After recently playing through the emotional roller coaster that is The Last Of Us and patiently waiting for Destiny to come out (T-minus three days at time of writing), I’ve been looking for something short to play. When Comcept, the creators of Mighty No. 9 that I backed on Kickstarter, told me about Azure Striker Gunvolt, I decided to give it a go, figuring I could beat it over the weekend.
I’ve done that… actually, I beat it in an afternoon, but here’s the gist of it — Azure Striker Gunvolt is my second favorite retro-themed platformer for 3DS this year (first place goes to Shovel Knight). I promise I’m done with the links.
- TL;DR: A flashback to the glory days of Mega Man with a very interesting mechanic and a few not-fully-realized pieces
- Platform: 3DS
- Score: 7.9
- Hours Played: 5
- What I Played: Main campaign with Gunvolt
- Recommended?: For hardcore Mega Man fans and leaderboard chasers.
Azure Striker Gunvolt, easily the most Japanese-sounding game I’ve played in recent memory, places you in the shoes of Gunvolt, the Azure Striker (get it?). An evil corporation is trying to take over the world by mind-controlling all those gifted with mental powers called adepts. Gunvolt, a weapon-for-hire, tries to save the world by not only rescuing the damsel in distress but facing the evil CEO.
World domination, evil corporation, blah blah blah. Azure Striker Gunvolt isn’t exactly story driven, which is a good thing since the entire game can be beat in a single afternoon, like I did. Seriously, five hours is all it takes. For the $15 it takes to download off the 3DS eShop, this is definitely a shorter game than I had hoped for.
It’s only natural to talk about the similarities between Azure Striker Gunvolt and the Mega Man series. The head man at Inti Creates, Keiji Inafune, is the father of both. Gameplay-wise, ASG takes a big old page from the Blue Bomber. Gunvolt has a gun in/as one hand. He can also dash and wall jump to avoid the pits, spikes, and robotic enemies trying to kill him, but the main gameplay element differs from Mega Man entirely. Gunvolt’s gun’s main purpose isn’t killing, although it does a small bit of damage. It’s main use is tagging things for his main ability: flash.
Shooting an enemy with with Gunvolt’s gun tags it. He can then unleash his flash to constantly shock all tagged enemies. This is the main offensive mechanic in Azure Striker Gunvolt and it really doesn’t get old. Not only does flash do your damage, it can also destroy incoming projectiles and causes Gunvolt to float, allowing you to hover over enemy shots or reach farther distances on your jumps.
Back to the Mega Man inspiration — each stage is set in a unique environment (underwater, forest, underground cave) and ends with a boss that has unique abilities. Most of these bosses give you a new gun to use, but it’s not an alternate fire mode. It’s more of a weapon swap, similar to the Mega Man Zero games for Game Boy Advance, that modify Gunvolt’s gun. One gun allows for more targets while another shoots out terrain-crawling target orbs. I used the same weapon throughout the game. Most of them seemed gimmicky at best.
Gunvolt can equip more gear than just his gun. There are four other equipment slots which require crafting to fill. Unfortunately, my playthrough netted me a grand total of zero crafted items. Even with finding materials mid-stage and the post-stage random loot drop, I wasn’t able to craft a single piece. I think Inti Creates is banking on people going back and replaying levels over and over for leaderboard glory to get enough materials to craft with, but it seems strange to add a modern touch of gear crafting to a tried-and-true game formula while making it all but unusable.
They must be, as each kill adds to a multiplier and overall score shown at the end of each stage, along with your time and letter ranking. I’m not usually one to go back and try to beat my time on a level just for the hell of it, so that portion was all but lost on me.
Gunvolt has a few more tricks up his sleeve in the form of special abilities. No, these aren’t the Mega Man-style boss abilities which, given how cool the bosses are, would be AWESOME. Instead, they are a small set of abilities that use the skill “ammo” you see on the bottom left of the picture above. The skills vary from attacking nearby enemies to extending a huge sword, as well as HP and energy regeneration. I almost exclusively used the HP regen skill, since I was able to do plenty of damage just by tagging and flashing. These abilities are unlocked as Gunvolt levels up, which I’m not sure has any other effect other than increasing your HP by the slightest bit each time.
Visually, Azure Striker Gunvolt is strikingly similar to Project X Zone (ok, now I’m done with the linking). Spritey and pixellated with just enough flashing lights and chaos to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The sound is great, although any voice acting is in Japanese. I read that much of the voice acting was stripped out due to lack of localization, which is unfortunate because that would have been a nice addition. As far as replay value is concerned, I already mentioned the per-stage timing and ranking system along with crafting. You can also play as two alternate characters, including Beck from the upcoming Mighty No. 9, which I might go back and do later on.
All in all, I enjoyed Azure Striker Gunvolt. It’s not every day that you can buy a game at noon and have it finished by dinnertime. While it was short, Azure Striker Gunvolt hit all the right notes as far as difficulty, stage speed, and new combat mechanics are concerned. Using a primarily defensive system in an action-oriented game is a very cool touch. There are some unfinished pieces, like the crafting system, but there is enough reason to replay and max out Gunvolt if you so choose. This is a good appetizer for what I hope Mighty No. 9 will be when it releases next year.