Azure Striker Gunvolt, released in 2014, played like a true successor to Mega Man, though with its own ideas at the forefront. Two years later we've received its sequel, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. With the disappointing mediocrity of Mighty No. 9 just a few months ago fresh in everyone's minds, a project in which developer Inti Creates was involved, does Gunvolt 2 do more to satisfy action game fans?
The first thing you'll notice about Gunvolt's sequel is how comparable it is to the original game. The art style, controls and gameplay are all almost copied right out of the first outing. Thus, we find ourselves again in a futuristic Japanese world where Gunvolt, an Adept, must take on other Adepts, this time to save his friend.
This means that when playing as Gunvolt you'll be working with the familiar mechanic of tagging enemies with your pistol, then using your Flashfield to attack them from anywhere on screen. You can tag enemies up to three times to do extra damage to them as you use your electric blast. This is the main way that Gunvolt fights, and you're rewarded for mastering its use throughout the game.
There's plenty of room for customization on your quest. Your basic gun fires straight ahead, but since you can only shoot left or right that quickly becomes limiting. Alternative weapons allow you to penetrate multiple foes with one shot or shoot crawler shots that hug surfaces. You're also able to add additional equipment that gives stat bonuses, like taking less damage in exchange for a weaker Flashfield.
In true Mega Man style, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 follows a semi-open level structure. You're required to play through a few opening levels before being able to choose from four in any order. After this there are four more levels to play through. Each level holds its own boss at the end, and these are unfortunately uneven. Some bosses are easy enough that they can be taken down on the first try, while others move so quickly that it feels like your only hope is trial and error to memorize their attacks over a number of attempts.
Overall, the game's controls are pretty solid. The layout makes sense for a game of this type, and you can even use the New 3DS-exclusive ZL and ZR buttons to switch between weapon types. The only major problem we found with the control was the ice physics heavily present in one stage. They're incredibly heavy, and thus result in you having to jump all over the place to keep from careening off an edge. With some fairly precise platforming required, the ice level was definitely a low point.
One of the (only) big changes that the sequel makes to the formula is the introduction of a new playable character. Each time you load your file you're able to choose between Gunvolt and Copen. Copen is not an Adept; rather, he hates them and is seeking their destruction. This brings in another familiar Mega Man facet — each time a stage boss is defeated, Copen gains a new weapon to use.
Copen's base attack is different than Gunvolt's. Instead of tagging enemies and shocking them from afar, he dashes into enemies to lock onto them and then fires auto-aiming bullets to them. It requires you to be more up-close and personal to your foes, but does ultimately result in a similar system. There's a lot of popping out, tagging an enemy, and holding the fire button until they're dead in this game.
Like the bosses, the level design is also inconsistent. Some stages make use of interesting mechanics, like dual-coloured platforms that appear or disappear depending on whether Gunvolt's Flashfield is in use. Other levels, however, feel a little boring after a while, as they struggle to stand out.
The story is more of the expected, ultimately. The plot that plays out in the base between missions boils down to "go here and do this to advance the plot," with some awkward romantic tension thrown in for good measure. Since the entire game is dubbed in Japanese, there are dialogue boxes everywhere in this title. In the opening levels of the game, you'll stop what feels like every minute for a mini-cutscene full of dialogue. Even during later levels you'll be seeing text boxes pop up regularly with dialogue that's usually not important to the task at hand.
Seeing as the top screen already has a lot crammed into it (with your score, energy meter, and more on-screen at all times) being in the top-left part can mean not being able to see, and this continues to happen during boss fights; it's fortunate that the developers allowed players to turn off the dialogue boxes. This results in you not knowing what's going on between the characters, but in this case it's better not to be distracted.
The game's graphics are excellent, as would be expected — they're not pushing the system by any means, but have an attractive Genesis-like feel to them, and the 3D is subtle but adds a lot. The music is pretty solid, as well. In a lot of regards, this game almost feels more like an expansion pack to the first.
One issue here is the save system. The game does not save automatically after a stage, which is expected following the first game; you must save in the menu in between missions if you want to record your progress. The feature isn't an issue as such (especially as we saw it in the original), but other design choices make it problematic. After clearing the intro level, for example, we were immediately thrust into a second stage, with no opportunity to save. This manual saving is particularly noticeable on occasions when the game tosses you into a new level to fight a boss as soon as you've just completed a notable area. With this being a portable game, not being able to save when you want to can be a real issue, leaving you occasionally reliant on snapping the system shut into standby if you need to take a break or get back to the real world.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 isn't an overly long game. With ten levels being present for each character, you're probably looking at 2-3 hours each for Gunvolt and Copen. There's plenty of opportunity for replayability, however. Challenges provide extra objectives to complete in certain stages — some are busy work, like completing a given stage three times, but others are real challenges and task you to beat a stage without tagging any enemies. Beyond this the upgrade system, where you're granted materials at the end of each stage, encourages multiple playthroughs for completionists.
The challenge is balanced overall, but specifics are up to you. The game's scoring system allows you to take only a few hits before losing your combo, but you can adjust it to make things easier at the expense of point earning potential. Unfortunately, death doesn't have much of a consequence here, particularly during bosses. As there's always a checkpoint before a boss, you can continue to brute-force your way through a fight until you manage to win.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a good game, and while it really plays it safe by being so similar to its predecessor, it's an easy recommendation for action genre fans. For everyone else, however, it's a bit more of a mixed result. The level design and bosses are uneven, resulting in some levels feeling fun and challenging while others are less enticing. Couple in the save system issues, bland plot and incessant dialogue, and it's easy to see how some wouldn't fall in love with this title.
However, it's a solid action title. The two characters are different enough to provide good variety, there are a lot of items to help customize your approach, and if you're up for replaying the game there's a lot to work at. If you liked the first Gunvolt, love Mega Man, or wish Mighty No. 9 would have been better, this game is for you. Those looking for something fresh, an interesting story, or an action game to play in bite-sized pieces on the go may want to think twice.