you’re fighting these attacks can be quite deadly, as some boss skills will freeze you in place, leaving you extremely vulnerable to whatever they throw at you.
Both Azure Striker Gunvolt games don’t just play great, they also look great; lots of great 2D backgrounds with fantastic level design that make use of Gunvolt’s electrical abilities. Some stages have environmental puzzles or gimmicks that Gunvolt needs to use his electrical abilities to be able to get through. Some of my favorite stages involved using Gunvolt’s electricity powers as a flashlight through a dark area, as well as using it to move magnetic platforms to block incoming laser attacks. The sprite work is well done, and anyone who’s ever played Mega Man Zero games will immediately recognize the art style. There are also a fair number of high-resolution anime stills during key cutscenes to help add to mood of the scene.
Both games also succeed in the sound department, thanks to near fully voiced cutscenes and great soundtracks. The voice work, while all in Japanese, sounds good, and I even found myself recognizing a few of the voice actors from other work, which is always a fun moment for me. I would have liked an English dub option, if only because of all the dialogue that takes place during gameplay, which would have made things much easier for me to focus on and still get the story. The music overall is great too, with some standout songs to me being the Anthem songs from both games, “Reincarnation” and “Indigo Destiny”.
Overall, the Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack is absolutely worth your time and money. The gameplay never got old in the 20 hours I spent split between both games. While the story might not be the most developed, the main characters’ private chats together more than make up for it. It’s really hard to go wrong with the Striker Pack as you’re getting two really great and replayable games for $39.99. After playing these games, I’m definitely a fan of this series and I really hope for a third title somewhere down the road.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Azure Striker GunvoltAzure Striker Gunvolt 2Azure Striker Gunvolt Striker PackInti Createsnintendo switch