Azure Striker Gunvolt hit me by surprise. Back before Might No. 9 came out, I was interested in something that played like older Mega Man games, more notably the X series which the first three being some of my favourite games ever. Inti Creates name came up as I was casually looking around the eshop one day. I saw games like Mighty Gunvolt, Shantae, and even learned these were the master minds behind the Mega Man ZX series back on the original DS. I was naturally intrigued and even more so when I stumbled on Azure Striker Gunvolt. Upon my research I also learned that Keiji Inafine had a part to play in this game, making it a must play for me. This game looked like it would scratch the ever needing urge to play something like my beloved classics from the 90s. I was instantly hooked the moment I booted it up and loved it’s unique mechanics. Here’s my take on Azure Striker Gunvolt.
You play as Gunvolt, an adept who can dispurse electricity to take out his foes. He works for an organization named QUILL. As part of QUILL, Gunvolt is tasked to put a stop to the Sumeragi Group, who has secretly been known to be experimenting and controlling other adepts. In the games opening mission, Gunvolt is ordered to assassinate an adept named Lumen, who through her singing can resonate and control any adept. Naturally she is considered dangerous. Gunvolt discovers Lumen is housed with the body of a young girl named Joules. Upon this discovery, Gunvolt feels sympathy for the poor girl, yet despite this, he is ordered to take her out. He is unable to bring himself to harm her, so he defects from QUILL and rescues Lumen and decides it will be his responsibility to protect her.
As soon as you are let loose from the intro sequence, the appeal of the game becomes apparent right away. Being created by Init Creates and naturally highly inspired from the fast paced action packed Mega Man X games from back in the day, this game is brimming with action. In the opening moments of the game, you can dash through the stage destroying everything in your path and taking out some pretty menacing machines along the way. Controls are tight, the graphics and animations look great, and the music all help lend to the tense action theme of the game.
What makes Azure Striker Gunvolt unique is how Gunvolt controls. Normally characters can simply shoot and a projectile will damage your foe. How Gunvolt attacks is he uses a small pistol which fires small projectiles. These projectiles however do almost no damage to the enemy it strikes. What it does instead is it “tags” the enemy it comes in contact with, marking them with a reticle. Once an enemy is marked, by pressing and holding R, Gunvolt emits an electric field called Flashfields that span all around him and gravitate toward marked enemies causing damage. As you hold R, the enemies life is slowly drained until they either die or Gunvolt’s EP meter runs out. If the EP meter runs out, Gunvolt has to slowly wait for it to recharge. He cannot attack until it is replenished, so you need to be mindful of this. If the EP meter is running low, you can stop attacking, double tap down and your EP meter is instantly recharged. Very handy to keep the action going and keep the pressure on the hordes of enemies you may encounter. In addition to this, by jumping and using your Flashfield, this allows Gunvolt to descend at a much slower speed. This opens up avenue to dash jumps and slow descends to cover long distances.
Expanding on tagging, Gunvolt can tag multiple enemies. At the start of the game, he can do up to 3 tags. This means you can tag 1 single enemy 3 times to deal even more damage, or tag 3 separate enemies to damage all at the same time. As you progress you will unlock other guns that allow even more tags so the possibilities are quite varied on how you can engage multiple enemies at any given time. The only limit here is each enemy can be tagged a maximum of 3 times. Thankfully the game does a great job of indicating how many times you’ve tagged an enemy. The reticle will change it’s shape and color to indicate how many times a target has been tagged.
Gunvolt also has an ability called Prevasion. What this does is anytime Gunvolt takes a hit, instead of taking direct damage, he exchanges EP from his meter. However if Gunvolt takes too many hits, the EP meter will run out and at that point Gunvolt will start taking direct damage. Similarly, if you are attacking an enemy and deplete your EP meter, you will also start taking damage and must wait for the EP meter to recharge before he can use Prevasion again. At times, this mechanic can make it feel some of the levels are a bit easy and that Gunvolt is invincible. So as cool as it is, it may affect the difficulty department of the game for some people. But of course the trade off being you are completely and utterly helpless if your EP meter runs out since you will start taking damage and cannot fight back. So it’s a double edged sword, and forces the player to always be mindful of their EP meter and not recklessly spend it attacking or needlessly taking hits, especially while attacking.
Lastly, with the help of Joules, or should I say Lumen, Gunvolt has one more trick up his sleeve. In the event of his death, at random she will activate a special ability where she sings to resurrect you and be invulnerable for an extended period of time. When I say extended period, I mean really extended. This seems to go on forever, to the point where it seems silly. I don’t mind that it happens or the music that plays, but when it happens it just makes the game inadvertently easy I find when playing regular stages. This mechanic for the boss fights however is much more welcome there which I’ll get into later on when I go into more detail about the games excellent boss fights.
Now you are probably thinking, WHAT THE HELL! This sounds very complicated! It does, at first. I thought the same, but when you get into the nitty gritty flow of things in Azure Striker Gunvolt, much to my surprise, all these mechanics play out very well. It sounds confusing and hard to keep track of, but it’s the exact opposite of that. I am able to easily bolt through and tag multiple enemies while dodging their attacks and take them out with ease. The learning curve for it all is not very demanding either. It all just works and doesn’t hinder any of the games fast paced actions like it sounds like it could. Even when you have hordes of enemies on screen and you are tagging multiple enemies and launching your Flashfield, it’s very easy to be able to track what’s happening and react to the enemies attacks accordingly.
The enemies you face are usually not too hard to take down, and for the most part are often repeated. The enemies are themselves are not bad and certain variations of them are fun and challenging to take on. It’s just they are not much variation, so you often keep running into the same ones over and over. So there’s nothing really new the games throws at you with enemy design. Mini bosses mix things up a bit as there are more variations of those being thrown in select parts of stages. Some have some interesting twists as you fight them and need to adjust your fighting style as needed. Overall, although fighting enemies was overall fun and satisfying, I wish there was just a little more variety in the design department.
Stages on the other hand are quite diverse and have some neat mechanics thrown into them every now and then. There are stages where sections are completely dark. Hitting certain coloured switches turns on certain coloured lights which in turn open their similarly coloured gates and also, awaken zombies! Other stages have you go through “mirrors” and flip the stage upside down. This requires some hard concentration to be able to navigate on platforms going up and down, or should I say down and up? The art work is also pretty distinct in each stage, so visually there is always something different to see. Stages also contain some hidden items that are key for certain story elements, so exploring them will reward players who are able to find them. There is also plenty of choices for stages, as throughout the entire game, you will encounter 16 stages.
The game also features a leveling system, inventory management, skill system and crafting. While leveling helps increase your HP to make taking on bosses easier, the inventory lacked some variety. There aren’t many weapons or gear, however the ones you do unlock provide some useful abilities, like being able to do more than 3 tags, or things like mid air jumps and dashes. These can be unlocked as you progress in the game or can be crafted from the dealer. You can equip skills that lend you abilities such as restoring health, or launch electric orbs around Gunvolt to damage enemies. These can come quite useful in intense boss fights and I found myself using them quite a bit. What I do like is the gear is quite balanced. There is no one piece of gear that you can equip that gives you all the abilities. Since you have a limited amount of slots to equip gear, you need to pick and choose which perks you really want. Also, some gear may provide perks, but also some draw backs, like the one below.
Visually the game looks great. The sprites used for Gunvolt, enemies and bosses look awesome and have a good amount of detail in them especially considering the 3DS’s low resolution. Animations are very well done and the colours used really make certain things like bosses stand out. There are some very cool looking animations used in pretty much all of the bosses attacks. There are also some great touches like when dashing, Azure has a fading shadow trailing behind him giving the sense of speed. Or when he’s standing idle, occasionally lightning is seen traveling from his feet to the floor. It’s all looks great. The 3D features in this game I found looked good, but I preferred to play with it off. I find games that have a HUD like this game does and several little projectiles, explosions etc. make using 3D a bit tough to differentiate things. It’s a very nice blend of retro style 2D graphics with modern effects and animations. So it looks and feels both new and retro.
One area I would criticize in the visual department is the in game HUD. For those of you who follow my work will know I am not a big fan of HUDs that clutter what you see in a game. Although the HUD elements are not distracting, and this game does a very good job of keeping your eyes on the action and enemies, there are certain elements of the HUD that are a bit too large or oddly placed. What this does is later in the game, there are boss fights where the left and right sides of the platform are pits that kill you if you fall down. The problem that arises is there is a skill meter and boss health meters on bottom left and right sides of the screen that conveniently block these pits. I found many times I would needlessly fall to my death, simply because it’s very hard to see these pits. It causes some frustration as some boss fights have multiple segments, and dying causes you do have to do each one again. With boss fights being quite challenging at times, it’s seems unfair when you die in a silly manner like this because the game obstructs your view.
The music and sound effects in Azure Striker Gunvolt are great. The music is always fast paced heart pumping techno styled music reminiscent of what you would hear from a classic Mega Man X game. Granted these are more electronic synth inspired compared to the rock/metal influenced tracks from it’s predecessors, but it still sounds great. There some cool sounding tunes and it always compliments the pace of what’s going on screen. These are especially great in the boss build ups and fights. Do do a great job of getting you pumped and ready to fight.
Where Azure Striker Gunvolt shines for me, is in it’s boss fights. Bosses are well designed, and have distinct and crazy personalities. They also all have very unique attacks and patterns that must be learned in order to survive, and fighting them is a blast. These were easily the most challenging parts of the game and is probably where I died the most. At moments the bosses let out special attacks which are incredibly hard to dodge at times, but the boss will always have an over dramatic intro to the move where the game pauses, and a picture of the boss is shown while they are frantically calling out the name of their move, kind of like something in Dragon Ball Z. These are all very nice touches that really help to keep building the momentum of the fights all the way to the very end. Just when you think you are about to take them down, they let out some devastating stuff at you. It never gets old when the climax builds up and the boss let’s loose their ultimate attack, “Lazy Laser!”. Yes, Lazy Laser, as ridiculous as that sounds, I couldn’t help but laugh, but then frantically panic as I had to doge barrage of lasers afterwards.
The game may initially lack some difficulty, but boss fights will truly challenge the player. If there’s one criticism I must provide, it’s the ease of access, which may turn off some players. If you are playing the 3DS version, there is no inclusion of a hard mode. What there is instead is a secret ending you must find, and through this path you unlocks an item that increases the difficulty. In a way, this is the games hard mode, it’s just not presented as a menu item that a player can easily select. So when you do the first ending, be warned, it sucks! But without spoiling it, there is a much better ending that also extends into one of the games best and most challenging boss fights. I would recommend that after you get the “bad” ending, don’t be shy to google how do get the true ending. Unfortunately the game has a very cryptic way of telling you what needs to be done, and doesn’t really hint that it’ll guarantee any result. What is neat is this is all tied into the story, and I understand why they did it this way, but I think what’s hidden behind this “unlockable” can be easily missed by players who may accidentally accept the “bad” ending and move on. It can leave a bad taste in players mouths. So I think people should know about this and this way they have the choice whether they want to research on how to get this, should it not be obvious at first.
I really loved Azure Striker Gunvolt and would highly recommend it to anyone, especially those who are fans of fast paced side scrolling action games. Despite some of the minor issues, the game is very fun and very fast paced. It’s very satisfying to dash through levels while tagging tons of enemies and letting the lighting loose on them. Along with the excellent visuals and music, the action moments are always very intense and very eye catching as there’s always a lot going on. Combine that with the insane boss fights and the challenges they bring to the table, it’s hard to put this game down once you get in the flow of things. Although it doesn’t do much to revolutionize the genre or bring anything super fresh to the table, it’s still a very solid action title that will last you anywhere between 5-10 hours. For $15 this is an excellent game. Now whether you choose to get the 3DS version or get it on Steam, that is a matter of preference. I played the 3DS version, and loved it being easily portable. For me, it has the big advantage of being easily accessible for quick pick up and play sessions, and you can come back to it later by simply closing the lid of the 3DS. However, from what I’ve read about the Steam version of the game, it has way more updates including a hard mode that probably the more hardcore players would prefer. Either way, you can’t go wrong with either version. Don’t pass this game up, it’s a hidden gem waiting to be found.