First appearing as a free download to those who purchased the exceptional Azure Striker Gunvolt on the 3DS eShop, Mighty Gunvolt is a run-and-gun platformer from the mind of Keiji Inafune and produced by Inti Creates. Aiming for an old-school vibe, it’s no surprise that this new title from one of gaming’s pioneers feels a lot like classic Mega Man, but the connections go deeper than that. If you didn’t purchase Azure Striker Gunvolt, the other way to get your hands on Mighty Gunvolt – up until now – was by helping fund Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 during its Kickstarter campaign. While this bite-sized 3DS release stands alone as a completely different project, it reaches wide and draws influence from all over the Inti Creates catalogue.

Jumping right into the adventure, Mighty Gunvolt’s plot has something to do with liberating different areas by defeating the bosses who have moved in, but the exposition is short and the translation is so unbelievably awful that, try as we might, we couldn’t make much sense of it. While this is the game’s first noticeable letdown, the good news is that this can easily be looked past as the game barely relies on its plot, and the poor translation and lack of story-based direction actually plays into the homage to retro games. Before games relied heavily on exposition and boasted budgets similar to Hollywood blockbusters, the focus was on quick action and engaging gameplay. So many gaming jokes and memes are based on terrible translations and nonsensical plots that this feels more like a well-meaning rib than an outright blemish.

Growing from the substance of Azure Striker Gunvolt, Mighty Gunvolt provides a stripped-down version of the Gunvolt character and settings, offering players a completely different adventure altogether. Joining Gunvolt in this miniature version of his full game are Mighty No. 9’s Beck and Gal☆Gun’s angelic Ekoro, making this more than just a fun spin-off, but a mash-up of other Inti Creates projects. Each character controls differently and has his or her own moveset, making selecting your player more than just a preference in visuals. Each plays through the same five stage campaign, but you’ll need to rework your strategy with each visit, following character specific paths depending on who you choose to play as and making use of their unique skills.

Though the characters each offer different play styles and add variety to the gameplay, five stages make for a very short campaign. Some bosses are particularly difficult, and learning their attack patterns can be time consuming, but once you’ve figured it all out the challenge of playing through as any of the characters is greatly diminished. This is the type of game that encourages multiple plays through in order to best your own high score and record time, but the appeal of revisiting the same stages over and over again doesn’t last long. Despite optional DLC being available to extend the game’s life by adding four additional stages and almost doubling the length of the campaign, there is still the feeling that this game could have been more fleshed out with extra stages or additional modes to make the experience last longer — it does come at a budget price, in its defence.

From the 8-bit art and soundtrack to the simplistic controls, Mighty Gunvolt is a methodical tribute the games of old. The look and sound are nothing short of pixel perfection, but it’s the surrounding factors that make this game feel like a true classic. One of the more noticeable elements of the visuals is the aspect ratio used on the 3DS’s top screen. Rather than filling the display and making use of the console’s 3D effect, the game instead takes up a square space, not unlike an NES Virtual Console game might. The bottom screen also denies the modern hardware’s abilities, opting to display a static image featuring character controls in a style reminiscent of the now outdated paper manual pack-ins. With the return to 8-bit being so prominent in games today, it’s refreshing to see a developer taking the idea one step further and recreating what made the games so memorable beyond in-game aesthetics.

Conclusion

As a standalone title, Mighty Gunvolt might seem like a half-baked project that came out of nowhere, but discounting it as such would be a dismissal of the game’s intention. It may not be a lengthy experience, but it provides a quick burst of challenging action that old school gamers know and crave. In the sea of 8-bit titles now flooding the marketplace on all platforms, this one stands out as a true testament to the character that the classics bring along with them. If you’re looking for something with a Mega Man feel that’ll quench your retro thirst, Mighty Gunvolt is short, sweet, and gets directly to the point.