Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Azure Striker Gunvolt Review

One of my favorite game series from recent memory would be the exquisite Mega Man Zero series. It was a short series for the Gameboy Advance that only consisted of four games, but each game was action platforming perfection. They were never too long, they had a great variety of bosses, challenging stages, and were some of the hardest portable games I've ever played. As the series went on, the quality man have dipped as did the story, but the franchise had a concise and great feel to it that made it a blast to play. SO why am I bringing up a franchise that ended nearly a decade ago? Because Azure Striker Gunvolt is the spiritual successor to Zero in nearly every way possible.

In the not too distant future, psychics called Adepts have begun to appear in the world. These people are able to harness incredible power, but are feared by normal humans for their abilities. Because of them having so much power, a conglomerate called the Sumeragi Corporation has stepped in to provide protection for adepts, only their benevolent nature is a front for their true desires. They want to gain control of all of the adepts in the world and use them as their own private army to conquer the planet. A counter organization, Quill, is formed to oppose Sumeragi, with the key member of it being a young boy by the name of Gunvolt. Gunvolt is ordered to kill a young girl named Joule that is capable of mind control so that Sumeragi can't get their hands on her, but he disobeys orders, saves her, then become a mercenary for Quill so that he can take down Sumeragi, protect the young girl from any other harm.

So you can pretty much take everything that I just now summarized for you and throw it in the trash, cause I needed to bring out a ludicrous amount of research to figure out what the hell was going on. Nothing is told easily and you're thrust into the world of Gunvolt with no context as to what's happening. You need to piece it all together for yourself, but the story isn't really the focus of the game, nor is it particularly good. It's a plot that's too complicated for its own good, which was never a problem that Mega Man Zero had.

For a 3DS game, this game looks great.
So why do I keep bringing up that this game is a spiritual successor to Mega Man Zero? Well that's because this game was produced by Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man, and developed by Inti Creates. So in other words, the same team that made Mega Man Zero made this game, and it shows. Everything looks great, plays great, and has the same futuristic style as the Zero series. It's a bona-fide side scrolling action game, but it has mechanics that are wholly unique to it.

First and foremost, your standard gun will barely do anything to enemies. The only way to hurt them is to shoot them with you gun, then hit them with an electric charge. By holding your charge button, you can shoot an electric force field around your body that will not only protect you, but repel objects from you and slow you descent when falling. However, once the charge runs out, you're vulnerable and will need to wait to recharge. So watch that energy meter before it gets to zero, or else you'll be in a world of hurt.

There's also a synthesizing system that allows you to craft new items for upgrades and armor, but this is where a huge problem presents itself. You come across crafting material at the end of missions in a random game of chance. There are 15 boxes to choose from, but you'll usually have only five chances to pick. Therein lies a major problem. While crafting isn't necessary to beat the game, it can give you some upgrades that make the game much easier to beat, but synthing material is incredibly difficult to do. It wasn't until after I beat the game that I was actually able to synth an item, and even then I was only able to synth about six or seven items. They made the game much easier for me, but the fact that it was nearly barred off because of the steep crafting curve made the it frustrating to choose items when half of them I had no idea what they were. What the hell is a nanochip98, and what the hell can it even synth???

The rest of the game is a very simple run and gun game that focuses a lot on score. The higher the score, the better you do and the higher rank you get. The higher your score, the more options you get to find items to synth and the more challenges you can complete for more materials. I never found myself trying to desperately increase my score though, so unless you have a hankering to get S+ ranks, there's no real worth in playing for scores.

These bosses though... 
Easily the best part of the game are the numerous bosses that you encounter. Each of them has a distinct personality and color scheme, which makes every boss stand out and memorable. In the beginning, you can choose the order you fight your bosses, which will lead to even more bosses in the final stages. These bosses have a ton of health, gigantic attacks, and require a lot of forethought and perseverance to beat them.

Take Elise for example, one of the hardest bosses in the show. She's distinctly purple and fights with a twin personality at the same time. So you have to fight two bosses at once, each of which has their own separate HP bar. They move around vertically on ropes, shoot arrows at you, summons snakes, and even turn you into stone if you're not careful. The only way to kill her though is to kill both bodies at the same time. If you kill one body before the other, the other body will revive them with half their health. You need to really think about how to drain their health and kill them at the same time.

Bosses like those are a joy, and the dozen or so bosses were all a blast to fight against. I died multiple times against some bosses so I could figure out how to dodge their attacks, While other bosses I breezed through once I learned how to damage them as fast a possible. It's so rare to see a video game handle boss battles in such an eclectic and fun method and I wish that more game companies would design their bosses like this game. Bosses should be colorful, but challenging to fight against and require a ton of attention to figure out how to beat them. Even the final boss is a true challenge, but once you beat him, chances are you'll need to beat the secret boss as well. I won't spoil how to get the true ending, but you'll need to collect a certain object from every main stage to get to it.

May I have some bullet hell in my Mega Man please?
Also, when you download this game before December, you'll get a free download code for a game called Mighty Gunvolt. It's a mix between Azure Striker Gunvolt, Mega Man 2, and Mighty No. 9 that's just a fun little gift for people that want more Keiji Inafune goodness. It functions a lot like a classic Mega Man game, though featuring Gunvolt bosses and mechanics. You can beat it in an hour, and it's a fun, quirky little game that's nothing more than a fun little diversion for fans to tide them over before Mighty No. 9 drops next year.

I'm not going to stand here and say that Azure Striker Gunvolt is some kind of grand artistic statement. It's the return of a gameplay formula that works and is nice to play, clocking in at about 6-8 hours. It's like sitting down and having a nice bowl of French Onion soup. It's not meant to fill you up or be amazing, but it's still really damned tasty and fills you up nicely. I personally would love more French Onion soup like this to be released. Azure Striker Gunvolt is available on the 3DS as an eshop download for $15.


Turn this series into a franchise. I need more Mega Man Zero in my life

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