Azure Striker Gunvolt Review: Like a Bolt out of the Blue!
While we haven’t seen the Blue Bomber in a game of his own for quite some time, the minds behind Mega Man have been hard at work creating new titles to carry on the legacy of one of gaming’s finest. The recently released Azure Striker Gunvolt for the 3DS borrows aspects from the Mega Man X and Zero series and infuses enough new elements to give the game a classic but fresh feel. Inti Creates new boy in blue provides a solid, albeit slightly flawed, first outing.
At some point in the future, a handful of people begin to develop psychic powers. The non-powered populous begin to fear these gifted individuals, known as Adepts, and it doesn’t take long for someone to step in and try to round up and control the psychics. The Sumeragi Group set out to capture the Adepts, experimenting on them and bending them to their will.
Opposite of Sumeragi, is the resistance group QUILL, who want to put a stop to the conglomerate’s mistreatment of Adepts. A mission to invade one the Sumeragi Group’s headquarters is carried out, with our eponymous hero, the “Azure Blue” Adept known as Gunvolt, leading the charge. Using his ability to control lighting, Gunvolt fights his way deeper into the base in search of the source of a virtual Idol, Lumen, which the Sumeragi Group has been using to control the other Adepts.
What Gunvolt finds however, changes the course of his plans dramatically. As it turns out, Lumen isn’t a program as QUILL thought, but rather the psychic manifestation of a young girl named Joule. Not wanting to end the life of an innocent child, Gunvolt chooses to disobey his orders and escape the Sumeragi building with Joule in tow. With the girl safe and sound in Gunvolt’s care, he sets out on a new mission to take down the Sumeragi Group, one twisted psychic at a time.
The story is nothing particularly new, but it’s serviceable. The characters that Gunvolt runs into on his mission are tried and true tropes, but they’ve all got enough personality to make for an interesting cast nonetheless. There’s plenty of dialogue before missions and boss fights, but in a curious turn, the English release of the game doesn’t feature any voiceover work despite there being a preexisting Japanese dialogue track. You’ll still hear characters talk during fights, but the omission of even just the original VOs is little disappointing.
But let’s get to what I’m sure most people are interested in, the gameplay. I mentioned earlier that the game borrows some elements from Mega Man X and Zero. The game controls just as tight as its spiritual predecessors and features the ability to wall jump and with the appropriate upgrades, you’ll also be able to air dash and double jump. Where the game takes a slightly different turn is in the way you’ll be taking down your foes.
Instead of just gunning down enemies with an arm cannon or special power ups, Gunvolt uses his handgun to shoot and tag enemies. Once tagged, he can then unleash a lightning aura around himself that will lash out at enemies and environmental hazards. As you clear missions, you’ll pick up new bullet types that have allow for more tags, rapid fire options, or other special effects. Additionally, as you level up by defeating enemies, Gunvolt unlock special moves that will do a quick cutaway animation and then unleash big flash effects like surrounding him with giant lightning orbs, restoring some of his health, or creating powerful screen clearing attacks like massive electric swords or a series of chains.
The whole tagging and shocking system works really well and is balanced out by your Septima gauge, essentially a power meter, which will slowly deplete during continued use of Gunvolt’s powers but will replenish overtime when not in use. The different bullet types are interesting, but I honestly found myself using the initial Cerberus bullet for most of the game, though a few of the last ones you can unlock have some neat mini-turret and ricochet effects.
The main enemy roster is pretty varied, though you will see some of the same basic foot soldier type enemies and floating turrets on a regular basis. The bosses are the real show stoppers in this game. Each of them has a three tiered life bar and as you polish off a segment, they add bigger and stronger attacks, eventually including a crazy powerful cutaway move of their own when they reach the final section of their life bar. In traditional Mega Man fashion, you can tackle the bosses in any order, though since you don’t get major power ups or skills that are effective against the other bosses, you can pretty much tackle them in whatever order you please.
Another interesting element in the game is connected to your relationship with Joule. Before missions, you can talk to her and strengthen your relationship (think big brother and little sister kind of parallel). By doing so, you can sometimes cause a special feature to kick in during missions where if you die, you’ll be auto-revived with enhanced Septima abilities thanks to the power of Lumen’s songs. Like a plot point straight out of Macross, the power of J-pop will give you renewed strength to take down your foes, though letting this ability activate tends to mean that your rating at the end of the level will fall on the lower end of the alphabet.
While the story can be beaten in about 4 or 5 hours, the game is designed around replayablity. Once you’ve cleared a stage, you can then select up to three challenges to attempt while replaying the level. These range from things like beating the level in a certain amount of time, achieving a certain rating at the end of the mission, or destroying a set number of certain enemies. Clearing these challenges will net you items you can use to craft new gear from the shop which includes things like increased armor, faster Septima recharge, or enhanced dash and jumping skills. There are also gems hidden in each of the main levels which you can give to Joule as a gift. I recommend you find all of them if you want to get the game’s true ending (hint, hint).
All in all, Azure Striker Gunvolt is a fun game with a classic charm to it. While it’s short, you’ll find yourself replaying levels to beat challenges or hunt down gems. The writing is a bit hit or miss in spots, particularly the strange use of “altered” curse words, but has its charming moments. The soundtrack is a nice listen, though nothing really sticks out or is particularly memorable. It would have been nice if the English versions of the game had at least kept the Japanese voiceovers, but that’s a minor complaint at best. If you’re a fan of Mega Man X or Mega Man Zero, be sure to give this one a try. If you’ve played neither of those series (shame on you), I imagine you’ll still find plenty to enjoy. Here’s to hoping that we’ll see more of the Azure Blue Adept in the future!