Originally founded by Capcom alumni, Inti Creates became known for its work on the Zero and DX versions of the Mega Man license in the early 2000s. The Gunvolt series, launched in 2014 on Nintendo, Sony and PC, can be considered a direct heir to the adventures of the Japanese Smurf. To celebrate the arrival of the third and final episode in a few days, teased by a certain Keiji Inafune at the end of June, we take advantage of a group photo with the adaptation of the first two canonical episodes originally released on 3DS, the first is since available in Microsoft’s retail store last month.
I’m blue, I’m cute, I’m nice, I’m, I’m…
The universe of Gunvolt takes place in the near future. Technology and especially robotics is very advanced. Some people called “adepts” have evolved “septimal” powers, giving them control over certain elements and superhero-like abilities. The all-powerful Sumeragi Group develops weapons by enslaving adepts and studying their skills. Falcon, a pro-Adept secret organization, wants to take down the Consortium.
Our hero, Gunvolt, nicknamed the Azure Lightning and former member of Faucon, is one of the most powerful adepts in the world, and masters, oh surprise, electricity. He teams up with Joule (volt, joule, remember your physics classes in college…) who, after the events of the first episode, merged his mind with him and helps him by increasing his skills tenfold.
The second main character arrives quickly. Copen (main character of the spin-off Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX) is a young human scientist with a deep hatred for the followers, whom he blames for the silence and fragile health of his younger sister. He wields a gun that suppresses septimal powers and comes with an adorable drone, Lola, whose power strongly contradicts his appearance.
The artistic direction completely takes on his kawaii side, very childish and colorful. The pixel art is mastered during the gameplay phases and is enriched with very nice HD artwork during the interludes. The universe of Gunvolt, even if it depicts a merciless armed conflict where madness borders on betrayal, remains accessible, devoid of graphic violence and visually very close to the cartoon. Therefore, it can appeal to everyone, young and old, who does not delay the manga style.
On the sound side, we stay within the codes of the genre with catchy synthetic music that stays well with the action, behind the pioupious and the explosions in ruins, as well as a whole sung playlist very typical “idol” unlockable across the game by filling in certain conditions. The spoken dialogue is in Japanese only, and there are some typos and clumsiness in the French subtitles, in addition to the classic accented letters, where the font used is not appropriate.
We take the same and start again
During the introduction, we witness the return of Zonda, an odious narcissistic megalomaniac with methods as questionable as his beliefs and his particularly dubious design, left for dead in the previous episode (what a surprise!). Since misfortune never comes alone, his plan is to crash Sumeragi’s flagship in the city. It’s time to start saving the world.
From the first level, we have to admit that without knowing the franchise, we are a bit lost, between the interface to be tamed and the relatively extensive gallery of characters needed. The latter do not stop “talking” parallel to the action, with portraits and texts on the screen, regularly breaking the rhythm. It goes without saying that our first impression is mixed as the attention is constantly distracted and we don’t know whether to go for it or focus on the exchanges between the protagonists.
The best soups are made in old pots
The gameplay seems simple and effective at first glance: shoot, jump, run, the basics. But what makes the title specific is the presence of a meter that recharges over time, represented by an energy bar for Gunvolt, a bandolier for Copen, and which offers various offensive AND defensive capabilities. With a little practice and experience, we realize that this system is quite well thought out.
Gunvolt can continuously destroy enemies and certain terrain once hit and locked with its base fire. Copen for his part is much more attacking in his gameplay. Hitting an enemy with his dash, whether on the ground or in the air, sends all his subsequent attacks on his target for a few seconds, including Lola’s, making it an essential part of his arsenal. If you don’t use this ability, characters can automatically phase out to ‘telescape’ enemy attacks.
When the energy runs out, the skills will be locked and you will be overheated for a short period of time. So a balance has to be found between attack and defense in order not to feel powerless in a delicate situation.
Super Smash Rivals
Once the scene is set, Zonda’s Machiavellian plan revealed, as well as the presentation of his court of well-typed minions, with designs and personalities more eccentric than each other, we’re given a choice to continue the adventure, alongside Gunvolt or Copen. During this first phase, there are four levels available, different for each character, which must be completed in any order, naturally themed in line with the villain we encounter at the end.
Since the latter is “in his element”, he benefits from specific attacks and the advantage of the terrain. Reflexes and observation are put to the test as his attack patterns are numerous and vicious during each of the encounter’s three phases, with the latter adding impressive fury that can alter the outcome of the fight. Our victory allows us to regain an extra weapon (headshot for Gunvolt, Lola’s laser for Copen), which gives us the advantage over any of the other bosses we encounter. This chifoumi exercise is always fun, even though it’s entirely possible to do most of the game without using them.
Once this step is completed, the progression becomes linear again with a slightly increased difficulty over the last four levels and confronts us with the remaining bosses, until the final confrontation. The epilogue, shipped very quickly, leaves a taste of unfinished business, and for good reason… We’ll have to fight a little more to get THE real endings, the Score and Time attack modes, and five bonus levels called “Secret Missions”. to acquire .
The same player is still playing
The character change is done by returning to the title screen and loading the backup, which is done manually, which may come as a surprise today. Between levels, the characters can change their skills and equipment, create new tools from the resources collected during the levels, and develop the bond with their partner through short dialogues. The interface betrays its handheld console ancestry, but remains simple and readable. Before you can invest in really interesting and sometimes cumulative improvements, you need to multiply the runs and get a bit of luck.
The base scoring system gives prominence to infinite combos, multiple targeting, and stylish performances. Once we become more confident in the controls, environments and bosses, the numbers start to increase, as does the score achieved at the end of each level, much to our satisfaction. Add to that a long list of cumulative challenges to recover materials and we realize that the game is made for speedrunning and therefore benefits from a nice replayability. Achievement hunters have a big challenge, because with the exception of the very first, which is unlocked very early in a scenario sequence, all the others require specific conditions, mainly achieving an S grade on all levels. With every character. You have been warned.
Blue is not dead
In summary, Azure Striker GUNVOLT 2 clearly has the strength of its weaknesses. Even if for the majority of Xbox players now it’s just a “fake 2016 novelty” with resolutely retro graphics and a very Japanese cute atmosphere, the title is particularly pleasing with the controller in hand. The action gets intense, the bosses are original, crazy, twisted and the two playable characters allow you to radically vary the gameplay. Whether you’re a veteran of the adventures of Mega Man, or a neophyte of the genre looking for an “old fashioned” action game with a dash of finesse, Azure Striker GUNVOLT 2 delivers on its promises.
Tested on Xbox One.