A breezy and electrifying action-platformer experience.
Having played through and enjoyed the previous two games in the series, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is definitely a sequel that has been on my radar since its announcement. While it may not have the cachet of something like Mega Man, Gunvolt is no slouch when it comes to fast-paced action. This third entry in the mainline series offers a satisfying experience with only a few bumps along the way.
It’s funny to see Gunvolt 3 lean a bit more into its story given that its main draw is the gameplay and overall aesthetic. Here you start off as Kirin, a Battle Priestess who throws talismans and wields a sword. After the tutorial mission, you meet up with Gunvolt and from then on can switch between the two characters more or less on the fly. From there, the pair take on a handful of stages–about a dozen in total–that culminate in fights against bosses known as Berserk Adepts, each with their own particular theme. Every Adept you defeat joins your team, leading to new opportunities for banter in between missions. Eventually, you run into another segment of villains who are trying to harness a dangerous power. Even though the voice acting is pretty good, I found myself moving quickly through most of the dialogue so that I could get back to the action that much faster.
There’s something about the flow of the Gunvolt games that just makes them a joy to play. Hitting an enemy with a projectile to lock-on to them so that you can shock them with electricity or dash into them still hasn’t gotten old. Kirin’s talismans allow her to mark her targets with one button and then fly into with another; targets that are marked also take more damage from her sword slashes, but most basic enemies will explode with a single dash attack. Some of the platforming revolves around throwing talismans at lanterns or other objects and then dashing to them to scale vertical sections. Marking multiple targets at once and then executing a single dash results in a beautiful chain of destruction that yields a point-multiplier, but more than that, it just feels awesome. Even though Gunvolt controls a little differently and moves a bit slower than Kirin, there are certain sections where his ability to double jump and float makes him a better choice, and his offensive abilities can really do some sustained damage during boss fights.
None of the levels overstay their welcome, and there are collectibles to find in each that unlock new passive and active abilities. Some of the abilities can be upgraded to improve their effectiveness, but which ones you uncover at the end of every stage is random. While this might be frustrating for completionists, I dare say that most players won’t really need many more abilities than whichever ones you end up with. For instance, I had passive abilities that increased my experience gained and my jump height, and active abilities that I could use to heal myself. One surprising aspect of Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is that the game’s incredibly easy, to the point where I didn’t die even once. I don’t remember the previous two games, or even the spinoff Luminous Avenger iX games, being so devoid of challenge. While I’ve certainly played my share of games in this genre, the lack of difficulty options is a surprising omission, even if you can return to previous stages to improve your score, time, and rank.
What’s undoubtedly Azure striking about Gunvolt 3 is just how incredible it looks. Inti Creates have once again shown just how talented they are when it comes to HD pixel art, and the end product offers a visual experience that is among the best on Nintendo’s hybrid platform. While the character designs aren’t groundbreaking, whenever Gunvolt or Kirin are in motion, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of what’s unfolding on screen. One noticeable issue with the presentation is fortunately something that can be toggled off or adjusted, Story Mode+, which puts dialogue and talking heads over the bottom of the screen, sometimes obscuring enemies and bosses. If you’re not fully engrossed in the story, I’d recommend switching it off.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 represents another step forward for Inti Creates and their retro-inspired flavor of jump-and-shoot, slash-and dash action games. Even if the emphasis on story won’t land for everyone, the lightning-fast gameplay is filled with lasers, explosions, and that fun brand of chaos that just seems to hit right. The third Gunvolt entry is an easy recommendation for fans of the series or its spinoffs, and even if the amount of content and challenge aren’t that robust, the visual spectacle certainly helps make up for it.