Azure Striker Gunvolt is a side-scrolling action game in somewhat of a retro style, though it doesn’t feel quite like any specific retro game. It’s structured similar to the Mega Man series, and has a visual style vaguely reminiscent of the PS1 Mega Man X games, but remains its own thing largely due to an innovative core gameplay mechanic.
You play as the titular Gunvolt, a character with special electricity-based powers. Chief among these is his electric field, an ability that serves multiple functions and is the core of what makes the game unique. You can also jump and shoot, but the projectiles Gunvolt normally fires do insignificant damage. Instead, hitting a target “tags” it, which causes that target to take heavy damage whenever Gunvolt uses the electric field. In addition, the electric field does damage to nearby enemies and objects even if they are not tagged, and also slows him down while falling. The end result is a fairly complex set of mechanics that controls simply with only three buttons.
You can go through most of the stages in Azure Striker Gunvolt in any order, but unlike the Mega Man games that popularized this mechanic, you don’t do this to gain specific boss abilities. Instead, each stage has a number of drops you can earn by completing them with high scores. These items are used to construct new gear, which can alter your offensive or defensive capabilities, add double or triple jumps, and more. In addition to completing stages, you can gain these items by completing challenges, which are basically single-stage achievements you have to deliberately activate to earn. The result of this system is that you have a lot of customization of how Gunvolt plays, without causing any major changes to how his offense works.
Gunvolt also earns new guns by progressing through the games, though most of these follow the basic theme of being used primarily for tagging. Each has different patterns of fire, offers a different maximum amount of tags, and so on. Gunvolt will also level up through normal gameplay, which earns him new abilities. These have limited use and long cooldowns, but can have dramatic effects. Indeed, making good use of your abilities goes a long way toward beating some of the more difficult bosses.
Azure Striker Gunvolt’s gameplay is frenetic and a lot of fun. There is some lack of variety, and Gunvolt’s sprite takes up a lot of screen real estate, but the game is designed in such a way as to minimize these issues. The challenges and leveling system make backtracking worthwhile and effective for powering yourself up to take on some of the harder stages, and the game offers a number of really cool stage ideas. It’s an entertaining, though not super memorable game. If you like retro-style side-scrolling shooters, it’s definitely worth a look, especially now that it’s been released on the Switch.