A bizarre combination of too easy and cliché.
For something that follows in the pedigree of Mega Man, Azure Striker Gunvolt certainly hits a lot of the right notes. It has an anime aesthetic, robot bosses and levels with gimmicks, a demure female sidekick, and a shield wielding recurring mini-boss. All it really misses is gaining new powers after killing the robot... er, cyborg (?) bosses and a robot dog. However, two design choices make this game incredibly easy:
- Prevasion Chain
Gunvolt, the main character, tags enemies with his rifle. He can then use his flashfield to fry them with electrical energy from anywhere on the screen. This is where a majority of the game falls apart. The level design is very plain, and it seems like there is less than 10 cannon fodder enemies in the entire game. All but 2 or so can be easily tagged with the pistol, and then quickly fried to death. This makes most of the levels a repeated tedium of walk forward, tag enemies, fry them with your flashfield, repeat. A few levels have gimmicks like having to turn on lights with your flashfield, or playing the entire map upside down, but these are minor annoyances at best. They are certainly not engaging gameplay features.
Now, the flashfield has a limited energy. It refills over time, but for most of the game you can instantly recharge it if you press down twice while not pressing other buttons. This effectively means that you almost always have energy for the flashfield. The prevasion chain moves damage from your health to your energy to you while you still have flashfield energy. See where this is going? If you're patient and don't rush things, you are practically immortal. Combined with the already easy (and boring) level design, and a large part of the game becomes very easy.
The bosses are a little different. They're a lot like Mega Man bosses, in that they have a pattern of difficult moves that you need to familiarize yourself with and find ways to avoid. Some are easier than others, and some are actually quite difficult. Most have a gimmick, like a set of twins that will revive the other twin if they are not both killed at the same time. However, once you figure out the patterns, it's usually a matter of finding a way to tag the bosses and fry them down with your flashfield while dodging attacks. One in particular liked to disappear from the screen, removing his tag, and while not a difficult boss, he did become quite time consuming. Luckily, you get to face him almost back-to-back while playing the game. Joy.
Since you don't get new abilities by beating bosses, with a few minor exceptions, how then does your character progress? Why, with a leveling system. Each level gives you more health, and some levels give you new abilities. I actually missed these abilities for a majority of the game, and only discovered them when I was having a little bit of trouble with the final boss rush. This may be a side effect of buying the game digitally and not getting a instruction manual. Or maybe I just wasn't engaged enough in this game to notice that not all my equipment had passive abilities.
You see, you can equip different abilities in four slots that you see on the lower screen of the 3DS. I was under the impression that they were there because they didn't know what to do with the lower screen and decided to make it an equipment loadout. I was wrong. Each of them was an active ability that you activated by pressing the touch screen. Some of these abilities, like the Luxcalibur, were incredibly powerful, often taking away 50% of a boss's health. Another one healed you. The final set of bosses went from somewhat difficult to hardly challenging. I can only imagine how much easier the previous boss fights would have been had I known about these abilities.
Now, I will say that the ending of the game is... less than great... and that there is a true ending that you have to get by assembling an easy to find item and wearing it through the last level. This item prevents the prevasion chain, which does make the game somewhat harder. However, you then get buffed for the very final part and get unlimited flashfield energy. It may make sense in the story, but it's an odd design choice in terms of gameplay. The default ending is also sure to upset anyone finishing the game for the first time. Smart choice there.
So what is the draw of the game? That seems to be the timed attack and score received for beating each level. The goal is to get an A or higher. I often got C's and D's on the first try, but I never felt overly compelled to return to get a higher score. Getting a higher score does get you more parts with which to craft items and gear, but as I spent a majority of the game getting crap parts that don't assemble into anything, I never bothered with it. I also had no interest in grinding the dull levels repeatedly. Not participating in item crafting did not seem to matter in an already easy game.
The graphics are decent, even if they're anime cliché. Sound is also alright. None of the music seemed particularly memorable. Controls were responsive. It is a competently developed game. I think most of its failings come from design choices. This game certainly isn't a technical mess worthy of a single star, but unfortunately most of the technical expertise was put to use making a very mediocre game that tries to recall a much better series from its prime.
I almost gave this game 3 stars for having somewhat challenging boss battles, despite the bland level design, but then I discovered the overpowered abilities on the touch screen and quickly squashed any sense of difficulty. This game might be more fun if you handicap yourself, but that doesn't seem like the right way to play it, and I had no interest in trying to improve my level scores in the already boring levels.
Overall, a missed opportunity. I have no idea how they managed to make a sequel and anime series out of this. Still, it is better than Mighty No. 9, as low of a bar as that is.