|Another action game review? How shocking.|
If you can't tell, my eyes are rolling insanely.
You might be asking yourself, "Evan, why do you do this to yourself? Why do you continuously buy games in a genre you don't really like?
Shut up. I've got a few problems with Azure Striker Gunvolt, but it's not because I don't like the genre. No, they are... deeper problems.
-It's nice to see that Inti Creates isn't afraid to change up the formula. This run-and-gun has elements of loot and RPG systems, and also focuses less on shooting.
-The soundtrack is very catchy at it's best, offering up a pulse-pounding yet cool synth backdrop.
-A decent amount of replayable content.
-Despite it's speed-running style, Gunvolt's gameplay has little to do with player interaction.
-There's lots of content but it's also arranged very haphazardly, with challenges being a big offender and the loot system being another.
-Busy backgrounds, little explicitly stated, and a progression system that feels more punishing for a new player.
Don't get me wrong, it's a hearty 'meh'. It's a 'meh' that has 'I sure hope three-million dollars and even more creative freedom means Inafune can make a more interesting project'. Which, if the media backlash and number of gameplay videos haven't already caught your eye, Mighty No. 9 has more or less proven. But ENOUGH about Mighty No. 9.
Azure Striker Gunvolt is a run-and-gun game that is more about dodging enemies while your passive offensive aura chips away at their health. You can shoot them to deal chip damage and link a "chain" that causes your electric aura to drain their health faster, but no matter how you cut it, you will be doing a lot of waiting. Sometimes dodging at the same time. It just feels very awkward in a game that is supposed to be about fast action, and while the backgrounds, characters, and effects are very busy and exciting, the actual act of dealing damage doesn't feel satisfying.
Challenges also make an appearance, and they have to be selected in order to be completed, which then unlocks more challenges. It's just kind of a ridiculous process, and I should be able to complete the challenge for the best time if I do better than the best time, instead of just completing the better time. I can only assume it's an attempt to buff playtime. Likewise, looting seems like a randomized affair with the completion of certain stages offering up specific rare rewards, but unless you get the additional chances to choose from the hidden squares, you won't get far. Again, another attempt at extending playtime, when the game barely has enough interesting content to support three playthroughs.
The level design is pretty straightforward, with few branching paths except those that are hidden behind obtuse challenge objectives (a.k.a. go through the fastest route possible) or when it's pretty blatantly obvious. There's a few specific areas with unique platforming challenges that range from 'okay' to 'annoying', with some that can ruin a perfectly good run of a level. With a number of generic grunt units to take on, the enemy variety isn't thrilling or particularly difficult. So all Gunvolt really has to rely on are its boss fights, right? Luckily, this is where the game does a great job of things. While a few of them have generic themes, all of them feature great gameplay and interesting attack patterns that do feel legitimately new. The final few bosses in particular are exceptionally inventive and wacky.
Aside from that, there's also a plot. In the grim, edgy future, technology and psychic abilities have blended into some sort of crazy evil conglomerate and Gunvolt is the only "adept" that has gone rogue to fight against his evil oppressors... yeah, pretty standard fare. The characters are interesting and varied even if the plot is somewhat dull. It also has some ridiculous religious discussion, an evil mind-control plot, and a cute little girl in pajamas(?). Azure Striker's plot is actually what kept me engaged for the most part, because learning about this strange world and it's kooky characters was more appealing to me than the gameplay.
That's not really a good thing.
I know I sound overly critical, and maybe I am. Atop all of this, there's some pretty ridiculous upgrade crafting going on, with many abilities that make levels easier and streamline the experience, but they take even more playthroughs to complete, which kind of casts the grading system in a negative view. Essentially, you will be better at the game, in the eyes of the game, when you have spent the time doing repetitive grinding on the levels. You can get a good score- I have hit a few A's and B's- with lesser equipment, but you definitely need some specific loadouts for some levels.
Rather than relying on solid level design or the foundations of its gameplay, Azure Striker often falls back on its less-interesting mechanics in order to flesh out the experience. In some ways, it reminds me of the Mega Man Zero series a great deal, which featured plenty of sidequests and customization when it really had the best elements of its gameplay already nailed down. Future installments cut out the excess fat and just made levels and bosses interesting. If there's anything I can say about Azure Striker Gunvolt it's that its boss encounters are as good as it gets, and everything else is pretty dull.
Oh, and Mighty Gunvolt isn't worth anything more than a free download.
Final Verdict: While it departs from the classic formula quite a bit, Azure Striker Gunvolt's changes don't add anything particularly good to the mix. Heap a bunch of unnecessary side-content on top of that, and you have a game that works best when you're standing still zapping a boss after dodging their last move. I only recommend this game to those craving Mega Man, and even then, there's better stuff out there.