Not every game that deserves recognition will necessarily get their time in the sun. Earthbound, for example, languished and died in relative obscurity during it’s launch period and only developed a massive cult following after it became impossible to find a copy. People will rave for days about which Zelda game is the best, but what if I told you Illusions of Gaia could easily go toe-to-toe with Link to the Past? Thankfully, we have a new generation of consoles that provide ground for old games to find new life and, hopefully, a new audience.Still, certain allocations should be made to ensure that these new ports have enough leg to them to make them worthwhile in appealing to a new audience. WIthout further ado, let’s take a look at Azure Striker Gunvolt Striker Pack.
Azure Striker may not come across as an obscure title to people who’ve had a 3DS for years, as it was a very successful title, at least in the minds and hearts of people who played it. Released by Init Creates, Azure Striker Gunvolt is the tale of our hero, Gunvolt (GV for short), who is a rogue Adept (super powered human) looking to either seek revenge or bring about justice, depending on which game you play. Init Creates has decided to graciously put both the original and the sequel out in a single package (hence the “Striker Pack”), with the additional options to change the language for both, as well as adjust the heaviness of the HD rumble. A couple quick notes here, at least in regards to some choices. One, I highly recommend turning down the HD Rumble, because it was implemented almost too well in the game. The feedback comes at all the right times, there’s excellent range from taking damage, atmospheric tremors and pulsing sensations, but holy crap it can be incredibly strong. I actually felt like my hands went a bit numb.
Secondly, DON’T PLAY THE SEQUEL BEFORE FINISHING THE FIRST GAME. You may be tempted to see how things improve going from the original Gunvolt to Gunvolt 2. Don’t. The second game picks up some time after the end of the first, but also after some major, major spoilers pertaining to the end of the first game are revealed. And not even normal spoilers. The second game assumes you went the extra mile to figure out how to unlock the “true” ending of Azure Striker Gunvolt and thus see some pretty dramatic stuff. The second game literally flashes back to moments of this and, as a result, totally ruins things if you haven’t finished the first game. Just trust me on this one.
Azure Striker Gunvolt is insanely ambitious in what was set out to accomplish on the 3DS as a download only title, as it really is a highly complex hybrid of ideas. The closest thing I could equate it to is Mega Man X, but even that’s purely on aesthetics and not necessarily on gameplay. You do have a sort of Mega Man feel to the core objective: large, 2D stages with plenty of platforming, various enemies who need to be blown up, and weapons that upgrade and change as you go along. But you powerup through a leveling system, as well as an item crafting system that, despite my own prejudices against the core idea, is relatively simple and still offers some good variety. You get items for crafting based on finding hidden medals in each stage, and, even then, those medals only work as chances to potentially reveal prizes you could get. Does that sound confusing? It feels confusing.
Additionally, the combat is far from being as straightforward as “shoot to death.” Gunvolt’s name plays into a core mechanic, which is being able to tag enemies and objects with his gun and then discharging a huge sphere of electrical power from within, frying foes and blowing up doors/crates/the roof. However, you do run out of electrical power and need to recharge, and you can be particularly vulnerable when you’re concentrating on exploding instead of dodging. What results is a remarkably complex pattern of shoot, storm, dodge, pray the enemy doesn’t change their pattern (the bosses always do). Plus, once you unlock further powers for Gunvolt, you need to quickly choose between what you want to do and if you can gauge your energy well enough when the heat is on. If you run out of juice at a key moment in battle, you could easily be dead within seconds.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 uses these same mechanics, with a few spiffy additions tacked on. Not only can Gunvolt do a ridiculously powerful dash/strike attack, but many attacks with straight up pass through you if you’re not using your electrical powers. It really turns the gameplay from the first game on it’s head, leaving you to work with Gunvolt in a whole new defensive mode. Of course, not every single attack is going to be harmless, so you sometimes need to learn the hard way that boss X doesn’t give a damn about your new powers, you’re street pizza.
Gunvolt 2 also allows you to choose your hero, playing as Copen (who was a major character but unplayable in the first game) or Gunvolt. Copen might feel more at home to Mega Man veterans, as his power ups come from defeating the bosses of different worlds and then acquiring their skills directly. Copen has a cool CPU interface that lets you toggle certain abilities on and off, since you can only handle so many at once, and he’s generally a refreshing change of pace if you want to know more about the story and focus less on the same old shoot n’ shock routine. However, fans who want to know the complete story must play through the game in both characters shoes. It’s arduous, but far from a chore.
The voicework and music for Azure Striker Gunvolt is mind blowingly good for a title that didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserved. Every time characters need to have narration or general exposition, they speak, and they have amazing emotional range in their words. The music, in the same vein, really captures the dystopian world that Gunvolt inhabits, and you would be mistaken for feeling like you are in the realm of Mega Man X. Best of all, it translates well onto the Switch, losing no crispness nor impact on the journey to the console life.
One thing that didn’t fare as well in the transition, however, is the graphics. I’m sure Init Creates wanted to preserve the 16 bit mentality that worked so well on the 3DS, but, in doing so, they let things get incredibly pixelated. When Azure Striker Gunvolt gets projected onto the big screen, it becomes a very blocky and apparent mess. It fares much better in handheld mode, but you can still see that things became a bit stretched out in order to accommodate the gorgeous widescreen look of the Switch. I’m certain this was an unavoidable result of not coding the game brand new from the ground up, but it’s pretty noticeable and will definitely be off putting for new players who may not know about the fantastic gameplay or the deep storyline that develops as you delve into the game.
But that’s why reviews exist, don’t they? Azure Striker Gunvolt Striker Pack is a gift that I was excited to unwrap on the Switch, and I’m not bothered as much that the game doesn’t look pristine. I’m thrilled that it plays well, feels fantastic and that Init Creates saw a potential market and ran with it. They could have waited until the 3DS went EOL, but striking while the iron of the Switch is hot means getting players to enjoy some modern classic gaming without carrying around two systems. Developers are still feeling things out with the Switch, and success here means we could see a 3rd installation of Gunvolt’s saga in the future (or not, if you’ve played through to the end of the 2nd). Regardless, if you had any love for the SNES generation, or simply want to enjoy a Mega Man game that isn’t Mega, Gunvolt is the way to go. I just wish I had a Shovel Knight Amiibo so I could have tried out the special boss fight that Yacht Club games helped bake in. Oh, and there’s a physical edition on the way, collectors. If you can exercise patience and not download this immediately, keep an eye open for that gorgeous display box in the near future!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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