Azure Striker Gunvolt is an action sidescroller by Inti Creates, a studio that has been working on Mega Man games for quite some time, now. As such, it’s no surprise that their most recent offering has a similar feel–especially considering the man himself, Keiji Inafune, was brought on as the, “Action Director,” of the game. That was all I had to hear, and I was instantly sold on giving the game a try. But should you?
As far as first impressions go, Gunvolt is far from disappointing. Retro-styled sprites, well-rendered backgrounds, and a decidedly 90s character aesthetic were the first things to greet me, and I welcomed them with open arms. The music reminded me straight away of Mega Man X, which is definitely a compliment. Additionally, the dialogue in the opening seemed like it was translated well, which is always nice to see.
Drawing another parallel to Mega Man X, the gameplay has a strikingly similar feel to it–the animations for jumping and shooting seeming almost identical. Additionally, the mission select is similar as well, allowing you to start any one of the missions from the game’s outset, which mirrors X’s non-linearity. Having this many correlations with an older game is usually a bad thing, but it’s clear that ASG is a love letter to retro sidescrollers, and it accomplishes its goals quite handily.
It sets itself apart, however, with its Flashfield mechanic. The guns you wield in ASG shoot little metal bits at your opponents, tagging them up to 3 times each. The projectiles themselves do minimal damage, but after tagging an enemy, you can hit them with your electric Flashfield, shocking them to death. Its a simple mechanic, but it lends itself pretty well to the experience, and after only a small amount of time getting used to it, it becomes second nature.
The bosses in this game are awesome, I have to say. At the end of every level, you fight one of the rogue Adepts working for Sumeragi, the ‘big bad’ of the game. They each have their own mechanics, and are all vastly different and unique from one another, which is refreshing. I can still remember the annoying laugh of one of the bosses as she shot shurikens and plasma bursts at me, and how relieved I was when I finally trounced her ass.
The story in Gunvolt is interesting enough, if a bit barebones. Essentially, there’s an evil corporation utilizing Adepts, (basically mutants with superpowers) for their own dastardly, bastardly needs. You play as Gunvolt, an Adept who works with the rebel group, QUILL. The narrative surprised me a bit with how adult-oriented some bits were, but it’s ultimately somewhat dull–perhaps a symptom of the fact that a majority of the game’s dialogue was cut for the English release.
On that note, let’s talk about the bad. Gunvolt has an crafting system, allowing you to make items to equip. However, none of the items are really that influential or necessary, and it just ends up feeling like a tacked-on gimmick. There was a lot of potential for some gameplay customization from the gear you were wearing, but instead, the items you craft offer boring, static stat boosts.
And, as if the icing on the poop cake, components for some of these items are offensively rare. So even if you wanted to craft them, it’s pretty difficult to do so.
Next on the chopping block are the touch-screen functions. Basically, you have four skills that are mapped to your touch screen, and you can swap them out from your base menu. There are a few really baffling ideas involved here. First off, having to quickly tap an icon on your touch screen while you’re dodging projectiles, or jumping to use your skill on an airborne enemy, is a completely obtuse design choice. It never feels right, and there are even a few unused buttons that are mapped to multiple things. They could have easily had a button for skill usage.
Second of all, the leveling system is how you unlock skills, but it also grants you more HP, so you’re less likely to die. However, level grinding just for HP doesn’t feel particularly rewarding. I found myself using the same few skills I learned in the early game for the entire 5-6 hours it took me to beat it, anyway. I would have liked for leveling up to possibly affect the amount of skill points I had for a mission, or maybe contribute to my stats in some meaningful way. Or maybe even have a rudimentary perk system? There were so many things they could have done with the leveling mechanic, but as it stands, it feels stagnant.
Unfortunately, there’s more. The non-boss enemy designs aren’t bad, necessarily, but after you see the same enemies in every stage for the entire run of the game, it starts to get a little aggravating. Not to mention the fact that most of the difficulty in ASG was from the bosses alone, making fighting your way through the later stages more of a chore than a delight, considering you’re blasting the same enemies as you were on level one. Mega Man X was so well-received in part because of its varied level designs, and the fact that each stage had enemies unique to it. Gunvolt cannot say the same, sadly.
My final complaint with Azure Striker Gunvolt is the ending. Without getting into spoiler territory too much, there are two endings to the game. The bad ending you get from your first time completing the game, and it is very bad. So bad. The worst part about this is that it isn’t obvious how to get the good ending, and its frustrating to have to go online just to figure out how to enjoy the game’s story to its fullest. It brings to mind another retro game–Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Wanna advance in the story? Better have a friend that knows the secret, or look it up, because the game doesn’t tell you crap.
In closing, Azure Striker Gunvolt isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s pretty damn fun. The music is bumpin’, the graphics are good, and it feels a lot like an old Mega Man game. Unfortunately, there were some pretty flawed design choices that went into the final release, but they don’t stop it from being a fast, entertaining romp throughout. They just sit there, lingering. Reminding you of what could have been.
Azure Striker Gunvolt was reviewed on using a code provided by Inti Creates. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.