Azure Striker Gunvolt is often considered to be the “true” Mega Man successor. Mega Man had its ups and downs, so let’s see how Gunvolt fares against all the other games trying to claim that title.
The story is about the “Azure Striker” called “Gunvolt”, an Adept who can control and absorb electricity. Adepts are people with special abilities thanks to the use of their “septimal powers”. The “Sumeragi Group”, known for bringing peace and amazing technological advancements to the world, kidnap behind the scenes, experiment upon and brainwash Adepts for their own needs. The terrorist organization known as “QUILL”, of which Gunvolt is part of, strives for bringing these dirty secrets to the public and showing everyone what Sumeragi really does. Gunvolt, a former prisoner of Sumeragi, escaped thanks to the leader of QUILL called Asimov and has been part of the group ever since.
At the start of the game, Gunvolt gets willingly captured by Sumeragi and brought to an interrogation cell, where he is tortured with electricity. After the Azure Striker knows the location of “the Muse”, a system that uses audio waves to control Adepts, he breaks free from the cell and pursues the train on which the Muse is transported on. As he reaches it, he realizes that the Muse is in truth hidden within the body of another Adept experiment, a girl named Joule. Joule herself doesn’t have powers but Lumen, an Adept sealed within Joule, has the power to influence Adepts by singing. Gunvolt ignores the kill order from QUILL and takes her with him to his apartment, leaving QUILL in the process.
After the mission, he contacts QUILL to work for them as a mercenary. With their help, Gunvolt sets out to kill several agents of Sumeragi and weaken them enough to take them and their leader, Nova, down for good.
The story is certainly more similar to the likes of Mega Man Zero instead of Mega Man classic. It is told in cut scenes outside of the stages and there is a certain sense of urgency to the stages, which I really enjoyed. There are a total of 11 stages in the game, the intro stage, six “Sumeragi Agent” stages, one stage that unlocks after you defeat a certain amount of agents and finally the five final stages, four if you don’t go for the secret ending.
I really enjoyed the story as it reminded me a lot of the dark plot of Mega Man Zero 1-4. The true final boss is obvious from a mile away though and the way to unlock said final boss is misleading and annoying. You have to collect seven jewels found in seven stages, two of which are somewhat hard to find, then you have to talk to Joule in your base after completing the game once, watching the bad ending again and then talk to her again once you finished the game, get a necklace, equip it and complete the game once more.
Question: Is the true ending worth the trouble? Yes, the jewels are fairly easy to collect and the true ending, while implying a sequel, has a finishing vibe to it. The true final boss is pretty entertaining to fight too.
This is the kind of story I like to see in a game like this, though the developer really has to get away from that “obvious final boss” cliche and maybe some more violence would be beneficial to a world like this, not in a sense that we need more blood but simply violence in form of characters showing that they’re injured or exhausted.
As this is called the spiritual successor to Mega Man, you can expect a 2D jump&run gameplay with shooting. However, that’s not the only thing you do in this game as your gun is only your supportive weapon. Gunvolt has the ability, also his primary weapon, to create a large electric field around himself that, if an enemy was tagged with gunshots, strikes them with lightning. You can, depending on the gun, tag one enemy up to three times to multiply the damage. Creating that force field is using Gunvolts power and if you use it continuously or use abilities that require big chunks of energy repeatedly, Gunvolt eventually overheats making him unable to access his power until he recharges. Luckily you can manually recharge by pressing down twice but you can’t do it while moving or overheating. Gunvolt has some abilities that don’t involve energy which include dashing, jumping and shooting. He doesn’t necessarily has to use them to complete the stage but the boss enemies often require full use of all your skills as they only get stronger the more damage they receive. Each boss has three bars of health, once one bar is drained the boss will unlock at least one new ability and if they reach the final bar, they will use their ultimate ability that often results in a quick death if you don’t dodge it. These ultimate attacks make the fights unnecessarily frustrating as you die to the one-hit-kill ultimate attacks and their unpredictability instead of the lack of actual skill. Thankfully, there aren’t any extra lives so you can retry as many times as you wish.
The stages themselves are split into two parts and each stage offers a unique trait like jump-boosting energy rings or mirror portals. At the end of the stage there will be a boss enemy waiting for you who, once you defeat him, gives you a new gun or skill to use. You can change your weapon and gear during the game at all times. You can also equip Gunvolt with gear, including upgrade spots for both eyes, a ring and a pendant. You can craft these upgrades with items you get after you complete a stage. After you finish a stage, you’re offered with a table of hidden items within boxes. The amount of how many boxes you can open is determined by your rating at the end of a stage and how many medallions you collected. Gunvolt also has a health bar which increases if you level up by killing enemies, your level also influences how long you can keep up your electric charge.
Skills are additional abilities that Gunvolt can use during the game that regenerate very slowly over time. These skills can be in form of something as simple as regenerating some health or something awesome like spawning a giant sword in front of you.
You can only change your skills in your apartment, which is your hub for choosing to which stage you want to go to, as all stages are always playable even if you finished them already. You can talk to Joule and give her jewels to unlock the true ending, accept challenges with which you can receive more items as a reward, save the game which is necessary as there is no auto-save, view your playlog etc..
Bringing it back the jewels: The placement of these jewels is usually very smart. The hard ones to reach are found near checkpoints while those that are easier to get are often near the end. If you fail, you can always retry from the last checkpoint and as the level design is sometimes very simple, you can pass through the levels fairly quickly. If you die during a boss battle, there is a small chance that the Adept persona of Joule awakens and, with the power of Japanese pop songs, revives Gunvolt and gives him super powers. Trust me on this: It is not as awkward as you think.
I personally would have liked a bit more variation in attacking enemies like having a gun that has a use as a primary weapon and using electricity to support or having electricity as both, primary weapon and supportive weapon. Also, having a bit more creative level design would have also been great, among my favorites were “Sinner’s Road” and “Media Tower” but some stages are a bit too traditional.
Graphically, the game looks solid and it will age very well. However, this game doesn’t use the 3D capability for anything except for dialogues. The backgrounds look very good but more details would have been greatly appreciated like cars driving in the background or fireworks, anything including effects really. The character sprites look neat but most special effects only look slightly better than a DS game. This game looks good, but it could have been better sometimes, though a good art design and timeless graphics are more important than flashy eye-candy.
Musically, this soundtrack is on the same level as a good Mega Man game with some very catchy tunes. Not all tracks are memorable but you can hear that the majority of the soundtrack is very inspired by the Mega Man games, much to my liking. The Japanese songs are good too and I still listen to some of them from time to time, though the songs without lyrics are better.
What is this game doing good for its genre?
It’s a very good 2D jump&gun game with an engaging story. The world is surprisingly well thought out, I want to see more of it and its dark themes. The gameplay is fun and fast paced. The bosses, while one-dimensional, are interesting. The graphics are timeless and the soundtrack is pretty good. There is a variety of ways to play this game thanks to crafting, challenges and skills. When it comes to innovating this somewhat stagnating sub-genre, this game is on a very good track.
What could have been improved?
The story could have handled the way, how the true story is achieved, a bit better by throwing jewels out the window.
The graphics could have been better by adding more things in the background.
The gameplay could have used a lot more variation when it comes to the primary weapon and the crafting system could benefit from a bit more complexity.
Some bosses are just annoying and frustrating, which could have easily been prevented by making their ultimate attacks not kill on a single hit.
The level design should have been more unique at times.
I agree with the statement that “Azure Striker Gunvolt” is the true successor to the Mega Man franchise, Mega Man Zero in particular. With that said, this game has flaws. It attempts to bring in innovations that aren’t used to their full potential yet, the developer is on the right track though.
Be careful about the nature of this title, as you can complete it in around 2-5 hours. The difficulty is mostly fair as your death is caused by your own lack of skill, except when it comes to the frustrating boss designs.
Tested on: 3DS