The last time I talked about Azure Striker Gunvolt, I mentioned that it both carries on and alters the Mega Man legacy it was born from. This time I want to expand on the differences, because while Azure Striker Gunvolt looks and feels very familiar, it is very much its own game.
Mega Man games have always had a reputation for being pretty difficult. Personally, I think that’s a little undeserved, but I’m biased; I’ve been playing them my whole life and know the majority of them inside and out. Despite that, I’m comfortable saying that Azure Striker Gunvolt is noticeably easier than just about any other Mega Man game, particularly the ones developed by Inti Creates.
Dying in Azure Striker Gunvolt simply doesn’t pose the threat one might expect. Gunvolt can take a lot of hits and health-restoring items are plentiful. A lot of the time you don’t even have to worry about taking damage due to a mechanic called Prevasion, which converts your electricity meter into a damage evasion move that allows you to walk past enemies without a scratch. Even if you do die, you don’t have to worry about lives and can simply restart from a checkpoint as many times as you need to. If that wasn’t enough, you have a random chance of reviving back to full health with an unlimited electricity meter if you talk to an NPC back at the level select screen.
All of this reinforces the fact that avoiding death isn’t the point of the game. Instead, building up your score is the real focus. The game revolves around a combo meter called the Kudos system, a multiplier that builds after inflicting damage to enemies and is increased by killing multiple tagged enemies at the same time. If you get hit (which includes activating a Prevasion), your Kudos completely resets to zero.
It’s kind of like gambling with your skill, as the only way to keep all your Kudos is to “lock it in,” either by reaching the next checkpoint or using a special attack via the touch screen. If you avoid locking your kudos in you have the potential to build up way higher scores, as well activate a J-pop song to cheer you on. In a way, the Kudos system actually presents a greater challenge, as to get a good score you will not only need to avoid death, but actually avoid getting hit altogether.
Everything from the enemies to the level design mainly focuses on hurting your score. You have to be careful to avoid enemies suddenly popping out from under you, and many are placed close together so you can get big chains. Environments focus on slowing you down rather than killing you, often forcing you to carefully navigate platforms or putting destructible objects in your way.
I would be remiss to say that the game has to be played this way to be a challenge, however. Azure Striker Gunvolt features an extensive equipment system that allows you to customize the game in a variety of ways. Prevasion can be turned off completely, instant-death hazards can be turned on, and everything from the damage your tag shots inflict to addition of mobility options like air-dashes and double jumps can be tweaked at almost any time.
The catch is that to unlock all of these options, you need to dig into the game. Completing levels gives you money and randomized crafting materials. The better your performance the higher the rank you get, and the higher the rank the more crafting materials you can obtain. So, while Azure Striker Gunvolt allows for an impressive amount of customization, you will still have to invest some time playing the game in its intended form.
I said earlier that the environments in the game are focused on slowing you down and hurting your score. To expand on that, some of my favorite aspects of the level design in Azure Striker Gunvolt come from interacting with the environment. On top of the offensive and defensive abilities he can always access, Gunvolt’s electricity allows him to manipulate all kinds of things from platforms to switches. Sometimes the game gets even more creative. A few of the stand-out examples include using your electricity to light up dark areas, being picked up by magnets to float past obstacles, and having to avoid using electricity in water so you don’t shock yourself.
Boss battles are where you will often be forced you to use Gunvolt’s abilities to their fullest. Standard attacks can be avoided or deflected thanks to your basic electricity field, but some bosses will have multiple parts to tag and attack in order to impede their assault. These fights progress in three phases, each time adding new attacks to keep you on your toes. Generally, the boss fights are the most difficult part of the game to survive, as they have the most tricks and can do the most damage.
If I had to make a complaint, it would be that all of the graphical effects can make it difficult to see everything that’s going on. Boss fights especially like to fill the screen with their attacks which can end up looking like an incomprehensible light show if you aren’t concentrating. In a game where a single hit can ruin your score, getting clipped by a stray bullet you didn’t notice can be frustrating.
Maybe the most interesting part about Azure Striker Gunvolt is that it felt very familiar to me at first, but more foreign as I sunk more time into it. It feels like Mega Man, but at the same time it’s using that base to focus on its own systems and goals. After completing the game, I think it accomplishes those goals. While Azure Striker Gunvolt may not adhere to many of the Mega Man design staples, that’s fine, because it’s a fantastic game on its own terms.
Food for thought:
1. If you’re looking for a challenge based purely on the level design, you might be more satisfied by some extra missions that open up after you complete the game. These missions take place in what are essentially “hard mode” versions of pre-existing levels, featuring some genuinely tricky sections to traverse.
2. For those who want to replay missions for a perfect run, you’re given some nice little options after you’ve finished a level once. Not only can you simply abort a mission to back to the level select, but you can also choose between restarting the entire mission or simply reverting back to your last checkpoint. Convenient!
3. I don’t know why I’m so happy that you can turn the auto-death spikes on, but I’m really, really happy about that.