When I first saw the artwork for Azure Striker Gunvolt, I knew Inti Creates had something special on their hands. This veteran development house from Japan has been around for over two decades and is perhaps best known for the Mega Man Zero and ZX series—a feather in the cap of a once great franchise that had some ups and downs near the end.
Through the years they worked with Capcom until they didn’t, and the series was unceremoniously killed off after Mega Man 10. From there they worked on various other licensed properties before really hitting it big with their own original works in 2014. It was a revolution of sorts, and Azure Striker Gunvolt kicked it off. Now, you can play both iterations of Gunvolt on Switch with a double pack—which is great news as both of them are worth playing.
The titular hero Gunvolt operates a bit differently than a lot of other platforming protagonists.
The gist is that his gun isn’t actually the main source of damage. Instead, you tag enemies, then unleash a homing lightning attack (which doubles as an elegant glide) on them. It’s a fluid playstyle given the sheer amount of freedom that the lightning ability gives you in terms of movement, as the mechanic is wholly integrated in both defensive and offensive actions.
If you’re the type who likes to speed through games without perfecting them, you may get a little less mileage out of the first Azure Striker game. You can avoid damage quite a bit through the baked-in shield, but you won’t be earning more content or obtaining a good score at the end of each stage. Really, high ranks are where it’s at. Through earning high ranks and not getting hit, you’ll unlock J-pop tracks. Alongside other collectibles, it’s a hefty little bonus beyond speedrunning and rank hunting.
All the while you’ll be able to enjoy the bumping electronica-fueled soundtrack, with spells of idols and J-Pop fused in. I haven’t seen that fusion go so well since Sharon Apple in Macross Plus. The upgraded coat of paint compared to the 3DS also helps, the UI is a little sleeker, and the game runs at a consistent 60 frames per second. This is becoming a trend, but because of the portability of the Switch, I don’t know if I’d ever willingly go back to the 3DS version unless I happened to have it on me on a business trip.
Gunvolt 2 is basically more Gunvolt, and that’s not a bad thing. It does nearly everything a safe sequel would, and when played back to back with the first, it feels seamless. The narrative continues in a cohesive way, the skills all sort of mash up similarly, and the sequel’s weapons, levels, and bosses are different enough to justify a second game.
Most of that is because of Copen, the new playable character, who has his own narrative to boot. He’s a little nimbler with enhanced air-dashing, which is a different style altogether. That dashing is key to his kit, as he’ll need to spring into enemies, then blow them up. It’s far more than just the inverse of Gunvolt. I also found it to be a little more challenging when using Copen in tandem with new concepts that make getting through each level just a tad tougher.
You really can’t go wrong with this double pack of Azure Striker Gunvolt platformers from an incredibly talented studio that Capcom is probably kicking themselves for not being a part of. Inti Creates has managed to carry on the spirit of Mega Man, Mega Man X, and ZX in this lovely series. All of the extra gametypes—like the speedrunning mode—are the cherry on top of this old school sundae that holds its own in an era full of retro homages.
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