Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nighthawk Interactive
Developer: Inti Creates
Release Date: Nov. 21, 2017

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack'

by David Silbert on Sept. 8, 2018 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Prepare to jump into one of the most electrifying 2D platformers out there, now with all-new enhancements and fully optimized for Nintendo Switch.

Buy Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack

The Mega Man series is one of the most influential gaming franchises of all time. Debuting on the NES, Mega Man wowed audiences with its tight controls, challenging platforming levels, and great bosses, spawning a litany of popular sequels and spin-offs across nearly every console and handheld under the sun.

Today, Mega Man is still going strong, with a new sequel on the horizon, multiple legacy collections recently released, and even representation in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. game. With this recent Mega Man resurgence, it would seem as if the series is as popular as it ever was.

Despite the wide-ranging popularity of the Blue Bomber and the 2D platformer genre it helped define, game developers aren't resting on their laurels when it comes to capturing the classic Mega Man experience. Inti Creates, the studio whose development pedigree spans the Mega Man Zero series on GBA, last generation's Mega Man 9 and 10, and recent hits like Blaster Master Zero, is a particularly shining example of this.

Despite having worked directly on the Mega Man series, Inti Creates set out to create a series that was inspired by Mega Man yet still distinct. The result was Azure Striker Gunvolt, a series that launched on the 3DS in 2014 and received a sequel in 2016, providing handheld owners with both a sprinkle of classic Mega Man flavor and a dollop of something entirely new.

Azure Striker Gunvolt and its sequel, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, made their way to the Nintendo Switch in the form of Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack, offering both Gunvolt experiences with updated HD visuals in one neat little package. With its charming characters and unique take on 2D platforming gunplay, Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack is a solid recommendation on the Switch for fans of the genre who are craving something new. Its poorly delivered story, unintuitive scoring system, and undercooked upgrade system hurt the overall experience, but there is enough good here to make Striker Pack a worthy playthrough.

Azure Striker Gunvolt takes place on a futuristic depiction of Earth. Humanity has given rise to adepts, a group of beings possessing superhuman strength and abilities. As Gunvolt, an adept with the power to manipulate electric fields, players work to defeat adepts from an evil organization called Sumeragi in order to defend the world. Meanwhile, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 picks up in the wake of the aftermath of the first game and deals with Gunvolt's exploits fighting against a splinter faction of Sumeragi led by one of its former members.

While neither game's plot is groundbreaking storytelling, Gunvolt 1 and 2's narratives are surprisingly engaging. Both games' stories offer a fair amount of emotional twists and turns, especially considering how storytelling tends to be an afterthought in many 2D platformers. Gunvolt is a charismatic protagonist, and the various enemies he encounters overcome their lack of depth through sheer flair. Both games are fully voiced in Japanese — though, sadly, not in English — and each level-ending boss has his or her own over-the-top personality, ensuring that Striker Pack's fights are never boring. At its best, Gunvolt 1 and 2 make you feel as if you're the star of a cheesy anime series, with Gunvolt and his enemies shouting random super moves while firing massive, screen-filling attacks at one another.

At its worst, however, Striker Pack's narrative becomes nearly impossible to follow due to the sloppy way in which it is delivered. As Gunvolt and other characters deliver exposition, dialogue boxes pop up frequently during levels. These boxes always tend to arrive at the most inconvenient times, such as when you're deep into a shootout with enemy minions or trying to whittle down the health of a level's boss. While this wouldn't be much of an issue if I understood the game's Japanese voice work, I found myself having to read cluttered on-screen dialogue during combat and being forced to pick between understanding the story and, well ... not dying. To their credit, both games allow players to turn off dialogue with a tap of the X button; Gunvolt 2 even takes this a step further, introducing more cut scene-like pauses during levels in an attempt to cut down on the first game's on-screen clutter. Ultimately, though, Gunvolt 1 and 2 just never seem to find a good way to convey what's going on — it's a shame, given the strength of both games' characters.

Thankfully, gameplay in Gunvolt 1 and 2 fares much better. As alluded to earlier, the Gunvolt series shares a lot in common with Mega Man. Players complete a series of differently themed levels, each with its own wacky boss, before reaching the main antagonist's gauntlet of final levels. Levels can be completed in any order, and upon completion of most levels, Gunvolt receives a shiny new gun to add to his arsenal. While this formula is decidedly Mega Man, the rest of Striker Pack's gameplay is as far removed from the iconic series as you can imagine.

As Gunvolt, players make their way through levels, defeating enemies and navigating dangerous pits and hazardous areas. In lieu of Mega Man's shooting mechanics, Striker Pack tasks players with "tagging" enemies by shooting them with Gunvolt's pistol. Tagging enemies allows Gunvolt to then damage these foes with his electric field, which is triggered with the tap of a second button. Initially, players can tag up to three enemies at once, tag a single enemy three times to increase the damage dealt, or do some combination in between; however, future unlocked guns allow additional tags and provide different abilities, such as shooting through multiple enemies or shooting diagonally.

The tagging mechanic feels snappy and responsive, and it's addicting to try and eliminate enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible. Throw in several special abilities, such as Gunvolt's patented "Astrasphere," which shoots orbs of electricity around him to fry enemies, and gunplay in Striker Pack is a fresh new take on the classic 2D platformer.

That said, doing the same "tag and shock" maneuver throughout Gunvolt 1's campaign does eventually grow a bit stale, particularly in the later missions of the game. Thankfully, Gunvolt 2 manages to shake up the formula by introducing a second playable character, Copen. A human bent on eliminating all adepts, Copen serves both as Gunvolt's rival and as the deuteragonist to Gunvolt's story.

Copen's gameplay revolves around dashing and hovering. As with Gunvolt, Copen can tag enemies to make them more susceptible to damage; this time around, however, Copen tags enemies by dashing into them. After slamming into an enemy, Copen propels himself into the air, where players hover using Copen's thrusters and make quick work out of the enemy at hand. Whereas Gunvolt's gameplay focuses on tagging multiple enemies at once, Copen's gameplay focuses heavily on gunplay and taking out enemies one by one.

Considering the variety of Gunvolt and Copen's opposite play styles, Gunvolt 2 is a clear improvement upon the already solid foundation of the first Gunvolt. And with each game clocking in at around four to five hours apiece, with hours of additional time awaiting those who enjoy replaying and speed-running levels, Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack offers a reasonable amount of content for its $40 price.

As satisfying as the base gameplay can be, the experience is brought down by a weak meta-game. Both Gunvolt games offer an RPG-like upgrade system that allows players to buy ability-altering equipment before and after going on missions; some, like the Boost Band, allow Gunvolt to execute additional jumps in mid-air, while others, like the Shield Medallion, decrease the damage he takes in battle. While these pieces of equipment alter the game in satisfying ways, the process of unlocking them can be frustrating, requiring players to either replay past levels for a chance of obtaining rare crafting materials or complete various challenges that offer predetermined rewards. While this grind for materials certainly incentivizes replaying levels, it ultimately feels repetitive and hardly worth the effort.

Also hurting the base experience is Gunvolt 1 and 2's odd scoring system. Aside from shooting and tagging, another major gameplay mechanic in Striker Pack revolves around "prevasion," which allows Gunvolt and Copen to automatically dodge attacks at the cost of "EP" — similar to how Noctis was able to dodge attacks in Final Fantasy XV using MP. While this mechanic is fine in and of itself, the game constantly seems at odds with it.

Levels have three different difficulties, each involving stringing together chains of points by tagging and eliminating enemies in succession. The standard difficulty allows players to use prevasion three times without penalty, after which the current score chain is reset, while the easier difficulty allows unlimited use of prevasion at the cost of a serious reduction in your overall score; the hardest score, meanwhile, resets a score streak after a single hit.

While it might not seem like a serious grievance, the game's insistence on limiting the use of prevasion runs counter to the entire structure of the game. Avoiding certain attacks – particularly those of bosses – is near impossible, especially for the average player. In these cases, prevasion becomes a useful tool that serves to make the game more accessible to newcomers; however, the introduction of score penalties makes it seem as if Gunvolt 1 and 2 are constantly encouraging the player to abandon the system, despite it being so central to the core experience. While hardcore 2D platformer veterans will welcome the added challenge, the unforgiving scoring of Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack is an unfortunate knock against a game that is otherwise extremely accessible to gamers of all skill levels.

Despite its poorly told story, repetitive material grind, and wonky scoring system, Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack is a solid investment for fans of the 2D platformer genre. Gunvolt may not be Mega Man, but the series offers up much of the same charm and challenge that made Capcom's iconic franchise such a big hit. The pair of games doesn't quite hit the same highs as many of the Blue Bomber's greatest adventures, but Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack earns serious points for trying something new. Despite the wealth of platformers that have come to the Switch in recent weeks, Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack makes a compelling case for being an addition to your growing library.

Score: 8.0/10

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