Shoot, jump, summon a fairy ghost J-Pop star: You should be playing Azure Striker Gunvolt 2

What is it? 

A gorgeous riff on classic action gaming from the creators of Mega Man Zero and Mega Man 9. 

Play it if you like...  

Mega Man X, score attacks like Geometry Wars, or what Keiji Inafune said Mighty No. 9 was going to be. 

  • Format: Nintendo 3DS
  • Price: $14.99 Digital, $29.99 physical packed with the first game
  • Release date: Out now

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is, like its creator IntiCreates, a beautiful, weird little thing. Since releasing Super Power Gunbike on the original PlayStation, IntiCreates has spent two decades making small, fast games that twist and warp old style arcade action. With the exception of Gunbike, the first Azure Striker Gunvolt, and *ahem* Gal Gun, though, they’ve always done their work as a hired gun, acting as the workhorse for other game publishers. (Most famously, they were the main developer behind Capcom’s 2D Mega Man games for almost all of the ‘00s.) So in their catalog Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 stands out not just as a rare original for the studio, but the rare opportunity to refine and further explore an action style that’s wholly theirs in a sequel. Good thing that Gunvolt 2 is both excellent and a marked improvement over the original.

On the surface - and given the prominence of a shade of blue right in the title - Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 looks like a Mega Man game like IntiCreates’ own Mega Man or Mega Man Zero. Playing as the titular hero Gunvolt, you run from left to right, shooting robots, and jumping over obstacles on your way to colorful bosses with unique abilities. Defeating them in turn yields new weapons for Gunvolt. Those superficial similarities belie a unique rhythm, though. Azure Striker Gunvolt is less about fighting and jumping your way to the end just trying to survive than it is about racking up big chains of attacks aiming for a high score. Your gun just embeds metal bolts in bad guys; how you destroy them is by activating a sphere of limited electrical power to shock them. The more enemies you shock, the higher your combo meter goes, and if you chain 1000 hits together in a stage the invisible electric spirit fairy popstar that lives in your mind starts singing a bouncy anthem. Get hit and the combo meter goes to zero. It’s very, very strange but thrilling to hit the combo chain that unleashes a J-Pop ghost in a stage where you’re trying to blow up an evil robot.

This was the same set-up as the original Azure Striker Gunvolt, but that game sagged because while the central hook was delectable, the setting around it was a snooze. Gunvolt had to combo his way through dull stages where you didn’t have to do much more than avoid getting hit by enemy fire. This sequel makes a full, albeit short game, out of that proof of concept with an artful, exciting set of various stages. One is a zombie-filled castle where you shatter windows with your electrical bursts; another a computerized landscape where you have to solve locked door puzzles. The variety makes every beat in Gunvolt’s 2.5 hour campaign feel momentous and special. (Not, you might note, unlike the best Mega Man games of old.) That’s only half the game, though. Once you’ve played through as Gunvolt, you can tear through it as his rival Copen who has a more aggressive, traditional shooting style for combat.

For anyone that’s still stinging from the disappointment of Mighty No. 9 not delivering on its original promise, this is far closer to what you wanted from IntiCreates. No sloppy, dour 3D characters in drab backgrounds here. Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 has some of the most gorgeous sprite art out there right now. If you have a 3DS, it’s an essential download, and there’s even a cart compiling both games in one convenient package.

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Anthony John Agnello
I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.