Doing the Electric Slide
Azure Striker Gunvolt is an original 2D platformer from the team that developed the Mega Man Zero series. At first glance, this game looks like a Mega Man clone with its blue protagonist and sidescrolling sci-fi stages. Its distinguishing mechanic – tagging enemies to electrocute them all at once – sets it apart as a fast-paced, kinetic shooter.
You play as Gunvolt, an “adept” superhuman who sets forth to stop the Sumeragi Group’s villainous adepts. Aside from a few plot twists, the story is fairly generic, even by anime standards. The gameplay makes up for it, offering a unique take on a familiar genre. Unlike Mega Man and other games of its ilk, Gunvolt can’t merely shoot his enemies down. Rather, his bullets tag enemies, locking them in for an attack. Gunvolt then creates a massive electrical field, or Flashfield, electrocuting any tagged foes. You can tag multiple enemies at once or a single enemy multiple times, intensifying the damage.
This unorthodox method of attack affects the gameplay significantly. Instead of having a shootout with an enemy, you can instead run through stages, tagging and electrocuting groups of foes. Combined with the ability to infinitely dash, the game is a literal rush to experience. Although you have to refill your energy to prevent overheating, the action otherwise rarely slows down. Gunvolt is made for speedrunning, and the game even has built-in modes for it.
Besides harming enemies, the Flashfield also has some creative uses. For instance, the Flashfield slows your descent in midair. It also acts as a barrier in certain dangerous areas. The varied level design ensure that the Flashfield mechanic stays fresh. Although there are numerous sections that are simply long corridors of enemies to blaze past, there are also interesting features littered throughout. Electric-powered moving platforms, magnetic fields, and light switches test your mastery of the mechanics. Enemy designs are reused throughout, but at least the levels themselves are interesting the first time through.
The scoring system is a huge part of the game’s depth. By attacking multiple enemies at once or tagging enemies multiple times, you receive “kudos,” or score multipliers. The multiplier accumulates as you defeat more enemies. What makes scoring interesting is that you must bank your points by going through a checkpoint or beating the stage. Since you lose all of your kudos upon getting hurt, there is a constant gamble between pushing the limits of the multiplier and knowing when to cash in your points. Earning kudos is the only way to get the higher ranks, yielding more items at the end of the stage.
The game itself is moderately difficult, but not as hard as the older Mega Man titles. Thankfully, spikes don’t instantly kill you, and most enemies do a small fraction of damage. There is one underwater section that is a mess to play through, but the game is otherwise reasonable. Bosses provide some of the most enjoyable challenges in the game, and each one has unique attacks and specials, requiring good pattern recognition and evasion.
When you die, one of two events occur. At worst, you merely restart at the last checkpoint, which is likely near where you died. Unlimited continues help alleviate any possible frustration. On the other extreme, you may actually be revived immediately upon death for a second chance. It’s no ordinary resurrection. You gain unlimited use of your Forcefield and the ability to jump infinitely, making you ridiculously overpowered. If you struggled with a section before, a revival will allow you to breeze through that part and quite possibly the rest of the stage. This is good for those who want the game to be easier, but questionable for players who just want some assistance and not a built-in god mode. Hard mode provides extra challenge, removing the revival mechanic entirely and making some obstacles one-hit death traps.
Keeping in line with the formula Mega Man established, you can choose any stage from the get-go. As to be expected, there are additional stages following the original set of six. Between levels, you can synthesize and customize gear. Gear requires items earned at the end of stages. However, you earn so little that unless you play through each area multiple times, you might not even synthesize anything during your playthrough. As a result, customizing may either be a grind or a moot feature. At the very least, you earn weapons for defeating bosses. Each weapon allows for different playstyles, changing how many enemies you can tag at once, among other abilities. You can also choose up to four helpful skills to equip, from offensive attacks to buffing abilities.
The game is fairly short, roughly taking about five hours to beat. There are hidden items in each stage that are essential to collect for players who want to fully experience the story. Challenges that test your ability to speedrun stages and build up high scores increase replay value further. In general, speedrunners and high score seekers will get the most out of this game, and special modes that serve these players sweeten the deal. For everyone else though, the game isn’t as enticing to play again. Though the fast pace is thrilling, the stages get old once you are familiar with the gimmicks.
Azure Striker Gunvolt looks fluid, helping to accentuate its kinetic action. There is almost no drop in quality as you blaze through stages. The anime visuals look wonderful and are stunningly drawn. It’s a shame the cutscenes aren’t fully animated. It’s also unfortunate that to match the original Nintendo 3DS’s presentation, an awkward two-screen layout sometimes manifests on the PC version. This is most problematic when the tiny bottom screen contains all the text. The soundtrack is techno and upbeat, matching the game’s pace. There is some Japanese voice acting as well as some fully voiced music tracks. These energetic songs play at pivotal movements, such as when you are revived or when you break a certain threshold of kudos.
Azure Striker Gunvolt is a fresh take on action platforming. The developers utilize Gunvolt’s signature electric Flashfield effectively throughout as both a unique form of attack and a means to engaging with the stage. Its emphasis on playing fast will attract speedrunners, and an in-depth scoring system provides a thrilling arcade-like experience. The game doesn’t last long nor will it leave long-lasting impressions, but Azure Striker Gunvolt’s mold-breaking gameplay will please fans of the genre.
A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written in November 2016 for Darkstation.