What Is It?
Azure Striker Gunvolt is a 2D action sidescroller unlike any other. You play as Gunvolt, an assassin imbued with the power of lightning. Although you’re armed with a gun, the bullets alone do very little damage to enemies. The hook of this game is the tagging system. When you shoot an enemy, it gets tagged, then you can damage it by pouring lightning energy into it no matter where you are in relation to the tagged enemy.
On the surface, that’s all there is to it, but there are several other behind-the-scenes mechanics that work together brilliantly, making Azure Striker Gunvolt one of the most exciting, most addicting, most fun games on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.
Why Should I Care?
The structure of the game is often compared to the Mega Man series, though the similarities are only cosmetic. Obviously, the name itself is a reference to the Blue Bomber, which makes sense, since Inti Creates is also the developer of Mega Man 9 and 10, and Keiji Inafune was involved in the development of Gunvolt. Also like Mega Man, the first group of levels in Gunvolt can be selected in any order and are each based on a specific theme (forest, underwater, etc.). Each level ends with a boss whose personality is tied to the theme. However, Gunvolt does not acquire the attack of the bosses like Mega Man does. Gunvolt’s arsenal grows in a much different way and is far more integral to the gameplay than the weapons in a mainline Mega Man game.
All of the extra abilities, weapons, and gear are earned through several layers of skilled play. First, there is a basic leveling up system through experience gained by killing enemies, which earns you slightly more HP and the occasional new ability. Second, the higher your kudos (which I’ll explain later), the more loot you gain at the end of it, which you can then craft into equipment that mostly improves your basic abilities, such as double jumping, air dashing, shorter cooldown for the lightning attack, and much more. Finally, you gain new handguns throughout the game that alter the way tagging works. The basic gun shoots straight and allows you to tag up to three enemies at once (or three tags on one enemy, which causes triple damage), while other guns might change the trajectory of the bullets while allowing you to tag more enemies. Customizing your weapon and equipment can drastically change the way the game plays, and, while you will settle on your favorite loadout, some challenges are better suited to other combinations, so cycling among them all is certainly encouraged.
The key ingredient to all of this is the combo system, which is represented by a number called kudos. Killing an enemy will earn you kudos, but simply killing all of the enemies individually will net you a very poor score. The best way to earn kudos is to tag as many enemies as possible and kill them simultaneously. The enemy and level layout is structured in such a way that you are rarely overwhelmed by enemies, with usually only three or four on screen at a time, if you’re lucky. The basic strategy, then, is to gather as many enemies on screen as possible, tag as many as your gun allows, then blast them with your lightning attack.
Receiving any damage, however, returns your kudos counter to zero, which severely diminishes your reward. Kudos are “cashed in” at checkpoints in the level, so you want your kudos to be as high as possible when you reach a checkpoint. However, if you’re feeling lucky, you can skip any checkpoint, hoping to rack up an even higher number to cash in at the next checkpoint or at the end of the level (though making it through an entire level and killing the boss without getting hit is extremely difficult). Since higher kudos receive a higher multiplier, making it as far as possible before cashing in results in a huge score bonus, which nets you much more loot at the end of the level.
All of these elements work together to create an intensely methodical experience where even one mistake can devastate your score. This kind of risk/reward, skill-based gameplay won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’ve read this far and like what you see, you’ll love it. Even if you aren’t into that kind of thing, the score attack aspect isn’t the only way to enjoy the game. Simply running through to the end, which is basically what I did before I learned how all of the systems worked, is fun enough in itself.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
As a rather cheap eShop game, Azure Striker Gunvolt is well worth the price. Each of the twelve levels has unique challenges to accomplish, a rating at the end, and a hidden item to find, so replayability is baked into the game. With its emphasis on mastery, I spent twenty hours getting basically as good as I’ll ever get, and every single minute of it was pure joy, as the ramp up from total amateur to skilled player was fairly smooth and consistent. It’s awesome to see such talented game designers pour their efforts into a smaller, air-tight experience that feels nigh on perfect.