Iggy’s World: Azure Striker Gunvolt
At the time I’m writing this, it has been ten years since Mega Man X8 was released. Yes I am aware of the Zero series but I’m still yearning for a true sequel to the X series and the rate Capcom is going Mega Man X9 will never come to fruition. Enter this hidden game (to me at least) called Azure Striker Gunvolt and when I saw at demonstration for it my interest were peaked. When I eventually found out that Keji Inafune had a hand in the project along with the team behind the Zero series I had to play this game. Now that I’ve beaten, does it fill the hole of X being gone? Let’s find out together.
Story has never been a strong point for the X series, but once the focus shifted to Zero as the main protagonist story elements took a more prominent role. Gunvolt’s story is in the middle when it comes to exposition and the larger plot as a whole. For what little of the world we are shown, the developers sure made an interesting one. A single world government using the power of music to control the populace, enter Gunvolt who (at least at the start) works for a group of rebels to stop the tyranny.
That all sounds by the numbers storytelling but I can’t deny how original the plot feels. Sadly due to the high intense gameplay the story takes a back seat and only our imaginations run wild. However because of this there were some head scratching moments, namely why Gunvolt still helped the rebels after his quits after the first mission. It feels utterly pointless since you still engage with them for missions almost as if Gunvolt never left. It’s even more laughable when you see that Gunvolt wanted to escape from all this. Finally the ending just didn’t feel like an ending, it didn’t feel like sequel bait but I didn’t feel like there was a resolution. The game just ended as if nothing happened at all.
As intriguing the world of Gunvolt is, it’s the gameplay that will make you come back. Yes the basic controls from the Mega Man X series are here with dashing and wall jumping but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of running and gunning your way through each level, it’s all based on electric tagging. Your gun only serves as a tag to allow Gunvolt to use his electric based powers to take out enemies. Another twist is the charge meter for Gunvolt’s powers, forcing the player to be strategic instead of reckless. This one mechanic alone makes the side scrolling action feel unique. Instead of using stage hazards to caution players it relies on this core game mechanic to make players think twice before running and gunning through each stage.
In tradition with the Mega Man X series Gunvolt can upgrade his weapons and gain more health but instead of looking for secrets, the player will be either purchasing them or earning them through a mini game or challenges the player decides when they want to do said challenges. Thankfully the game is formatted to cater players who want everything and players who try to bullrush through the game. I never felt that not having the specific upgrade hindered me from progression, so the player is rewarded greatly if they do decided to obtain key upgrades but from my standpoint the player isn’t punished either. A perfect balance if you will.
Speaking of the stages they are the least interesting aspect of this game. They all consist of one color pallet with a specific gimmick with nothing about the stages themselves standing out. To top it off, all the levels have the “industrial” feeling to them and while yes that fits organically with the established world, it leaves much to be desired from a gameplay standpoint. I’m not asking for the tropes of a normal,water,fire, and desert levels here but give me something eye catching to look at, stage gimmicks can only carry a player so far.
My favorite aspect of this game are the boss fights. One of the huge problems I had with the X series was how easy some bosses can be due to the weapon weakness component. Here there is none of that, it’s all skill based. A test of reflexes and learning boss patterns. By simply removing a boss weakness brings back the challenge from a boss fight, plus when you factor in the gauge for Gunvolts’ powers it makes boss fights even more intense. I felt so satisfied when I would defeat a boss, something I didn’t feel in the X series very often.
Some other minor details that could have been fleshed out was the talking to “Joule” mechanic so Gunvolt can feel closer to her. Other than a random resurrection with some cool Jpop playing there doesn’t seem to be a bigger point to it. A final note is the music for the game is top notch, high intense music to match the intense gameplay.
If you’re looking for something to fill that Mega Man X hole in your heart, look no further than Azure Striker Gunvolt. It’s not an exact replication but instead it takes the core elements of what made the X series, rewrites the formula a tad to make an all new experience. I encourage anybody who misses Mega Man X to pick up this game and I promise you’ll enjoy it. Despite the flaws in the short story this game is well worth your time.
Azure Striker Gunvolt earns a 8/10