Thursday, August 28, 2014

Azure Striker GUNVOLT

So, after a week of playing GUNVOLT, it's time for the review!
The opening is probably the most awesome thing you'll ever see in you life. It shows you just how badass Gunvolt is.
The plot concerns the protagonist, Gunvolt (Nicknamed the Azure Striker, similar to Megaman being nicknamed the blue bomber) running around the world fighting these super-powered villains, known as Adepts. They serve the Sumeragi group, who seeks to control all of the adepts in the world.
Gunvolts' mission is to topple Sumeragi. Gunvolt works for QUILL, a covert ops team dedicated to bringing down the Sumeragi Group.
Gunvolt is a mission-based side scrolling shooter, similar to the Mega Man X series. You can play through the missions in any order, and revisit ones you've already completed at your leisure to attempt the challenges you can accept in exchange for rewards. That's pretty good, because it gives incentives to go back and replay older levels. Given that it took me about ten minutes to complete every stage (Not including bosses, those took me probably fifteen minutes or longer.) that does a good job of making me want to go through and look at the stages again.
Speaking of Mega Man X, the controls are very similar to that game, except that you can't slide continuously on walls, you just wall-jump up and then fall down at normal speeds. That's a little awkward at first, but I made it work for me.
You remember what I said about voice-clips being interjected at random? Well I was for some reason under the impression that, like Mega Man, everyone you were fighting was a robot. They're not. So those screams are the screams of people you're killing. I didn't notice that at first because they sound somewhat similar to the sounds that the Azure Striker himself makes when he gets hit. And he's not a robot.
I have to say, the music is still really cool. Everything is a joy to listen to. (Well, except the music from the haunted house, but still) I'm actually considering buying the soundtrack if and when it comes out. The only thing I really have to say about it is that a lot of the more peaceful music sounds suspiciously like the music from Ace Attorney. I'm serious, the track that plays when you talk to your girlfriend sounds almost exactly like Turnabout Sisters from Ace Attorney. That was jerking some tears from me...
The music really is evocative of times gone by. The thing that really gets me with the soundtrack is how it manages to got from upbeat and hectic to slow and eerie in just the right ways to press my music-lovers button.
If you manage to get a thousand or more kudos, you can unlock extra parts of the soundtrack. Which is something I've been unable to do, due to the fact that they go down when you get hit and there are a lot of ways to get hit. You rack up kudos from zapping people with your flash field or shooting them with your gun, but they don't count up quickly, and you lose them whenever you get hit, which will probably be quite often. So I'm not really sure how you're supposed to rack up a thousand kudos. Maybe you just don't get hit if you have super-fast robot hands?
Let's talk about some of the mechanics now. Gunvolt has this ability called "Afterimage" which allows him to dodge enemies and damage as long as he's got EP left. Afterimage cannot be used while your flash-field is on, which leads to a balance of of massively devastating attacks vs not dying. I didn't have a whole lot of issues with not dying until I got to a lot of the bosses, where I started taking constant damage if I left the flash-field on.
So anyways, onto the missions. The levels are all pretty cool to play. Despite their linearity they're still really fun to explore.
The one that stuck with me the most was the haunted house level. It was actually called "Underworld"
There were moments in there that actually had me frightened. Not just jump scares, it was actively somewhat frightening. The monsters in that level were tough to beat, hard to avoid, and drain your resources very quickly. It did a lot more to be survival-horror than Slender did, I'll give it that!
I actually felt kind of bad killing the boss of that stage, she didn't seem like she was a willing participant in this gigantic mess, and I would have spared her had I been able to. Unfortunately, I couldn't defeat what was truly evil in that lab without also killing her....
During one of the missions, I ran into what one of my support characters, Moniqa described as "A bi-gender adept." Essentially an androgynous floating red, black and pink armored person who looks like Galactus with a massive pink crystal protruding from the crotch. And you thought the tentacle monster from Mighty Gunvolt was weird!
You never actually get to fight Xe, which is a little disappointing considering that it looks like it would be really interesting to face in combat.
Anyways, I like the boss fights. They're creative, fast-paced and didn't even really get old after having to play through them ten times just to clear them. Although towards the end there are two bosses you have to fight in sequence, without a checkpoint between them and that took me three tries to clear.
Something odd I noticed is that when you die fighting a boss, instead of being restored to the state you were in at the last checkpoint, it actually resets the clock to the time it was when you cleared it and lets you keep your experience. I would've figured it would do what Sonic Colors did and keep the timer going, but it doesn't.
This is actually part of the whole reason I was able to beat the final boss. I managed to level up thrice when I was fighting him. That and the Kaio Ken Super Saiyan mode that sometimes activates when you die.
Perhaps I should explain. When Gunvolt dies, his girlfriend sometimes starts singing, and brings him back to life, with infinite electric powers (Which essentially translates into infinite health if you know how to use it) and a bright blue aura which essentially looks like a blue version of the Kaio Ken or Super Saiyan transformation. Plus, the musical cue that starts up when you come back to life is absolutely awesome! That's part of the reason why I want to know when the soundtrack is going to come out. Plus, Gunvolt lets out a cry of pure fury and it just ROCKS. Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating than getting beat down to you last sliver of health and dying right before you kill the boss. And in direct contrast, there's nothing more awesome than coming back to beat them down with electric fire to an amazing piece of music!
Remember when I said that there wasn't a way to shoot up, down, or diagonally? Well there's a kind of ammunition bolt that lets you do that, the Mizuchi, but it does it really horribly.
Instead of just aiming your gun and firing, you first must hold the D-pad or joystick in the direction you want to redirect it, then fire you gun and it arcs out at the angle you pointed it in. And you can't rapid-fire. And it moves out slightly when you fire it, making precision almost impossible. So it's essentially worthless. I only used two of the bolts anyways. The default one, Cerberus, and the Orochi, which ejects a drone that shoots in eight directions. Not particularly useful in normal combat, but it works great against some bosses.
Speaking of power-ups that got dusty, I unlocked a ton of abilities that I never used. I equipped three of them, but I mainly just used the Astrasphere and Galvanic Patch, which heals Gunvolt. That and Split Second, which restores your EP when it's overheating, but that more rarely.
Everything else just collected dust, because Astrasphere does a ton of damage if you time it correctly.
I haven't unlocked a whole ton of them, so I have no idea how many of them are actually useful.
Remember how I said the art looks amazing? Well it looks even better in 3D. I was surprised at the kind of depth they were able to simulate with 2D images.
The dialogue has a pretty cool noirish bent to it. Gunvolt himself comes off like a 40s style gumshoe, and that tickles the part of me that likes old detective stories. The fact that none of the dialogue is spoken lends to an archaic aesthetic that clicks with me in all the right ways. As a lifelong fan of the Zelda series, I find games without voice acting to be a nice little throwback to a simpler time when games didn't need millions of dollars budgeted just for the voice acting.
Something I feel I need to mention is that there's no way to speed up to text boxes other than pressing A or B. It would have been nice to have a setting in the options menu so that I wouldn't have to wear out my buttons trying to read the dialogue at a decent pace.
So at this point in time, I have beaten what appears to be the final boss and have gone through what appears to be the end credits sequence. By now I've clocked about two and a half hours into the game. (That's going by their clock, not mine since I forgot to time it, and it's not really easy to film 3DS games) I'm sincerely hoping that it's pulling a Sonic And The Black Knight and it's got a bunch of other things to do after a fake-out final boss. Otherwise it's a pretty short game. Then again, it's still more of a game than any of the other eShop games I've reviewed even if it did only take me three hours to complete all of the missions available. Mutant Mudds was too aggravating for me to finish, Dillon's Rollin' Western tried to combine The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask with a tower defense game rather poorly. Sakura Samurai was essentially Resident Evil 4 combined with a not so good beat-em-up, with a final boss who I couldn't defeat no matter what I tried. Tokyo Crash Mobs was a Zuma clone. Fluidity: Spin Cycle was fun at first, but it got real old real fast. Steel Diver: Sub Wars was a free to play submarine FPS, which sounds cool but it was glitchy, slow, and the paid version doesn't seem much better than the free version. And don't even get me started on Rusty's Real Deal Baseball.....
Anyways, the story is a lot like the X-Men. And I freaking LOVE the story from the X-Men. The adepts are becoming more prevalent, humans who feels threatened by them, adepts who want to live peacefully, and adepts who want to wipe out the human race.
Almost exactly like the X-Men story now that I think about it.
At the end of it all I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get to play as three of the other characters in the game, Asimov, Copen and Gino. I felt like it would have been really cool to be able to play as them, but alas it was not meant to be.
So unfortunately my SD card got corrupted and I had to redownload the game. Unfortunately I forgot to back my save up and I had to play through the whole game again.
Going through the first level again I noticed that there are platforms and holes in the ceiling that appear as if they would go somewhere, but they do not.
I was originally going to skip all of the dialogue on my second run through the game, but then I decided against it. I'm glad I did, because I just realized the poetic tragedy of Gunvolts' words to Joule at the beginning of the game, and it, combined with the music that sounds like one of the saddest songs in Ace Attorney just broke my heart. Once you get to the end of the game you will know what I mean.
I managed to power through the main six missions, plus the first mission twice and a secret mission in just under two hours. The funny thing is, that despite having already played through them once already they were still really fun. Even though I managed to beat all of the bosses without dying, I still liked combating them. I guess that's a bunch of major points in the games' favor that it's just as fun the second time around.
On my second playthrough I decided to try out the Technos bolt, shown at the left. It fires in two directions, allows you two tags for Flash Field zapping, and is green.
Personally, I liked it at first because it let you shoot at things above and below you, but it's not as good as the Cerberus for CQC.
Because it fires in two directions diagonally, it won't hit what's right in front of you without careful positioning, and that's almost impossible in a hectic combat situation. Plus, in order to switch between weapons you need to go into the Start menu, select your gun, then select the bolt you want to change to, then hit B to exit the weapons menu, and then hit Start to leave the pause menu.
It would have been nice if they had some sort of active bolt-swapping system that you could use on the fly. Maybe something that took advantage of the Circle Pad Pro's extra pair of shoulder-buttons. Or hell, do what Ocarina of Time: 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations did and use the touchscreen to swap bolts. There's enough real-estate on it for all four abilities and a button or two to switch ammunition.
Something I forgot was that towards the end there's a boss-rush of about four tank robots, in addition to a few others, and that one of them takes place with two pits on either end of the screen.
Remember what I said about the HUD sometimes covering things on the screen? Well these boss-fights are critical reminders of that. One of them takes place in an area where bottomless holes lie to the left and right, in places just small enough to be covered up by the HUD. The final boss especially was annoying because the bosses health-meter covered up the hole on the right side of the screen, and Gunvolts' skill meters covered up another, so I kept falling down the holes on the first playthrough because I forgot they were there. And even in the second playthrough I kept falling down because the boss lets out a gust of wind you have to dash against, and sometimes you're moving too fast and wind up overshooting and falling down the hole on the opposite side!
During the boss-rush, I ran into the boss from the Underworld stage, and I felt even worse having to kill her again, especially after she was apologizing for having to fight me! Good lord that was depressing....
At time of writing, I've gotten up to right before the final boss. I've clocked about three hours, despite having taken less time to defeat each boss.
You know, I wasn't expecting the final plot twist. They did a good job keeping it from being obvious. Right down to the end I didn't suspect what was going on. Even the twist within the final twist was completely unforeseen, yet everything made sense.
I certainly hope that there wasn't something I needed to do to avert the way it ended. Because I got the same ending on both playthroughs.
The credits sequence just seemed like it was taunting me...... Trying to goad me into doing something to change what happened.... All the while knowing that I couldn't.....
That statement seems less and less apt the more I think about it. I suppose it's a metaphor for life, and how fragile it is. The song playing in the background was Joule's theme song, the one I said sounded so much like Turnabout Sisters. I figure they were trying to make it as sad as possible, and they succeeded.
After the credits end, they ask you to save, and then drop you back at the title screen.
Now, curious as I am I loaded up my save file and found that there was more stuff going on!
Or maybe not, because no new missions were unlocked. I just had a chat with Joule and Lumen and then wandered around the other missions looking for gems to give to Joule.
Which apparently was what I was supposed to be doing the entire time, because there was a hint hidden in the in-game manual to look for all seven to give to her. Wonderful. Now I need to play through the whole game a THIRD time just to reach completion!
All in all, I still had a lot of fun with Azure Striker: GUNVOLT. The hard-line critic in me is saying I should be trashing it for being so short, when you can easily get five to ten full-length games on Steam, GoG or the Humble Bundle for that same price if you play your cash right.
On the other hand, compared to everything else I've reviewed on the eShop it's pretty good. Short, but sweet.
And in the end, I'd rather play a short game that's fun than a long game that's not.
So I give it an 8.9* rating. You could easily spend you time and money in worse ways.
Azure Striker Gunvolt will be available on the Nintendo eShop on Friday, August 29th, 2014.
It will be bundled with the retro-styled demake MIGHTY GUNVOLT from August 29th to 9 AM November 28th.
By the way, in case you were wondering I will be forgoing my regular weekly article in favor of this one. We'll be back at regularly scheduled articles next week!
Oh, and I made a list of my top 5 Mega Man clones.