Azure Striker Gunvolt 3DS Preview: Riding the Third Rail

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3DS Preview: Riding the Third Rail

Inti Creates takes what it learned from Mega Man Zero/ZX and heads in a whole new direction.

I liked Mega Man as a kid, but I've always had a better time with his spin-offs. Mega Man X is probably my favorite spin-off series, but Battle Network, Legends, Zero, and ZX were all fun. The latter two series are the amazing work of Inti Creates, an independent Japanese developer comprised of former Capcom employees. Inti Creates is at the top of my list of great developers, despite the fact we've missed a lot of their output in the United States.

Azure Striker Gunvolt is their latest game, a project executive produced by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. Gunvolt is directed by Mega Man Zero 2 & 3 designer Yoshihisa Tsuda and feels like an extension of everything Inti Creates did in Zero and ZX. New project, new chance to play around with the Mega Man formula.

Like the Mega Man games, Gunvolt takes place in the near future, where psychic powers have popped up and a corporation called the Sumeragi Group owns everything. Sumeragi kidnaps and cages those with psychic powers (septimal energy in the game's terminology), so the rebel organization QUILL fights the good fight against the corporation. You're QUILL freelancer Gunvolt, who's sent on a mission to assassinate Sumeragi's virtual pop star Lumen. The first mission you complete in the game sees Gunvolt taking custody of Joule, a young girl whose psychic powers allow her to manifest Lumen. Sumeragi has been using Joule's ability to enhance the powers of its psychics, so of course it wants her back.

Nope.

Still with me? A freelancer, a girl with psychic powers, and the mega-corporation that wants her back. Gunvolt plays out like a Mega Man game: you have to take down seven Swordsmen, gifted psychics who have had their powers forged into Glaive. Each Swordsmen has his or her own area, psychic ability, and corresponding look when they unleash their septimal powers. The designs of Gunvolt and the Swordsmen are flippin' top-notch. Design-wise they're all rather amazing - Inti Creates artist Yoshitaka Hatakeyama is now on my radar - but their memorability is tripped up by their unrelated names. Names like Stratos and Carrera aren't bad, but I found I referred to them by either color or power ("Yellow Guy" or "Magnet Dude" for Carrera, for example). Of course, every boss has their own pattern that you have to learn and overcome to defeat them.

After that the Mega Man comparisons start to break down. Azure Striker Gunvolt doesn't particularly play like Mega Man Zero or ZX. The physics and basic feel are the same - you could squint at someone playing and imagine the Blue Bomber himself onscreen - but the flow is totally different. Gunvolt has a gun, but that's not actually his primary weapon. His real weapon is his electric field, which acts as offense, defense, and movement aid.

When Gunvolt's electric field is activated, it damages things in the immediate vicinity and slows his fall speed. You can use his conductor gun to target specific enemies and then activate the field to attack directly. You can tag a single enemy up to three times: the first tag does some damage, tag number two increases the pain, and the third tag means the full damage of your electric field is pouring into your target. The field isn't endless, but it recharges when it's not being used (you can recharge it yourself by tapping down twice, but that makes you immobile for a hot second). If you're not using the field and you get hit, you dodge. Dodging pulls the damage from your field's energy bar, not your life bar; the game calls this Prevasion and you can do it as long as you have energy left.

Gunvolt is all about managing your field. Timing your attack while still making sure you have enough energy for further obstacles. Early on, this means a lot of stop-and-go play; part of Gunvolt is learning use your field and recharge on the fly. As you dig further into the game, bosses and stage obstacles will try to make you choose between using the field for offense or defense, or have you switch between both modes quickly. This mix of attack and defend makes Gunvolt play like a very different game and I admit it was hard for me to wrap my head around the field as my main weapon.

Managing the field is key.

This basic gameplay is backed up by RPG mechanics. In addition to leveling up, Gunvolt can equip new Conductor guns, accessories, and last-ditch skills to customize his experience. Having trouble with a boss? One of the game's tips screens actually says it might be a good idea to level up before trying again. Maybe you need a longer jump, or a Conductor gun that goes through foes; that's all available via items and accessories. I found Gunvolt's screen-clearing last-ditch skill to be quite useful in finishing off Swordsmen.

The game also incentivizes you to revisit levels. Not only will you gain experience and currency for running through levels again, you'll also collect items you can sell at the in-game shop or synthesize into new equipment. How much stuff you receive depends on how well you play through each level. Every time you hit an enemy, you get Kudos, which build up as long as you don't take a hit yourself. You can bank these Kudos at checkpoints throughout the level. Depending on your level complete time and Kudos score, you'll get a letter grade and the chance to open up hidden boxes for items. You can also take on additional challenges when you revisit a level; completing these challenges rewards you with extra-special items and synth material.

All Inti Creates had to do was create another Mega Man game with the serial number filed off, but I'm surprised to see that they've gone the extra mile in developing Gunvolt. It's a very different game than what came before and I think Inti Creates will be better off having created it. I still have three more Swordsmen and probably a final boss tower to defeat before I give Gunvolt the all clear, but I've definitely enjoyed what I've played so far. At the very least, Gunvolt makes me want another artbook for my bookshelf; I hope you're listening Inti Creates.

Mighty Gunvolt is a nostalgic snack.

Azure Striker Gunvolt is coming to the 3DS eShop on August 29, 2014 for $14.99. If you buy the game by November 28 in the US, you'll also get a free download code for Mighty Gunvolt, a platformer purely in the style of the original 8-bit Mega Man games. Mighty Gunvolt lets you choose between three characters: Gunvolt, the angel Ekoro from Inti Creates Japanese-only GalGun, and Beck from Comcept's Mighty No. 9. Mighty Gunvolt is a five-level snack, intended as more of a loving homage than a full title. I had fun with it, but it's really just a cool side-story to Azure Striker.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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