Review: Azure Striker Gunvolt

It’s not your grandparents’ platformer!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/22/2014 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Unique shooter mechanics; Lightning fast gameplay; Beautiful graphics and design work; Fully-realized game world and characters
Poison Mushroom for...
Character customization requires too much grinding; Localization is strong, but the story is hard to follow at times

Don’t call it a nostalgia trip.

Not that the game doesn’t have its share of old-school in its blood. Azure Striker Gunvolt does indeed harken back to the classic 2D shooter-platfomers of old, with luscious pixel art and blistering, challenging gameplay. That being said, to saddle Gunvolt with the abysmally overused and often lazy descriptor of nostalgia would be doing the game a disservice. Longtime players will certainly see flashes of Mega Man X in Gunvolt, but developer Inti Creates’ newest title has a lot more in common with its Mega Man ZX games from back on DS than anything else. Gunvolt, though a spiritual successor, is born from all the innovation and advancement that the Mega Man series saw between Mega Man X all the way through to Mega Man ZX Advent. Gunvolt is as much retro as it is progressive, and as such is a very modern 2D game.

The plot is front and center throughout the game. Protagonist Gunvolt, for whom the game is named, is a being who can control lightning with his Azure Striker powers. Gunvolt works with the organization QUILL, whose goal is to eliminate the evil Sumeragi Group. As far as stories go, Gunvolt isn’t half bad. I enjoyed the interplay between Gunvolt and his comrades Gino and Michelle (the localization is top notch), but Inti fumbles the ball a bit outside of the generally snappy banter. Too often, crucial plot details are either left out or barely touched upon, making it hard to keep track of character motivations and why certain things are happening. It would be more forgivable if the story wasn’t so ever-present throughout, but with the high profile the narrative has, Inti should have made everything easier to follow.

Still, the plot isn’t indecipherable, and it’s more than compensated for by Gunvolt‘s excellent gameplay. Shooting is a big part of the action, but it’s Gunvolt’s electrical abilities that make everything shine. Enemies need to be shot in order to weaken their defenses, which in turn leaves them susceptible to Gunvolt’s bursts of lightning. The energy radiates out of him in great arcs, zeroing in on enemies with deadly precision. The combination of shooting and shocking made combat feel a lot smarter than the average run and gun game. Inti also designed Gunvolt’s electrical powers to be used for exploring the environment, with the player utilizing them to magnetically pull platforms and levitate toward ceilings to avoid hazards. The boss battles are the real highlights for combat, though, where Gunvolt takes on a Sumeragi Swordsman at the end of each mission.

The Swordsmen wield different abilities and employ a variety of attacks and attack patterns during boss fights. Gunvolt isn’t afraid to make the player work for a win, and I found myself being unusually methodical while trying to suss out how to take down each boss. For someone who tends to just blast the heck out of enemies in a game, I was pleased to have to think a little. The Swordsmen are certainly hardy foes, but the game does a fine job of allowing players to customize and upgrade Gunvolt to meet any challenge. Defeating enemies levels Gunvolt up, and material rounded up during missions can be used to further modify Gunvolt’s stats via new gear and abilities. The biggest drawback to this customization, however, is the scarcity of the material needed to do so. Players will have to grind missions over and over to accumulate the necessary components. The game is good fun, so it’s not much of a punishment to replay levels, but I think Inti was a bit unreasonable about how hard it makes the player work to maximize Gunvolt.

If Inti stumbled a tad with character customization, the developer makes up for it with Gunvolt‘s spectacular visual and level design. The game has a pulpy sci-fi feel throughout, with sprawling, futuristic environments serving as the backdrop to QUILL and Sumeragi’s clandestine interactions. Gunvolt as a character is perfectly realized, taking just enough from Zero of the Mega Man games while injecting unique characteristics to establish his own distinct identity. The Swordsmen are all very well designed, with the magnetic Carrera and the light-imbued Jota particular standouts. Gunvolt has such a fully fleshed out world that it lends a great deal of weight to the game. I didn’t feel like I was playing with a bunch of cardboard cutouts, but instead actual characters, and it made the adventure that much meatier as a result. Not a small feat for a rookie series’ inaugural outing!

Gunvolt isn’t an especially long game, but the hours I spent playing were devoid of any filler. The title is fast, potent, and ridiculously engaging. Inti Creates has made something to be proud of with Gunvolt. It’s a 2D shooter-platformer that has one eye on the past and the other on the present, coalescing to form a game that firmly takes the genre another step forward into the future. Gunvolt will appeal to retro enthusiasts and everyday players alike, though anyone who sits down to experience it should be prepared to up his or her game to see the ending. Though Inti missed the mark a bit with Gunvolt‘s customization and storytelling, this is an eShop title that anyone with a 3DS should go and download. Like I said, though, just don’t call it a nostalgia trip– Gunvolt is a heck of a lot more than that.

Bonus Review: Mighty Gunvolt

Early adopters of Azure Striker Gunvolt are being given free download codes for the throwback title Mighty Gunvolt! It’s easy to miss, as the code appears on the digital receipt that comes with every eShop game sold– find it in your purchase history. Like Shovel Knight and Cave Story, Mighty Gunvolt features 8-bit visuals that draw heavily from the NES era of gaming. It’s also very short. The game features a handful of levels to complete and a trio of heroes: Gunvolt, Beck (from Mighty No.9 and making his first playable appearance anywhere!), and Ekoro from Inti’s Japan-only shooter GalGun.

Mighty Gunvolt is a more deliberate homage to Capcom’s NES Mega Man games than its parent title, and it’s a very good one, at that. Each character controls differently, making it more than worth it to play through the game three times, given its brevity. It also has a hilarious, intentionally bad translation, which is something that plagued NES and SNES games from Japan. As a standalone title, Mighty Gunvolt is a brief but fun 2D shooter-platformer that is a wonderful companion to Gunvolt. Be sure not to miss it, the promotion ends November 28!

The Final Grade: B

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