In the wide world of video games, "spiritual successors" are like the Gashapon-style mini-games that litter free-to-play mobile titles: You never know what you're going to get, but there's a 50-50 chance you'll wind up disappointed.
The best (worst?) example is Mighty No. 9, which proved to be a dismal action game, let alone a savior for long-suffering Mega Man fans. But one reason the Blue Bomber survived for as long as he did is because he has a talent for transformation. Case in point: Inti Creates' Mega Man Zero series is built on Mega Man's foundation, but adds multi-use weapons, throws in some truly unique character designs, and then bakes the batter until it's as hard as heck.
The Zero series is imperfect, but people still find good reasons to talk about it fondly. It's easy to see the Azure Striker Gunvolt enjoying the same pleasant legacy years from now. The first Azure Striker Gunvolt has problems, but it's based around an intriguing combat system that makes it satisfying to play. And while Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 unfortunately carries over several of the first game's issues, it's still a solid platformer that's fun to hang around for a few hours.
Gunvolt 2 picks up the previous game's storyline and immediately starts running, so if you haven't played the first game, steel yourself for a lot of gobbledygook. To put it as succinctly as possible, the world of the future is populated in part by "Adepts" who are capable of controlling psychic powers. One such Adept is Gunvolt, the "Azure Striker," who flings around lightning like silly string. Gunvolt is amicable in that tsundere anime boy sort of way, which is part of the reason why he protects humanity from Adepts who'd like to see humanity wiped out. On the other side of the spectrum is Copen, a talented human who'd like to see all Adepts put away for the threat they pose.
So, yes. The Azure Striker series' plotline is a lot like X-Men, but way more anime. Gunvolt 2's plot treads on familiar ground, but 8-4's sweet localization job makes the characters worth paying attention to once you sort out what the hey is going on.
Gunvolt 2's biggest change over its predecessor is the option to play as Copen, Gunvolt's rival. Whereas Gunvolt still tags his foes with projectiles and then blasts them with electrical discharges, Copen dashes into an enemy to tag it, then goes to town with his basic weapon or one of his skills. Copen's also more maneuverable than Gunvolt thanks to his advanced dashing abilities.
Combat for both characters is ultimately ruled by an energy source that depletes whenever they use their secondary attacks, i.e. the attacks actually capable of doing significant damage to foes. The same source lets Gunvolt phase through attacks when he's not using his powers to attack (Copen can phase as well, though his energy source for doing so is separate from his weapons energy). These sources recharge on their own, or can be instantly refilled if you tap down twice.
The need to constantly monitor your firepower gives Gunvolt 2 an arcade-like feel that's missing from the Mega Man games that directly inspired it, as you're effectively expected to "reload" every time you have half a second to breathe. And when you're up against the game's bosses, those half-seconds become scarce indeed. While some platforming fans feel like Gunvolt's system of tagging and refilling makes the hero feel clunky next to the likes of Mega Man, I personally find it a unique and interesting way to dispatch enemies after so many years of just blindly pumping bullets into whatever moves.
But while opinions about Gunvolt 2's combat system are subjective, there's no denying its levels are unimaginative and its enemies (outside The Seven, Gunvolt's stand-in for Mavericks) are dull. Gunvolt and Copen take on different sets of stages, which is nice, but they're not overly-exciting to explore. One problem is that Gunvolt 2 tasks you with searching for medals that let you uncover upgrade components in a game of chance at the end of each stage. This isn't nearly as fun as scouring a level for actual life upgrades or energy tanks because the medal you searched high and low for only gives you a shot at winning useless garbage – and the majority of said medals aren't hidden in particularly interesting or creative ways, anyway.
Worse, the foes you take on in each stage are bog-standard video game Rent-a-Thugs. Few stages have enemies designed specifically for the environs, and most mini-boss fights forego combat with giant robots in favor of killing waves of regular enemies. I found myself frequently flashing back to the Zero series' wicked menagerie of robotic plants, animals, and insects.
It's disappointing to have to ding Gunvolt 2 for the same problems Jeremy brought up in his own review of the first game, but the series is far from a lost cause. Even if Azure Striker Gunvolt 2's action amounts to souped-up target practice against forgettable drones, the very act of tagging and striking foes feels good. The promise of more combat with Gunvolt and Copen is enough to make me look forward to more Azure Striker Gunvolt games. And if said games finally bring us level design that lives up to series that inspired Gunvolt's adventures, maybe I'll find a reason to stop kvetching about Capcom sitting on the Mega Man franchise.
Gunvolt 2's soundtrack is half rock, half J-Pop. It all sounds fine, even if much of it is ultimately forgettable. Make sure to warm up your singing voice. Why? Oh, no reason…
Gunvolt, Copen, and the Adepts all look great, animate well, and boast interesting designs that call back to the Mega Man Zero series. Unfortunately, the game's backgrounds are pretty bland and repetitive, as are the run-of-the-mill foes you go up against.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2's offers a unique method of taking down bad guys, which is enough to differentiate it from the Mega Man Zero series that indirectly spawned it. Tagging and shooting foes is tons of fun and the ability to play as Copen is a nice addition, but Gunvolt 2 still has notable issues with repetitive level design. Still, if you enjoyed the first game, there's no reason you won't have a blast with this one.