Lightning strikes thrice
I say this so often, but it’s hard to imagine a gaming landscape without Inti Creates preserving old school experiences for new audiences. Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 keeps that train rolling.
At this point, we’re flush with Gunvolt games. Here’s a recap since the series kicked off in 2014:
- Azure Striker Gunvolt
- Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
- Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX
- Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2
- Mighty Gunvolt
- Mighty Gunvolt Burst
And yet, I’m not sick of it all. Still!
While the story still plunges into the depths of insanity at times in Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, we’re once again grounded by the addition of a new playable character: Kirin. Smartly, Kirin is the focus this time, as she’s the core playable character, with Gunvolt serving as a swappable “bonus” of sorts. Playing as Kirin gives the game a completely different feel, since you can pretty much play the entire game with just her.
Her hook is throwing talismans (kind of like how Gambit throws cards in X-Men), which latch onto enemies similar to Gunvolt’s lock-on feature. Except this time, those talismans are “softening enemies up” for sword slashes, giving Kirin a “Zero to Gunvolt’s Mega Man X” gameplay juxtaposition. The entire “battle priestess” angle works through and through, and her attacks have a lot of flair to them that make her feel different not just compared to Gunvolt, but prior characters in the series.
It’s also really intuitive. You gauge how much damage you’re going to do to enemies by marking them for death, and a little indicator comes up on their health bar showcasing the damage you’ll deal if you hit them while talismans are attached. You can load up enemies while you’re dodging around and then close the gap and slash away. It’s a nimble and fun mechanic in practice. Then you add in a dash slash for locomotion (namely triggered by chucking talismans at either enemies or specific objects that can be targeted, like lamp posts), on top of more abilities for Kirin to continue a combo without touching the ground, and you got a stew going.
As previously mentioned you can swap to Gunvolt, who is more like a timed cheat code. He has infinite jumps (thus allowing you to clear large platforming sequences that Kirin has to work to get through) and extremely powerful attacks, mimicking his older style of firing a targeting gun at enemies, so that he can unleash homing lightning attacks that do all of the real damage.
With this system, the idea is that Gunvolt spends time in a wolf form (which is part of the story, gleaned early on), following Kirin around, but with the aid of a separate power meter (which can typically go from 0% to 300%), you can trigger a transformation and control Gunvolt directly as long as you have 100% meter or above. From that point on the clock is ticking, and dropping to 0% (or manually swapping back) will bring Kirin back into the fold.
It’s clever because you only have to use Gunvolt as much as you want to. If desired, you could basically just play as Kirin the entire time. But if you need a little pick me up (because Kirin is low on health, struggling with a boss, or you keep falling down pits), Gunvolt is a quick button press away. Making Kirin the focus is ideal, because fans who may want an air of familiarity can still get it, but Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 forges its own path with a new hero. I wouldn’t mind seeing Inti Creates repeat this formula going forward.
Much like other Gunvolt entries, a score attack element is very much front and center. Kirin not touching the ground, or not swapping to Gunvolt — it all makes for better clear scores, and I can’t wait to see what the community has in store with Kirin, Gunvolt, and Kirin/Gunvolt speedrun categories. From there, it’s a traditional Gunvolt game with an intro level, four bosses that can be done in any order, a mid-point stage, more selectable bosses, then a finale. You’ll acquire new abilities for Kirin along the way (mostly in the form of blade abilities and passives that adjust your stats or abilities), as well as power-ups of sorts that can call in friendlies like a Marvel vs. Capcom assist.
As is the case with several other Inti Creates projects, you won’t be too confused jumping right into the threequel, as things are explained via quick bits of expository dialogue in cutscenes. In other words, you won’t be lost, but there are direct narrative continuations and references to past games that prior fans will enjoy (not to mention that the series as a whole, especially if we’re just talking about the two prior main entries, isn’t that big of a time sink). A full (serviceable) English dub will make that all the more palatable to first-time audiences.
Not everything lands story-wise, but it does have this very tight cast-driven feel, as part of the narrative relies on converting people on the enemy side to your cause. Silly dialogue (including one boss and later companion that’s obsessed with muscles) propels some of the less fun fights forward, though it can obfuscate a few boss encounters with all the HUD elements turned on. Sometimes the entire screen is full of insane text/effects to the point of parody, but those effects do help set this series apart — especially the spoken word special moves that almost all have proper names.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is very reminiscent of past games as a baseline, but I’m more than okay with that because it does deviate where it counts (and hardcore fans will find a lot of other nuances too). Inti Creates can keep making tight action platformers for an indefinite amount of time as far as I’m concerned. I’ll keep parroting this until the cows come home, but give them Mighty No. 9. Keep giving them spinoff projects like Curse of the Moon. This studio has a chokehold on the genre.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]