Those of you with nimble fingers and nimbler reflexes, get ready to put your skills to the test. IntiCreates' Azure Striker Gunvolt wears its Mega Man X-inspired colors proudly, and for anyone with a hankering for fast-paced platforming and challenging boss fights, these are colors you'll be all too happy to put on.
As the eponymous hero, Gunvolt, you'll dash, shoot and electrify your way through a series of short, but sweet, levels that you can (mostly), tackle in any order. Gunvolt's an air-dashing, double-jumping, lighting-wielding gunslinger, firing pistols and chucking electricity in equal measure. You'll use your weak, but infinite, guns to lock on to enemies in order to perform your much stronger, but finite, electrical attacks, which will either refill over time or be deliberately recharged by holding still.
When things get really tough, you have Gunvolt's Septima Skills, powerful limited-use abilities which do everything from summon giant blades to restore your life. Between the need to target enemies by using your guns, the ebb and flow of your voltage meter, and the occasional super move thrown into the mix, Azure Striker Gunvolt's combat maintains a delightfully varied tempo. You'll often bounce back and forth between your different attacks and adjust your tactics on the fly based on what you're fighting and how much power you have left. The more strategically you keep your all-powerful electrical powers charged, the more efficiently you'll slay your high-powered opposition, earning higher scores and better loot.
Azure Striker Gunvolt's normal enemies are typical fare for this type of run-and-gun platformer, each with their own tactics and abilities. The boss fights, however, are where the game hits its highest, most shining moments of glory. Each boss brandishes unique weapons and attacks which evolve over the course of the battle, requiring you to quickly learn and adapt to survive. Certain levels require you to learn new rules for your electrical powers to solve their puzzles and progress, and, in turn, the end-of-level boss fights often require you to obey these rules to defeat them. It's a fantastic example of strong game design, allowing players to figure things out by playing the game rather than being told what to do.
Gunvolt's equipment cache begins relatively small, but as you progress through the game, you'll earn materials to synthesize new gear. The system feels great and the myriad pieces of equipment really let you customize Gunvolt, but it's a real slog to get new items early on as it takes a bit too long to earn enough materials to start synthesizing the good stuff. Still, this is a fairly minor quibble, as the equipment system is so robust that once you do finally start making gear, it takes some of the sting out of the wait.
While there aren't exactly major secrets waiting around every nook and cranny, Gunvolt does have its share of hidden treasures to reward keen-eyed explorers. Upon completion of each level, players unlock bonus objectives that can be completed if they replay the level they've just beaten, helping add some replay value to what might have otherwise been a very straight shot through the story.
There's a story to Azure Striker Gunvolt, but it's mostly the kind of fare you'd find in any random, action-oriented anime. The characters themselves fare a bit better thanks to some surprisingly flavorful dialogue, so even when the story's hitting critical levels of cliche, the characters and dialogue help reel things away from the brink of total meltdown.
Challenging without being overbearing, fast-paced without being frantic, and just plain fun, Azure Striker Gunvolt draws inspiration from some of the finest games of the 16-bit era while bringing in new elements for a modern generation. And, with the added bonus of a free copy of the 8-bit inspired Mighty Gunvolt to anyone who purchases Azure Striker Gunvolt within a few weeks of its release, this is easily a must-recommend title for anyone who loves a good challenge and isn't afraid to wear out their fingers and eyeballs.
This review is based on a purchased, downloadable copy of Azure Striker Gunvolt for the Nintendo 3DS.