In the vacuum left behind by the absence of Capcom’s popular Mega Man series, two major alternatives have sprouted up in an effort to take the top spot as the definitive run ‘n’ gun action platformer. These projects — created in parallel — have been headed by various staff that had a hand in the making of Mega Man titles. Azure Striker Gunvolt was headed by Inti Creates, and took the core idea of the Mega Man games in an interesting and unique direction, while Mighty No. 9 was a more traditional game made by Comcept — a studio led by Keiji Inafune, Mega Man’s creator; the latter failed to impress critically or commercially after a sloppily handled development cycle. These two studios have joined forces once again to create a sequel to a collaboration project (Mighty Gunvolt) in which the protagonists of both games got a headlining role. The question then remains: does Mighty Gunvolt Burst live up to the legacy that has preceded it?
The game opens up with a simple and marginally different story depending on whether you choose Beck or Gunvolt when starting a new save file. In the case of Beck, he finds himself trapped in a VR simulation chamber in which he will have to face all of the Robot Masters that he defeated once before in Mighty No. 9. In the case of Gunvolt, he finds himself transported into a mysterious place in which his septimal powers are disabled and he must compete in a robot fighting tournament. Either way, there’s plenty of fanservice here as familiar faces from both series periodically pop up, but the story obviously isn’t the main focus of this title.
The gameplay is what will grab the attention of most, as it feels more or less what we expect Mega Man 11 would play like if such a game were made in the same retro style as Mega Man 9 and 10. There are eight Robot Masters to choose from — all recycled from Mighty No. 9 — and you can choose to tackle them in any order you choose, bearing in mind that each of them has an elemental weakness to another. The controls are as tight as would be expected from a game of this ilk, as you run ‘n’ gun your way through unique and difficult stages, racking up a high score.
There’s a few nuances that separate this from the game series from which it so obviously draws inspiration. For one thing, the Burst combo system is prominently featured, though it admittedly feels like a somewhat tacked on addition. If the killing blow that you fire at an enemy is shot from point blank range, you’ll receive extra points for the kill and add one more to your Burst combo, which can only be broken by defeating an enemy from out of range. The problem with this is that it directly contradicts the whole point of having a long-range weapon, as the range required to get a Burst is rather strict in how it requires you to be right by the enemy. Still, it doesn’t have a ton of impact on the gameplay flow as a whole, and exists there for those who would like to add an additional layer of challenge to an already difficult game. In this sense, it’s a welcome addition to the gameplay, as it adds an interesting (if rather odd) wrinkle to otherwise simple title.
Another new addition is the presence of a ridiculously in-depth customizer for your character’s gun, which adds an appreciated, though somewhat mishandled, layer of strategy to gameplay. At any moment you can pause the game and bring up a menu which will allow you to set up to twenty-four different blaster loadouts, that see you changing everything from shot speed to elemental type. And we mean everything. The menus seemingly have no end, allowing you to finesse the buster to do exactly what you want it to. For example, you can eventually alter your shot to return like a boomerang, but the game also lets you alter sub-options like the trajectory, hangtime, and speed of this modification, with several sub-sub-options available under each of those. CP is the game’s way of governing the amount and kind of upgrades that you can stack onto any one loadout, and as you progress through stages killing enemies and searching for secret rooms will net you CP upgrades, which will gradually increase a total that’s attached to your character.
The problem with all of this is that the UI can be a bit dense to navigate, and it feels at times like the game is giving you a bit too much freedom with what you can do with your blaster. There are quite literally thousands of possibilities as to the kind of weapons you can make, but some of the modifications seem to be a bit unnecessary and needlessly complicate things. For example, it’s nice that you can add a wave effect to bullets, but it seems rather unnecessary for this type of game to also allow one control over the wavelength and amplitude of that wave effect. Still, much like the Burst system, this is an entirely optional feature that simply exists for those that wish to engage in it. If you want, you can play through the entire game with just the standard peashooter (there’s even an achievement for that).
Level designs are inventive and unique, with a memorable gimmick or theme in each stage that’s befitting of the Robot Master awaiting you at the end. In general, it seemed like the stages were easier than those that you’d find in a classic Mega Man game, but the boss fights definitely seemed harder. Due to the enhanced firepower afforded to your character by the CP system, Inti Creates hasn’t been afraid to aggressively amp up the boss patterns and add a whole lot more to their health bars. At times, this could get a bit annoying — as the bosses tend to be rather bullet-spongey — but switching up buster configurations went a long way towards taking the edge off.
In terms of replayability, there’s plenty to keep you coming back for many hours beyond the first time you clear the game. Though it only takes a couple hours to blitz through all the stages, there’s a collection of thirty in-game “Challenges” that are awarded for fulfilling various criteria, such as clearing a stage with a certain weapon modification or beating the game in under an hour. Many of these can be quite tough, so there’s no lack of difficulty for those that are looking for something to test the limits of their skills. Additionally, each stage is full of collectibles, most of which you can find by utilizing a dowsing system that uses HD rumble to tell you whether you’re hot or cold. These collectibles either add new modification options to your blaster or add to your ever-growing collection of stickers, which are dozens of little icons depicting characters and other things from both series. Suffice to say, there’s no shortage of things to do outside of just running through the stages, and you’ll likely find yourself hooked into replaying stages for better scores and grabbing missed items.
As for the presentation, Inti Creates has nailed the charm of retro styled graphics and sound; this feels like an original NES game right down to the aspect ratio of the screen. A wide palette of colours are utilized across the stages and there’s plenty of interesting sights to see, but even so, there’s little that stuck out to us as particularly memorable. The same goes for the soundtrack as well; the music is exactly the kind of chiptune that one would expect, with maybe only one or two tracks standing out as remarkably catchy. It’s not that anything here disappoints, but don’t go in expecting a game that’ll blow your socks off; there’s definitely a notion that Inti Creates was playing it safe here and sticking to the basics.
All told, Mighty Gunvolt Burst improves on the original Mighty Gunvolt in just about every conceivable way, and stands as a worthy successor to the classic Mega Man series. If ever a modern game were worthy of being called Mega Man 11, this would be it; it’s perfectly transplanted that classic run ‘n’ gun gameplay while adding a wealth of new additions and elements to keep you engaged for a long time. Though these new elements are a little rough around the edges, they nonetheless add a lot of value to the package and the flexible nature of the game allows you to completely ignore them if you so choose. We certainly give Mighty Gunvolt Burst a strong recommendation; for anyone looking for a meaty and high-quality retro title, look no further than this.