Mega Man has inspired more games that its humanoid protagonist could probably remember. Its iconic gameplay style and platforming mechanics have been adopted by a majority of the 2D games that came after it.
So when you come across a game which allows you to choose your mission, is placed in a brightly colored 2D setting, allows you to fight machines and dodge environmental hazards until you reach a boss fight, which takes place in a single screen, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a Mega Man game. Oh, did we mention you also get a new weapon every time you beat a boss? So yes, inspite of it being similar in multiple ways to the classic, Azure Striker: Gunvolt has a lot of personality of its own. It takes the broad outline of certain elements from the Mega Man franchise, and colors within it some incredible visuals, great presentation, innovative gameplay mechanics and fast paced action. The resulting game is a fun, refreshing take on the 2D shooter, even if it isn’t the most difficult game you might have ever played.
Gunvolt’s story brings together elements from various corners of pop culture and puts the oppressed people with special powers up against the evil, power-hungry corporation. The people with special powers here are called adepts, and have psychic powers and other abilities, and the evil corporation is the Sumeragi group, which has monopolized the energy supply of the world. Sumeragi is using the adepts in its captivity to strike fear into the hearts of those who want to rise up against it. Our hero, Gunvolt, is an adept who has the power to harness electricity, and he has just broken out of Sumeragi’s captivity. Gunvolt has initiated a resistance by forming a group called QUILL, and is now looking to end Sumeragi’s reign of terror. The story is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s brought alive by a bunch of dynamic characters and lively action.
The Game Play:
The action is suitably different however, since you are basically shooting tags that fire electricity at your enemies, instead of simply running and gunning. Gunvolt has a Flashfield, which is a spherical field that envelops him and is the source of his electrical powers. You can’t overuse your electricity powers, or EP, as the game calls them since you have a finite amount. Once you have run out, you’ll have to wait a few seconds before it begins recharging. If you haven’t overheated your Flashfield, you can also recharge your EP by tapping the D-pad. This is tricky to manage when you’re in the thick of the action, so be wary.
Azure Striker rewards level progression by giving you a ranking and rewards corresponding to how well you performed. You also can collect medallions from different parts of a level. These rankings and medallions can be used to unlock squares on a grid. Each grid represents different materials that you can use to forge new equipment and weapons that enhance and add to Gunvolt’s powers. These upgrades make exploring a level thoroughly worth it, because it’s a lot of fun to send Gunvolt into battle armed with more destructive power.
As mentioned before, you gain access to a new gun after you’ve beaten a boss. These aren’t traditional guns however, as they only modify how your tags can travel through the environment, and how many you can have on screen at a given time. Some players might want to explore the gameplay diversity that these weapons give you, but for the most part you are better off upgrading your Flashfield. The game rewards you for chaining together kill streaks and consecutive attacks by increasing the experience you gain as a result of the combo. Higher levels give you access to more powerful attacks and defensive skills. Some of these abilities are extremely powerful, and one of them is capable of halving a boss’ hitpoints in one shot. But you only have 3 skill points and they don’t recharge too quickly, so you have to use them wisely, since some skills require two skill points to cast.
Other than the boss fights, which are suitably epic, Azure Striker isn’t the most challenging 2D side scroller. Experienced players will be able to breeze through the game pretty easily once they’ve figured out the basic mechanics. There are some trials you can undertake if you want to get your hands on rare materials, and these provide a good challenge. Completing these trials, more than beating the game itself, is the actual indicator of an increase in both the player’s ability and Gunvolt’s power.
Azure Striker: Gunvolt is a lot of fun while it lasts, which is not too long. Most levels will take you no longer than 10 minutes after you’ve gotten used to using Gunvolt’s different powers. There are about a dozen total levels, and even if you scour every inch of them, you’ll run out of things to do quite quickly. The only replay value the game really provides is the promise of better weaponry and upgrades if you want to look for every single hidden treasure and complete all of the challenges. This doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally want to blast enemies with some electricity bolts after you’ve finished the game, but the dearth of content is unfortunate for a premise that had so much potential.