Thursday, August 28, 2014

Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS)

Keiji Inafune, the mastermind behind the "Mega Man" series, and the upcoming "Mighty No.9" multi-platform phenomenon teams up with the like minded developers at Inti Creates to bring to us an action packed game about a psychic (Adept) boy named "Gunvolt", and his mission to take down a corrupt conglomerate known as the "Sumeragi Group". Joining the ranks of a resistance group known as "QUILL" Gunvolt initially aims to use his lightning powers to cripple the energy sapping Sumeragi by killing off Lumen, a pop star whose vocal talents were being utilized in order to help Sumeragi locate, and capture other Adepts for energy source purposes. Upon finding Lumen, and the real source of her powers though Gunvolt makes a quick decision to rescue the young Adept girl (Joule) who is the driving force behind the Lumen double, and keeps her safe by his side as they continue going about their work of ridding the world of Sumeragi's evil grip. Of course trouble comes in a sinful variety as the Sumergai's cronies (which are each named after the seven deadly sins) try to put an end to Gunvolt, and the other QUILL members. There's even a human scientist named 'Copen' who aims to rid the world of both Adepts, and Sumeragi with his specially crafted Adept weapons. It's an electrified shootout with multiple targets caught in the crosshairs. Who comes out on top is up to you!

After you start-up "Azure Striker Gunvolt" on your 3DS, and get past the anime inspired title screen via a press of the "START" button you will be introduced to the main character known as Gunvolt as well as one of Sumeragi's henchmen who is currently in the process of torturing him. During the altercation, and shortly afterwards you'll also get to know the resistance group known as QUILL who has sent Gunvolt on the mission in the first place. The comic book style plot that plays out before you will be shown through a simple yet effective dialogue filled screen that features some manga style art panels which do a good job of adding a deeper element to the otherwise straightforward intro scenario. As it turns out in the grand scheme of things the protagonist Gunvolt happens to be an Adept, or a psychic who can harness electric energy, and use it to his advantage. The Sumeragi Group who's henchman is torturing him with electricity in the opening sequence ultimately wants to catch all Adepts like Gunvolt, and use them as energy sources to power their city-like empire. The only thing that stands between that happening is Gunvolt, and QUILL. That is why QUILL aims to eliminate the threat by killing the pop idol muse Lumen who's voice reveals Adepts' whereabouts.

As you delve even deeper into gameplay you'll find that Gunvolt, and his company of friends work in unison through their efforts on a mission to destroy Sumeragi for good. Using the leads given by the members of QUILL (Asimov, Gino, Monica), and the resurrection anthem of Joule/Lumen to get him out of the more dire situations Gunvolt soldiers up, and prepares for battle with his bolt gun, and electric abilities. Gunvolt, who is the man will be executing the master plan of QUILL through your contributing control via a couple of special weapons that will help him traverse the city's 2D locales, and destroy the mechanical monstrosities that block his path therein. As Gunvolt you will be able to shoot lightning bolts via one of several unlockable guns, and follow up with a shock charge that will destroy the obstacle before you, or an enemy that has been shot (tagged). Tagging obstructive obstacles, and enemies is a must if you hope to activate, or destroy them quickly. There is one catch to utilizing such power though, and that lies with the EP meter which acts as any energy source for Gunvolt's tagging, and special assignable skills. As such learning to keep the EP meter filled, and at the ready is a huge part of what you will be tasked with doing during your level playthroughs.

The EP meter in "Azure Striker Gunvolt" can be refilled in a few different ways, and must be done frequently. On such method of EP regeneration ties in with the killing of enemies. After killing an enemy via a proper tag they'll sometimes drop EP orbs which will slightly increase the depleted EP meter. This is a slow process, and is not really one to depend upon when in dire need of EP. If you want to speed up the process more efficiently, and gain a full 100% EP meter instantly then you'll have to double tap "DOWN" on the DPad in order to do so. This method should be used every time you get low on EP, so you are not left without offensive options. Keep in mind though that when not using your gun, or your electric shock your EP meter will automatically regenerate, but at a slower pace than the previously disclosed method. It should also be noted that the EP meter can overheat when abused, or when you get shot, or damaged too much. This will leave Gunvolt open for further attack, and without a way to fight back for as long as it takes the EP meter to recover.

Gunvolt's EP meter also plays a huge role in how you'll go about scoring points, and leveling up during each level playthrough. Without your EP meter being kept up you will be left open to attack, and will possibly fail to earn the "Kudos" needed for a better score/ranking. You'll find that the developer of "Azure Striker Gunvolt" has put into place a combo system known as "Kudos" that ties in with the the damage you receive, or don't receive. By continuously killing off enemies without getting hit, or damaged your Kudos count (combo count) will increase in regards to the amount hits each of your attacks inflict. Using only the gun will not give you much Kudos, but when you finish the tag sequence with an applied shock charge the Kudos count will go up rather quickly. While it's not mandatory to earn Kudos in order to beat the game it will afford you quicker rank leveling, and will help you to complete some of the optional QUILL challenges that you can take on. It will even improve your odds of getting an "S+" rank at the end of a playthrough, assuming you've played like a pro throughout the ordeal. One thing to note is that end of level ranks are a lot like something you'd find in a SEGA game, and are alphabetical in nature with 'D' being the lowest rank, and 'S+' the highest. Not only does your Kudos, and the damage you have taken on matter at the end of each level, but you'll find that your playthrough is also timed meaning that time is of the essence in this particular game. Staying on top of things is a must if you hope to do your best.

As far as Gunvolt's surrounding shock charge goes it will only last so long as you have energy (EP) to use the special attack. Like skills (health regeneration, EP boost, special attacks ...) which can be unlocked through ranking your basic attacks (tagging) will require the use of an EP meter. When filled the energy in Gunvolt's EP meter will be at 100%, but the longer you hold down "A" the lower the percentage will drop. If overused your energy meter will also overheat rendering your attacks, and skills useless until the meter recovers.

The EP in the game must be used strategically due to the fact that multiple features at Gunvolt's disposal will use it up. The skills that I mentioned before that become available as you rank up through kills will give you special added effects that can enhance EP, health, and even deal extra damage through more powerful attacks. The trick to keeping your EP meter full (as I mentioned earlier) is to double tap "DOWN" on the DPad whenever it gets low. This will fully refill the EP meter to 100%, and keep you ready for any challenges that should arise. Keep in mind though that getting hit will not only knock your Kudos (combo) down to zero, but that it will also deplete your EP meter leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks. When it comes to killing off the various types of enemies, and boss characters within the game you will find that the way you utilize the tag, and shock attacks will have a great influence on if you take damage, or not. In other words using the shock charge can offset certain projectiles, and even help you float out of the way of various attacks when needed. Learning enemy attack patterns is the key to coming out of the fray with a higher Kudos count.

Before I get too far ahead of myself let me explain the objective of each level playthrough. In "Azure Striker Gunvolt" you will find that the levels are divided up by boss characters within the main menu in similar fashion as older 'Mega Man' games. Once a level is selected you will be tasked with going from start to finish using Metroidvania style moves (wall jumping, dashing, air dashing ...) while killing off every enemy between including the boss character at the end. As I mentioned earlier you will be using your lightning gun to shoot interactive obstacles, and kill off any enemies in your path. The initial shot you fire must connect with the target first, and then be followed up with a shock charge by holding down the "A" button once the enemy/obstacle is tagged. This is done in order to inflict the damage necessary to activate said obstacle, or destroy said enemy completely. As you might have guessed the shoot, and then shock method of attack is known as "tagging", and will become useful in a variety of different ways throughout your playthrough. One thing you need to keep in mind in regards to engaging enemies within the game with your weapons is that both the enemies, and Gunvolt have a life meter, and will die once the yellow/red of the meter is fully depleted. Therefore it is imperative that you avoid as much damage as possible as you make your way to the end of each level. For those of you hoping for checkpoints each level does have a few in place between the start, and finish. This will not only let you continue at a checkpoint should you die, but it will also save any Kudos (combo points) that you have gained up to that point.

When it comes to the optional challenges that are offered through QUILL via the main menu you will find that by completing a level in a specific manner you will be rewarded with bonus Vig (in-game currency), and parts needed for synthesizing gear for Gunvolt. Challenges usually ask that you complete the level playthrough within a certain time limit, with a certain end rank, or in a certain manner. In order to properly take on a challenge you will need to select, and accept said challenge before going into the level via the main menu. Accessing the challenge menu as well as the synth shop, the save option, the equipment setup, and the options menu can be done by pressing the "Left Shoulder" button on your 3DS. For those of you finding that the challenges prove too difficult to take on you will be glad to know that once you beat a level, should you find the hidden medals in it you will be given the opportunity to play a card-like matching game in which you turn over cards, and reveal Vig as well as various synth materials.

Obtained synth materials in the game can be used to craft stronger equipment for Gunvolt as well as equipment which gives him abilities outside the norm (air dashing, double jump, EP regeneration ...). In order to craft/synth the items though you will first have to have the correct material needed as well as enough of the material to complete the synth process. Gunvolt's equipment includes special eye lenses (x2), a ring, a pendant, and his gun/bolt. Only one piece of synthesized equipment can be applied to each item socket at a time though. Of course it goes without saying that being properly equipped for a certain level is a must if you hope to make it through, and survive the boss battle as well.

Speaking of surviving, should you die within a level you will have the chance to become resurrected, and immune to certain things assuming you have spoken to Joule (aka, Lumen) before you began your playthrough. A detail I forgot to mention earlier on is that there is an option within the "Left Shoulder" menu that will help you carry on a short conversation with Joule, and get closer to her relationship-wise. Once done you will have a chance to get resurrected through Lumen's anthem if you die while making progress through a level. It should also be noted that aside from the threat of enemies there are also environmental hazards in each level such as that of pitfalls, spikes, and other dangerous objects. Sometimes Lumen's resurrection anthem will keep you from dying due to certain environmental hazard contact.

In order to fully complete "Azure Striker Gunvolt", and experience all that it has to offer you will not only have to complete all the levels, and defeat all of the bosses, but you will also have to collect all the hidden jewels within the levels that contain boss battles. This is where the "Sonic the Hedgehog" similarities really become noticeable. The jewels within the game are usually just out of sight, and will require some thorough searching to obtain. Once you have collected a jewel you'll then need to beat the final boss of the level in order to get to keep it. Once back at the main menu, with Jewel in possession you can talk to Joule, and give her the rare gem in exchange for a relationship booster, and possibly an alternate ending. While level playthroughs, and jewel hunting can prove to be a difficult task at times you can rest easy knowing that the levels are divided up by sections, and have checkpoints in place that will secure any Kudos you have earned as well as mark the spot where you'll return should you meet an untimely demise. Just know that the work put into designing this game makes it well worth completing, and experiencing it to it's fullest extent. Don't give up, because it's as challenging as 'Mega Man', if not more so!

The Verdict ...

In my opinion both "Inti Creates", and "Keiji Inafune" did an amazing job with the storytelling, and the actual gameplay in "Azure Striker Gunvolt". It lives up to it's 'Mega Man' predecessor's hype, and takes it a huge leap forward with more unique content that further enriches the gameplay at hand. While character development is kept to a minimum throughout the game the gameplay will more than keep you busy, and preoccupied with the many tasks that it offers. The fact that the game is score based, and has RPG elements in place makes the replay value spike, if only just a little. For those of you interested in the visual style it is truly gorgeous, and harkens back to an era of retro gaming that many of us long to revisit, the 32-bit era. In a way it's like a modern-day re-imagining of the 'Mega Man' series with "Sonic the Hedgehog" tidbits thrown in for good measure. The soundtrack which includes an actual song that plays out during the Lumen resurrections is truly impressive. Like the graphics the soundtrack has a modern edge about it that far surpasses the music included in games like 'Mega Man'.

As far as a verdict goes this is another no-brainer. Fans longing to find that new 'Mega Man' experience will definitely find it here, and for the meager price of $14.99 can own it. The added fact that you'll get a free-of-charge 8-bit spin off of the game (Mighty Gunvolt) makes it an even better deal. I also hear rumor that there's paid DLC in the works by the developer. This will most definitely hold you over until "Mighty No.9" debuts on consoles! Be sure not to miss out!

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