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With Mega Man on hiatus and Mighty No. 9 still a ways off from release, now is the perfect time for another blue-clad hero to come to the rescue for fans in the mood for side-scrolling shooting and platforming action. But can the 3DS’ Azure Striker: Gunvolt answer the call?
Developed by Inti Creates and some of the folks responsible for games within the Mega Man X series, it’s no surprise that Azure Striker: Gunvolt wears its Blue Bomber inspirations so proudly on its sleeve. Thankfully, the game is quite a bit more than just an homage, offering up its own unique mechanics, characters and world for players to get to know.
Azure Striker’s narrative is pretty straightforward, which falls in line nicely with similar titles from the SNES era. You take on the role of the titular Gunvolt, a youngster who has the ability to control electricity with an ability called the Flashfield. His gun of choice is weak sauce, firing tags that do very little damage. These tags, though, are basically metal anchors for Gunvolt to shock the hell out of. Originally equipped with three tags, you can spread them across multiple enemies to do light damage to several foes, or pump a full clip into one baddie in order to put on a real hurt. Just tag em, then hold down the R button to let the sparks fly.
Your Flashfield serves a couple of other purposes, too. It slows down movement, which can be helpful in trickier platforming areas. It also does light damage to any enemy silly enough to get close to you while you’re triggering it, and it can destroy some incoming projectiles. You have to be careful not to overhead the Flashfield, though, or you’ll be left extremely vulnerable while it cools off. A quick double tap on the down button, however, means that a watchful eye and a second of recharge will keep you safe.
Otherwise, Gunvolt has a surprising number of extra abilities. He can dash with the tap of the L button and unleash an array of supports via the touchscreen. These support abilities are customizable, and range from area clearing attacks to health boosts or faster Flashfield gauge refills. You can also customize Gunvolt’s equipment, wearing a ring that gives him a double or triple jump, etc.
And you’ll need that arsenal if you’re hoping to take down the Sumeragi Group. The game takes place in a world where, much like Marvel’s mutant population, folks have started popping up with the ability to affect the world around them. The electricity-infused Gunvolt is one such “adept,” and his enemies will have control over light, fire and even the ability to bend reality. During the game’s opening mission, Gunvolt discovers another adept named Joule. The Sumeragi Group has been holding her captive as a muse, with the ability to sing songs that have an effect on other adepts. Refusing to carry out a kill order from his own organization, Quill, Gunvolt decides to save Joule and go freelance with his quest for justics.
Similar to a Mega Man game, Gunvolt features six main stages that the player can tackle in any order. Other than the opening level, there are also a middle and end chapter tacked on for good measure. The enemies are varied enough to challenge your progress and the bosses are an absolute treat to fight. Like games of old, you’ll be rewarded for memory and patter recognition, which you will then exploit to make your enemies pay.
The game looks great, sounds great, and even though it sports a rather short initial runtime, it’s basically built for the speedrunning crowd. You’ll get graded at the end of each mission and, depending on how well you do, earn resources to build new gear. Leveling up also grants you new abilities and mods to make your gun fire differently, so you’ll want to keep diving back in for better runs in order to get some spiffy gear. You can even augment the challenge before diving into a level with player controlled extra requirements, giving you the chance to push your skills to the limit at your own pace.
As if that weren’t enough, you also get a free mini-game thrown in as a separate download for a limited time. If you buy Azure Striker: Gunvolt between now and late November, you’ll get a copy of Mighty Gunvolt at no extra charge. If Azure Striker is an homage to classic side-scrolling action games, then Mighty Gunvolt is a flat-out love letter, complete with 8-bit aesthetics and a chiptune soundtrack. It’s short, but it’s also a lot of fun and thrown in at no additional charge, so boot it up and enjoy.
Coming so close on the heels of Shovel Knight, I’m more or less ecstatic to play another game that apes its inspirations so well while simultaneously managing to stand on its own two feet. Azure Striker: Gunvolt helps remind me why I fell in love with video games all those years ago, as well as remind me why I still love them to this day. It’s a nice mix of two generations and, if you’re gaming on the 3DS, you should definitely give it a shot. Like Mega Man before him, here’s hoping that Gunvolt is destined for a long and exciting ride.
Developer: Inti Creates
Publisher: Inti Creates