Gunvolt and the sliding scale of perfection ⊟
Azure Striker Gunvolt is not a Mega Man game, and I mean that in the best way. While it clearly takes inspiration from the series – a blue guy gets weapons from wacky, colorful bosses – developer Inti Creates built on that foundation to create something more flexible, with more room for individual expression and variation on the part of the player.
In that way, it reminds me more of Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien… a game I needed an excuse to write about anyway!
Runner2 maintained the basic gameplay of its predecessor: jump, slide, kick, and block to the beat while automatically running through deadly gauntlets. The sequel improved upon its predecessor by adding more moves, along with totally optional branching paths, hidden items, and analog-controlled bonus loops. You can simply complete a stage – something that requires a total lack of mistakes. Or you can collect all the gold. You could get full scores on all the bonuses; you can even “dance” during free moments to boost your score a lot more. There are many different levels of perfection to achieve, starting with simple survival.
Developer Gaijin Games (now Choice Provisions) kept the gameplay tight and simple, but added multiple avenues for expert players to vary the experience and develop additional mastery. It had a nice side effect of encouraging replays and extending the life of the game.
Gunvolt features the same kind of dynamic, player-controlled difficulty. If you want to simply brute force your way through the levels, it’s not overwhelmingly hard to do so. It’s a lot easier than Mega Man on that level, that’s for sure. The platforming isn’t as extreme, and your shots essentially auto-target – you fire your gun to target enemies, then drain their health with an electric field that arcs to their location. Keeping your field charged is an interesting wrinkle, but rarely a life-or-death challenge. Well, technically. If you still have power, you can auto-dodge attacks (at the expense of some of that power) so I guess it may actually be the difference between life or death. But what I mean is that managing that power isn’t as tense as you might expect, outside of boss fights.
But those systems open up options for virtuoso play. You can play carefully and set up your shots from a safe location, but it’s more fun to dash through the levels at top speed and/or build up impressive combos once you’re comfortable enough. And then you can take on totally optional challenges – complete this stage in this time, etc. – to further test yourself. You can retry levels with new equipment, including the different guns earned from bosses, which vary the number of enemies you can lock on to and the way shots behave.
I like these kinds of systems, because they allow the player to find a difficulty level that suits their expertise and their style of play, without having to make the explicit decision to choose “easy” or “hard.” It’s the same game, but open to different approaches. And, like Runner2, it offers different ways to consider any performance “perfect.” That’s the kind of challenge that makes me want to return to a game.
BUY Nintendo 2DS & 3DS/XL, upcoming games