The first Azure Striker Gunvolt game was to many, including me, a surprise that came out of nowhere. Using elements of the classic Mega Man series (choose which level to tackle next, an ensemble of bosses, tight action and platforming) while injecting its own unique elements into its sidescrolling action made the game an instant eshop favorite. Now the sequel is here (money talks, after all) and while it’s not a drastic improvement over the original, it is still a solid follow up and well worth playing for fans of the original.
For those that aren’t aware, ASG is a 2D sidescrolling shoot em up. The catch comes with the combat. While the titular Gunvolt and the other playable character Copen each have pistols, they aren’t as effective as in other games. In Gunvolt’s case, shooting an enemy “tags” them. Depending on the gun you use, an enemy can be tagged up to three times. Then you can unleash the Flashfield, which saps enemies of their health with electricity. You need to keep an eye on how much of your meter is left, though, otherwise you’ll be left with no powers for a short period of time, leaving you entirely vulnerable to attacks. In Copen’s case, he can dash like made around the screen and when he hits an enemy, they are tagged. Then you can spam his fire button, which automatically locks in on the foe and damages them.
It sounds confusing at first, but it becomes second nature after five minutes with either character. Thankfully, this game explains some other systems better than its predecessor. For instance, there’s the Prevasion ability. Basically as long as Gunvolt has energy left, or Copen has some boost left in his rocket jacket, they won’t take damage from most enemy attacks and will instead decrease their remaining energy/ boost. Gunvolt, however, will take damage if he is hit with an attack while using the Flashfield. Thankfully, you can instantly recharge the meters by double tapping the down button while on the ground. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea Prevasion was a thing in this series until this game, but apparently it was present in the first, just very poorly explained. You learn all of this in the opening levels of the game, where you switch between the duo.
While it sounds like the characters might be overpowered, the game does a pretty solid job at making sure you’re challenged. Enemy attacks will come at you from every direction, and there’s also a scoring system called Kudos. Basically, the more damage you deal without getting hit (in this game, there’s actually a sliding Kudos scale where you can take more or less hits but gain more or less points as well) the higher your score multiplier will go, so that also provides incentive to dodge attacks whenever possible.
The levels and enemies feel just challenging enough, but won’t be too taxing for experienced gamers. Thankfully, the bosses provide more of a challenge. Each one has its own theme. One can manipulate water to summon giant tridents from the ground, while another can digitize enemies and platforms (this guy also speaks almost exclusively in internet lingo, which is honestly just lame and annoying). Much like Mega Man and the more recent Shovel Knight, each boss is very well designed and fun to fight thanks to their unique move set and theme. I personally didn’t find too many of the fights very challenging, save for the ones in the final level (and indeed, the True Final Boss of each storyline is actually very difficult in a way that the rest of the game isn’t).
Thanks to the tight controls, well thought out mechanics, and well-designed enemy and boss encounters, the game plays like an absolute dream. To be honest, I think I enjoyed playing the speedy Copen even more than the DPS based Gunvolt, thanks to how mobile and powerful he feels. It’s worth playing through each story thanks to the distinct play styles. However, don’t expect to understand those stories completely. While the first game offered up some neat lore about people with special powers, there were some plot elements that were hazy at best, like what the hell the Muse is supposed to do (I’m still not 100% sure). In this game, things start off fairly straightforward, with Gunvolt’s partner Joule, the aforementioned Muse, getting her body taken and Copen’s sister getting kidnapped by a group of people who seek to create a paradise for people with powers. The thing is that all the expository dialogue doesn’t help very much with understanding all the jargon and mythology.
By the end of the story, I was pretty much lost on who was doing what and what their end goals were. This is in part because of the newly integrated level dialogue. In the first game, you were given introduction to the level, and maybe some dialogue through scripted scenes. In this game, the characters talk while you’re in the middle of the level, and their dialogue boxes often obscure the action (this is especially problematic later in the game, where you need to keep a close eye on all the stuff flying around the screen). It means that you miss dialogue that might help you wrap your head around hat the hell is going on with the story, and it negatively impacts gameplay. Thankfully, it can be turned off, but it’s still distracting and tough to keep up with. Lastly, I wish there was some kind of in game dictionary that explained all of the universe’s jargon that gets thrown around, because I simply couldn’t keep up.
Despite those story issues, this is another must play action title from a studio at the top of their game. Each character is a blast to play, which makes it worth playing through the game at least twice. Then, once you’ve finished the main game, each character gets five more secret levels to play through. This is on top of the equipment crafting system which, although unnecessary, is fun to tool around with since it lets you tweak each character to exactly suit your play style. You may have no idea what the hel the story is rambling on about, but that won’t matter when you’re electrifying and shooting your way through armies.
+ Excellent presentation, tight controls, and well thought out mechanics make the game a blast to play
+ Each character has their own distinct play style, and Copen in particular stands out
+ Good replayability thanks to the two stories, multiple endings, post-game levels, and equipment crafting
- Story is very difficult to follow
- Dialogue boxes get in the way of the action, but turning them off will make you miss important information