Fast-paced movement in a side-scroller is something I’ve never felt comfortable with. Sonic the Hedgehog comes to mind as the game expects a level of precision at high speeds, which can only be obtained through memorization. For someone with the time and dedication to learn each stage, that’s fine. However, I often just want to go through a game and experience it once. So as exhilarating as speed can be, it often leads to frustration. I find it difficult to read and react to what’s coming up ahead when limited to a side-perspective.
The first impression I got from Azure Striker Gunvolt is that the title would play like an action-platformer with a focus on shooting enemies and jumping over numerous bottomless pits. I came to find out it’s more of a straight up action game where almost every aspect of the character’s moveset is built with the fast and consistent pace of the gameplay in mind.
You play as Gunvolt, who has been imbued with the power to emit electricity from his body. His normal running speed is nothing special and, if you find yourself needing to stop and approach a situation with care, it’s suitable. Most of time you’re going to be smashing in the L-button on your 3DS as it initiates Gunvolt’s dash that essentially doubles his speed. After a couple seconds he’ll slow back down to his normal pace, but this move can be repeatedly triggered with no cool down time or interruption to your movement.
It’s no Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of speed, so don’t expect Gunvolt to fly off the screen. But he moves fast enough to give me that same feeling of an adrenaline rush. Gunvolt’s mobility stands out from other games since his velocity doesn’t limit his movement options. He reacts immediately even while sprinting forward. For example, jumping in the opposite direction from which you are running is still an instant action.
Memorization of the levels will help for earning the best rank, but it’s far from required to enjoy the stages. It’s rare to be caught off guard by something coming from off screen. If you do happen to run directly into a wall, he can gracefully travel over pretty much anything in his path at a fast clip.
Fighting enemies would have likely slowed down the gameplay if it wasn’t for Gunvolt’s unique attack-style. He wields a pistol that deals minimal damage, but tags foes with a reticule. Once tagged, Gunvolt can emit an electric field that will damage anything marked.
Aside from aiming the initial shot to mark an enemy, you don’t need to direct the electric field. Like Gunvolt’s other moves, this field does not limit the control you have over him. The electric field actually reduces the rate of his fall making it easier to maneuver him in the air. Allowing full mobility while attacking lets you continue forward with little to no reason to slow down.
The game is far from a platformer as most stages lack many obstacles outside of enemies. As bland as these stages may sound, they work because it’s largely a game about evading foes while maintaining your momentum.
Unfortunately, stage gimmicks can get in the way. Jump pads with inconsistent physics are frustrating and can throw you right into an enemy. One level in specific has short mazes that can lead to dead ends and being temporarily trapped. The attempt at adding variety is appreciated, but some of it just doesn’t feel well executed.
I’m just really impressed to see all the elements of Gunvolt’s moveset come together to tackle almost every issue I’ve had with fast-moving side scrolling action games. The feeling of controlling Gunvolt is almost too perfect, so it makes me worry a bit for the sequel. I wonder how they could mess with the formula without fundamentally changing what makes Gunvolt work. Although I also worry about the mechanics being left so intact that the game feels exactly the same. All that being said though, Azure Striker Gunvolt is probably my favorite representation of speed in a side-scrolling environment.