Azure Striker Gunvolt (PC) Review

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.

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Gunvolt, who does not at all look like Cloud from Final Fantasy VII… unless you squint.

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Mighty No. 9 (PC) Review

Bend It Like Beck

Mighty No. 9 has an extensive history surrounding it. Helmed by Keiji Inafune, one of the original character designers of Capcom’s Mega Man, Mighty No. 9 was intended to be that series’ spiritual successor. Mighty No. 9 raised about $4 million via Kickstarter. Due to a number of delays, the game didn’t release until almost three years after its Kickstarter. Despite everything poured into it, Mighty No. 9 doesn’t quite measure up to the lofty status of Capcom’s iconic blue bomber. Comparisons aside, the game has elements of fun that are unfortunately dampened by below-average level design.

Gameplay

The game stars Beck, the ninth in a set of robots known as the Mighty Numbers. After a virus corrupts the other eight robots, Beck must stop them using his trusty buster. Although it sounds like Mega Man so far, Beck is equipped with a feature that sets him apart. As he attacks enemies, they eventually destabilize. Dashing into them allows Beck to absorb their Xel, which temporarily powers up one of his stats, such as attack or speed. Faster, consecutive dash attacks increase both your power-ups and your score. Technical bonuses such as dashing into midair enemies grant you even more points. His dash is unlimited, providing an adrenaline rush as you blaze through sections of enemies, switching back and forth between attacking and AcXelerating through them. AcXeleration is a fun mechanic that makes Beck much faster and more akin to Mega Man X than his original Mega counterpart.

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Dashing through a stage is satisfying.

While this could have led to a pleasant experience, there is an unfortunate disconnect between Beck’s dash and the level design. Although Beck can dash at any time, the levels limit its effectiveness. There are multiple areas where electric spikes can kill you in one hit. These contrivances are commonplace, appearing on the floor, walls, ceilings, and a variety of moving objects. Although one-hit-kill obstacles were used in the original Mega Man series (also admittedly unfair at times), they feel overused here, as if the developers couldn’t think of any other way to increase the difficulty besides instantly killing the player. Electric spikes are sometimes unexpected, suddenly appearing at the end of a wall following a long dash sequence, almost punishing you for trying to use an intended game mechanic. These non-telegraphed death traps are tenets of poor level design, using unfair instant kills to force players to memorize the layout. There are fairly generous checkpoints throughout that alleviate the frustration, but some of these instadeaths shamelessly cap off long, difficult sections.

Narrow spaces and small platforms can also hurt players trying to dash through stages. When enemies are destabilized, they remain on the screen and still damage you unless you dash into them. However, a combination of electric spikes and tight spaces impairs your ability to dash safely. You may find yourself rushing to your death just so you could finish off an enemy. Although, it is possible to attack a destabilized enemy to death, it is a slow process and is counterproductive to the benefits of AcXeleration. An option to absorb enemies while standing still would have been appreciated. There are also portions where you must dash onto a small floating platform safely, which is easier said than done. When dashing midair, it is difficult to control the trajectory of where you land, which can lead to accidental deaths.

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A ceiling of purple electric spikes line the ceiling. You will likely grow to hate that color after playing this game.

The faulty level design is a shame because there are some interesting, fun ideas implemented throughout. Each of the eight Mighty Number levels, which can be selected in any order a la Mega Man, have a mix of fun sections marred down by some painful parts that bring down its overall quality. For example, Batallion’s stage actually utilizes the dash effectively with conveyer belts and long hallways. However, one of its most annoying segments asks players to destroy an explosive container while riding on a conveyer belt where boxes are constantly falling on you, surrounded by electric spikes.

One interesting level is a highway with moving cars as platforms that you must land on. However, the platforms are quite small, and some “traffic sign” robots fly into you with little warning, causing you to fall onto the deadly asphalt. An infamous level asks you to locate a sniper in a looping White House-like level. Midway through the lengthy search, the game suddenly covers previously safe areas with pesky one-hit-kill electric wires. If you die, you are whisked back to the beginning without a checkpoint. Finally, another level has an instance of two instant death electrical turbines blocking your progress, and you won’t get past it without performing a particular technique perfectly. The effort is clearly there with thematically decent levels, but unpolished level design and a poor sense of flow brings them down.

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This particular section is hard to get through with falling platforms, a high ledge (which you can grab), a spinning fire wheel, and more electric spikes.

There is one consistent positive among the levels: engaging boss fights. Mega Man’s essence is summoned most effectively in arena fights against the eight Mighty Numbers. Every skirmish must be approached in a different way, thanks to the unique abilities of the bosses. However, there is one shared aspect: Mighty Numbers destabilize temporarily after a few hits and must be dashed into or else they will heal that damage. This can become annoying, but it makes great use of the AcXeleration maneuver. Upon performing the final AcXeleration, you defeat the boss, ridding it of the virus and siphoning one of its key moves. As in Mega Man, you can use one boss’ attack to exploit another’s weakness, which can make some problematic bosses more approachable. Even better, you can actually find out what their weaknesses are with a handy “Advice” option while choosing a stage.

Outside of levels, the captured boss abilities, known as ReXelections, are quite useful. Some of the best powers include shooting remote control shots, transforming into a tank, and brandishing a sword. ReXelections recharge over time and as you build up Xel, which encourages players to use them instead of merely storing them for the boss fight. Cycling through powers is a little clunky, but you can set shortcuts and even change the order in which powers appear. As an additional touch that makes characters more likable, the bosses you defeat will help you in other stages, preventing some obstacles from harming you and making the stage just a little easier.

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The Mighty Numbers are brimming with personality, even though they’re written like Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Playtime/Replayability

Mighty No. 9 can take anywhere between 3-6 hours, depending on skill level. You can increase your maximum lives up to 9, but that won’t help you if you can’t get past a tough section. If you run out of lives, you must start over at the beginning of a level. Between lengthy, difficult levels and some bosses that have an instakill ability, lives deplete quickly. Once you defeat your first boss and gain its ability, the rest of the game becomes a bit easier from there. A robot friend, Patch, also offers free items, including instant recovery items for players having trouble. However, the items are random, and the most helpful item, instant recovery, doesn’t always appear.

Since levels can sometimes be dependent on memorization and Beck has a dash technique, speedrunners may actually find the game more enjoyable, provided they don’t get frustrated from running into constant death traps. Otherwise, most people will probably not feel compelled to replay the game if they can even get through the difficult final levels. A challenge mode may entice players to tackle special missions that feature certain conditions, such as removing your attack ability or strict time limits. Some additional online multiplayer modes and boss rush modes can be unlocked as well, which can increase replayability, though they aren’t necessarily fun to go through.

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Nothing says speed like… slippery ice.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics aren’t particularly appealing and resemble an old GameCube game’s output. Some visuals are distracting enough and can actually affect your playthrough. For instance, one level has sudden explosions, signified by crudely animated red blots. These explosions blow up a tower in the background, which can instantly fall onto the stage and kill you. You might not register any of this until it’s too late because of the lack of graphical polish, not to mention any lag you may have in this particular section.

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That’s supposed to be fire in the background.

Character designs are okay, with the standout designs belonging to the Mighty Numbers. Voice acting is also decent, with the Mighty Numbers again providing the most entertaining performances, even though they’re cheesy. Oddly enough, characters’ mouths don’t even move while they talk, making the product feel more rushed than it should.

Mighty No. 9 shares a composer with the original Mega Man, Manami Matsumae. It doesn’t always show because of some uninspired tracks, but there are some nice-sounding techno gems that shouldn’t be overlooked, including the main theme. There is an option for 8-bit music to satiate retro tastes, though no song is as catchy as the original Mega Mans tunes.

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Mighty Nos. 1-9

Conclusion

Mighty No. 9 has semblances of good ideas thrown into levels that are muddled with instant kill spikes, overly difficult platforming sequences, and overall bad level design. It’s a shame because Beck himself is fun to play as, with a clever dash mechanic that can be exhilarating when used well. The Mighty Number bosses are highlights, providing both fun boss fights and entertaining personalities. The abilities they bestow rival some of the best abilities in Mega Man titles. In the end, Mighty No. 9 will likely be remembered as an underwhelming attempt at recreating the spirit of Mega Man. It’s not a horrible game, and those willing to play through the infuriating parts may find the enjoyment hidden within. However, if you’re looking for a challenging but less frustrating platformer, just play Mega Man instead.

Score: 6/10

What are your thoughts on Mighty No. 9? Did you back its Kickstarter, and if so how are your feelings of the finished product? What are your comparisons between Mighty No. 9 and the Mega Man series? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Note: I was not a backer of the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter, but i did receive a free code from a generous backer. The Steam version was played for this review.

This review was posted on Darkstation. Please find the article here.