Sunday, April 5, 2020

Azure Striker Gunvolt Review

Long time readers know that I am a regular participant in Chic-Pixel's Community Game-Along events. With April's theme being Capcom games, I had a lot of options. For my first #CapcoMonth game, I selected Azure Striker Gunvolt. This game wasn't developed by Capcom itself, but by ex-Capcom employees at Inti Creates. Gunvolt is heavily inspired by Mega Man, which isn't among my favorite retro series, so I had previously looked the other way when Inti Creates decided to take their own spin on this style of game. However, after getting some hands-on time with one of the Gunvolt games on the show floor at MomoCon last year (impressions), I could immediately tell this was more than a simple Mega Man clone and the first game ended up on my Steam wishlist as soon as I got home.

Azure Striker Gunvolt is a 2D action game in the style of Mega Man. The game is comprised of action-platforming stages that culminate in a boss battle; the order that these stages are played is up to the player. However, unlike Mega Man, Gunvolt does not defeat his enemies purely by firing projectiles at them. Instead, he tags enemies with a needle gun that does minimal damage but increase's the target's electrical conductivity. He then emits an electric field that strikes down each tagged enemy with lightning. (You've probably figured out by now, why the main character is named "Gunvolt".) Azure Striker Gunvolt takes place in a dystopian cyberpunk setting with heavy anime influences. This review is based on the PC version of the game, which is available via Steam.

  • I really enjoyed the game's core mechanic. Loading up as many enemies as possible with conductive needles and then unleashing the electric field to zap them all at once was very satisfying.
  • For an otherwise pretty straightforward action game, it has a surprisingly involved story. While this story leans heavily into anime and comic book themes and tropes, I found it to be entertaining and a good way to break up the action. I would absolutely watch an anime series or movie with this cast of characters and setting.
  • This game has a kicking soundtrack that features synthy instrumental tracks for the general action as well as vocal electro-pop songs that play during certain story events or when certain criteria are met during gameplay. The vocal tracks are very catchy and would always get me hyped whenever they would come on.
  • Gunvolt has great 16-bit-like pixel art that is embellished with higher quality effects for certain elements like the electric field. This can make for a pretty chaotic display during the heat of battle, but I found that I really liked the way it looked once I learned to be able to keep track of the action. During dialog and cutscenes, characters are represented with nice-looking anime portraits in a visual novel-style presentation. 
  • As someone who struggled with some of the Mega Man games, I appreciated that Gunvolt adds several features that make getting through it a little more manageable:
    • Each level features multiple checkpoints including one right before the boss room. You can continue from these checkpoints as many times as you would like until you beat the level.
    • The game includes some light RPG mechanics that allow you to level up your character and upgrade his gear. I only made minimal use of this feature because I felt like the game's difficulty level wasn't high enough to necessitate replaying each level multiple times to grind for XP and crafting materials, but it's nice that it's an option for players who get stuck and want to increase their chances of success.
    • Every once in a while, an angel-like character will appear and resurrect you when you are about to die via a mechanic called "Anthem" (there's a justification in the game's story for why this occurs). In addition to resurrecting you, Anthem temporarily powers you up and changes the music to an especially catchy song. Sice Anthem occurs by random chance, it only triggered a few times for me during my playthrough, but it often saved my bacon during multiple-stage boss fights and the song that played added to the excitement of the battle.
  • Gunvolt has some dialog that takes place during gameplay. This dialog is voiced in Japanese and displays in textboxes with English subtitles. With how busy the screen can be in the midst of the action, I found this dialog to be very distracting and ultimately had to disable it. For example, in one case I had a character exclaim "Watch out for those spikes!" while I was platforming; the problem was that the dialog box displayed over the spikes, causing me not to see them and skewer my character as a result. Thankfully, the mid-action dialog didn't seem to be essential to the story, so I don't feel like I missed out on much by disabling it.
After loving the last Inti Creates game I played, Bloodstained (review), I was pleased to find that this studio had knocked in out of the park with another excellent 2D action platformer. I'm already looking forward to playing the next two games in this series! I highly recommend Azure Striker Gunvolt to anyone who enjoys retro-style action, even those who aren't fans of Mega Man, Gunvolt's source of inspiration.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 9 hours, 52 minutes (includes reaching both the "normal" and "true" ending)

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #CapcoMonth event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020

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