Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 Review

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a fulfilling follow-up to Inti Creates’ electric 3DS action-platformer from 2014, and while it’s notably similar in many ways, the subtle changes it introduces expand and enrich the experience. An additional playable character–the returning antihero Copen–completely changes the way the game is played, and expanded sub-systems imbue the action with newfound significance and complexity. Whether you’ve played the first game or not, Gunvolt 2 is an exemplary display of tightly-paced action from start to finish.

Gunvolt 2’s story takes place shortly after the events of the first game, throwing its electric-powered protagonist, the titular Gunvolt, into a conflict against Eden, a fanatical group of superpowered individuals known as Adepts. However, Gunvolt isn’t the only one standing against Eden; his rival and anti-adept extremist, Copen, has also entered the fray fueled by his own agenda.

Despite the fact that the game offers a different campaign for each of its two playable characters, the narratives told aren’t very memorable–each follow a structure that more or less resembles an extended fetch quest. At times, a hint of self-aware writing attempts to tide over the lacking story, but these moments end up more cringeworthy than entertaining.

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Fortunately, these narrative issues do little to undermine the game’s strongest quality: run-and-gun action. Like its predecessor, combat is focused on tagging enemies with pistol fire and zapping them with a devastating surge of electricity. The game’s distinct “tag-and-assault” playstyle deconstructs the rudimentary nature of combat within run-and-gun action games, breaking down the formula into a multi-step process. The result is combat that’s both incredibly engaging and satisfying in practice.

For those who played the first game, it’s worth noting that Gunvolt’s abilities haven’t changed much, as the skills and abilities he earns throughout the game are identical, like his HP restoring Galvanic Patch skill and his powerful Luxcalibur projectile attack. Some minor additions are present, however, such as new items that allow you to increase the number of enemies you can tag. These don’t do much to enhance the already well-realized Gunvolt, but despite the lack of any meaningful changes, he remains an entertaining protagonist.

Then there’s Copen, a character whose addition opens up a wealth of new combat opportunities. Like Gunvolt, Copen’s primary method of attack is tied to tagging and assaulting his enemies. But while Gunvolt tags an enemy by shooting them, Copen does so by dashing into them. Once an enemy’s tagged, Copen can follow up with a barrage of powerful homing bullets from his pistol. This might sound like a miniscule deviation from the formula, but the differences between Copen and Gunvolt are immense.

For starters, Copen can only tag one enemy at a time, while Gunvolt can tag up to three. To compensate for this limitation, Copen has a higher degree of mobility, thanks to his ability to air dash in six different directions. In addition, he sports an arsenal of support weapons that help compensate for his inability to tag more than one enemy. For instance, he has a dual water cannon that can provide supporting fire, and a drill weapon he can deploy to cover his rear. Copen is by far the more gratifying character to play as, offering a complex set of tactics to learn, an array of attack options to use, and a sense of speed that’s continually exhilarating.

Thankfully, the stages are meticulously designed around each character’s playstyle, providing a diverse selection of obstacles to navigate, hazards to avoid, and enemies to defeat. During the first half of the game, each character traverses stages completely unique to his campaign. The latter half, however, has both characters progressing through the same ones. This structure lends itself well to emphasizing the unique abilities that Gunvolt and Copen posses. While none of the areas are particularly memorable on a visual level, the challenges they present keep the pacing tight–the game never lets up as you unleash an onslaught of destruction against the waves of enemies in your way.

The experience is further enhanced by the kudos system, an adjustable score counter that increases as you defeat enemies. The catch? If you’re hit often, you stand to lose all the points you’ve earned. The points you do earn are saved at the semi-frequent checkpoints you encounter and contribute to your total score at the end of a stage. This feeds into the crafting system–the better your total score value, the more crafting items you can obtain at the end of the stage. From there, you can create special equipment to improve your character’s abilities.

The screen gets especially crowded when characters talk mid-action, but subtitles are the only way to follow the story.
The screen gets especially crowded when characters talk mid-action, but subtitles are the only way to follow the story.

This all may sound superficial on paper, but in practice, the system injects the action with a new level of challenge, unlocking a difficulty you wouldn’t have otherwise known existed by simply playing the game. Hazards and bosses take on a whole new meaning when you can only take one hit before your score multiplier goes straight to zero. With three different kudos-system options to choose from–each offering different handicaps and score multipliers–there’s more than enough challenge to take on.

When these various mechanics all function at once, things can get crowded on-screen. This is further compounded by dialogue boxes that take up nearly a third of the screen, sometimes obscuring the position of enemies. Fortunately, the dialogue can be turned off, but that feels counterintuitive if you’re trying to understand the narrative. The presence of an English dub might have alleviated these issues–Gunvolt 2 is dubbed in Japanese–but even then, the amount of space taken up by the speech boxes on the screen remains a major issue when trying to focus on the action ahead.

With a host of bonus stages and challenge modes that unlock after clearing each campaign, Gunvolt 2 provides enough to inspire you to go back in for another run–either to refine your skills or simply to bask in the bliss of combat and movement. While an uninspired story and intrusive dialogue displays hold the game back from reaching its potential, what’s here remains incredibly satisfying and worthwhile.

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