Platforms: 3DS (Reviewed on n3DS)
Publisher: Inti Creates (Yacht Club Games for Striker Pack)
The original Azure Striker Gunvolt was the first self-published title by developer Inti Creates, becoming a mild success. Gunvolt is the true successor to Mega Man, the successor fans deserved but was overshadowed by Keiji Inafune's Mighty No. 9 fiasco. Fortunately, Inti Creates didn't let that stop them from making a sequel, which has turned out better than the original.
Twice the characters twice the fun.
In Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, players can take control of the eponymous adept Gunvolt, or the returning adept hater Copen, a regular human being with high-tech gadgetry and a grudge. Gunvolt has the same control scheme as last time. Hell, almost everything in Gunvolt's path is the same from last time, save the story's characters. The background diversity isn't quite up to par with the original, but the level design feels better balanced for speed, a fair exchange.
However, all semblance of balance goes right out of the window when playing as Copen: He's enjoyably busted. It feels like every stage was designed around Gunvolt's more limited mobility, allowing Copen's jet-pack powered “Bullit” dash to traverse levels with laughable ease. I would compare it to how much better Sonic is compared to the rest of the cast in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice. Which is fairly accurate considering both characters have game-changing air dashes, and slam into enemies at high speeds.
Gunvolt still tags his enemies from afar with his gun, then fries them with electricity, but Copen tags his enemies by dashing into them. Once tagged, all of his shots home in on the enemy, similar to Gunvolt's Flash Shield. Both characters have the “prevasion” ability from the first game, which allows players to exchange stored energy to avoid taking damage from hits. Gunvolt has different shot types, such as rapid fire, piercing charged shots, or shots that can turn corners, but Copen actually steals enemy powers outright, like Megaman, and they're extremely powerful.
If you want a more challenging adventure, start with Gunvolt, and if you want to fly around like a madman, raining death and destruction on all who oppose you, start with Copen.
The game is short but built to last.
As with the previous entry, the main campaigns are pretty short. We're talking two to three hours. However, the challenges and farming for upgrades will keep fans coming back. I've invested more time in the game playing challenges than the main stories, and I've barely put a dent in the total content. Some of the challenges are stupid fillers like beat stage X, Y number of times, but most involve actual challenges, like completing levels without firing your gun or not using tags to lock on.
If you're into time trials or speed running, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 has been designed with speed in mind. From enemy placement, air dashes, and ability augmenting accessories, to features that allow the dialogue to be turned off to speed up encounters, Inti Creates has given players the tools needed to pull off some crazy, high-speed runs. It's a blast when you get into a good rhythm and start to show Sonic who the real Blue Blur is.
Finally, there's a guest appearance from Shovel Knight. Beyond being fellow indie developers, Yacht Club Games is publishing the Azure Striker Gunvolt Striker Pack in the West, which includes Gunvolt 1 & 2 on a single 3DS cart, and it seems Shovel Knight amiibo compatibility may have been there to sweeten the deal. Scanning the amiibo in allows players to face the Shovel Knight in one on one combat with the hero of their choice. His strength is somewhat intimidating, but his attack pattern is extremely simple. Defeating Shovel Knight unlocks the Shovel Ring, a piece of vanity equipment that proves your valor and skill in combat.
The sequel is noticeably easier.
With levels being a little better balanced for speed, and Copen's general brokenness, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 seems to be a bit easier easier than it's predecessor. Is that a bad thing? No. Gunvolt isn't a series that thrives on its difficulty, like Dark Souls. It's a platformer, a type of game that can be made better by refinements to player control, which can incidentally make the game feel easier, and that's the case here.
In Gunvolt's campaign, the jumps and general timing feel more forgiving. In boss rush sections, health is replenished fully and checkpoints are provided, instead of saying “git gud” before throwing players into the final rematch with no health and the threat or making the trek again. For casual players or slow learners wanting to enjoy the campaign, that's a godsend.
For the hardcore, the challenge comes from self-imposed limitations; Equipment that hinders instead of helps or changing the scoring system to reset your Kudos after as single hit. Challenges are where the meat of Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 resides anyway, and they live up to that moniker. While I, and others like me, often prefer games to be difficult with the ability to have said difficulty downgraded, there's still something for everybody here.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 copies the original's formula beat for beat, with only light modifications. If you liked yhe original, this is more of the same with some smart quality of life adjustments, and a second campaign with T.G. Cid Copen. If you want to run, jump, and shoot, then there's currently no better option than this cooler version of Mega Man, a legacy that Azure Striker Gunvolt lives up to.
Additionally, Yacht Club Games is releasing the aforementioned Striker Pack on October 4th, which includes both games and a single-cartridge physical release. It's a pretty nice deal for two rock solid games, especially if you missed out on the first game's initial release, or just prefer physical copies.