For some, the star of the show just isn’t quite as cool as their costars. As Mega Man fans, many of you no doubt know this well; rather than X, some prefer the swordplay of Zero. Instead of Mega Man’s charge shot, there’s the multi-directional rapid-fire of Bass. Heck, I’ll bet some Battle Network fans enjoyed their brief period in the fifth game as ProtoMan or Colonel over MegaMan.
While I usually prefer to divide my time evenly between the heroes, when it comes to the Gunvolt series, I have to admit a distinct preference: I just really enjoy using Copen more than Gunvolt himself (Gunvolt is still cool, though).
So naturally, I was quite excited when Inti Creates revealed that the next game in the series would be a side-story starring the dashing hero.
As a playable character, Copen got his introduction in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, wherein he provided a counterpoint to Gunvolt’s tag ‘n zap methodology by instead dashing headlong into his opponents, marking them as a target for a hail of homing shots from his pistol. It’s sort of like Mighty No. 9, only in reverse, and I dare say better for it, at least in my humble opinion.
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX effectively takes the Copen part of Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, and fleshes it out into its own full game. The framework is still largely the same, which means it also feels slightly derivative of some titles from the Mega Man franchise: You make your way through a variety of stages (some of which you can choose from initially, others fixed to progress the story) until you reach the boss, who uses their distinct power set to fight you, giving up their ability when defeated. Proceed to the next stage, optionally using your new powers to take advantage of that boss’s weakness. Rinse, repeat.
The bosses are pretty cool and well characterized, and even have some neat backstories that, unfortunately, will likely not be expanded upon in much detail. You know how it tends to go in these sorts of games.
Figuring out boss weaknesses is a bit more obtuse than Mega Man games can be, though. For instance, there’s not a “fire” boss, an “ice” boss, a "plant” boss, and so on here. So figuring out boss weaknesses pretty much amounts to trying each weapon in your arsenal until your drone sidekick, Lola, notes that one is particularly effective. For the most part, it seems like each boss in succession is weak to the weapon from the one preceding it, though there are some repeats, meaning it doesn’t quite feel like a full weakness chain like in Mega Man.
Once you’ve knocked a boss down to one-third of their health (and it seems like a fixed point, unfortunately — it didn’t seem I could unleash a powerful attack that would drop them from more than one third to less, always seeming to stop right on the line), they’ll pull out some desperation moves, and these can be really tricky to avoid. Some seem impossible at worst, unintuitive at best, at least unless you happen across an opening or just get to watch and observe someone else doing it, which is all the trickier when you’re the one having to do it yourself.
When you get a weapon, called an EX Weapon here, you’re kind of on your own figuring out anything about it. There are no descriptions, no demonstrations, and even actually using it may not quite clue you in on how to properly use it. It’s very old school Mega Man in that way.
With that said, I didn’t find very much use for the EX Weapons outside of boss fights. Occasionally, there will be a block or something in your way that is susceptible to a specific weapon, but for the most part, I relied on Copen’s trusty sidearm. Well, with one exception: The Orbital Edge, which rotates two large buzzsaws around you, is great for a lot of enemies, especially those above or below you, where you normally can’t shoot.
For the most part, I found the game fairly manageable, even though I’m not very good at it (going by the scores, at least). Yep, combos, kudos, points, and rankings are all here, for those interested in achieving excellence in such ways. You can tweak the difficulty in various ways, from a difficulty toggle of sorts before each stage that is kind enough to remind you of what a scrub you are if you opt for something easier.
You can also purchase various upgrades, and even downgrades, in a shop that you can access at virtually any time, be it between missions or right in the middle of a stage. You can purchase additional Bullits (the little meter at the bottom which allows you to use Prevasion; more on that in a bit), or items that will make the game more challenging.
Unfortunately, to buy most anything, you need currency, and a lot of it. Even more unfortunate is that the enemies don’t carry a lot of it, and worse is when what they drop quickly disappears, bounces right off a ledge or onto some spikes (sometimes after being obscured by other similarly-colored debris). All in all, if you want something, expect to grind. There is an item you can purchase that automatically gives you ten credits automatically for every enemy you defeat, but when you’ve got stuff priced at 15,000 and 30,000, it’s still going to take you a while.
I find this kind of affects the game’s flow. For the most part, the game isn’t too tough, but there’s quite a difficulty spike at the end. As of this writing, I still haven’t beaten the final boss, as it basically throws the rules you’ve played by throughout the entire game (with one other lesser exception) and proceeds to slaughter you. Basically, you’re taught at the outset that if you have it equipped, Prevasion will prevent you from taking damage so long as you have Bullits to spare, but at the climax of the game, the boss effectively ignores your Prevasion and tears through you like paper. I think I can beat him, but I still need to grind for more items from the shop first.
I imagine this was done to prolong the experience, maybe even add some replay value, but I feel like this might be the sort of thing that hurts repeated playthroughs.
There are other tidbits that feel kind of nitpicky to me, but probably warrant a mention. For instance, one stage I can recall featured a lot of blind jumps, but at the same time, I don’t think I ever succumbed to any of them. Even if I did, checkpoints seem plentiful enough, and lives are unlimited.
I should also bring up a problem I had throughout the game, but it’s a very specific one that I think will only affect a very small subset of players. I was using the original Nintendo Switch Pro Controller — the one without the pivot for the Dpad — and found that it often affected the trajectory of my air dashes, sometimes sending me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, sometimes right into spikes. It also hindered my ability to refill Bullits on command.
Despite all that, it never proved that problematic in the long run. It was a nuisance that screwed me up on more than one occasion, sure, but the game’s design saw to it that it was never a real setback.
Visually, the game looks great, featuring pixel art against high resolution backgrounds that reminds me of some SNK fighters and the like. Cutscenes use static imagery with some great art as well, though they don’t note who is speaking at any given time. Unless spoken in dialogue, I don’t think anyone’s name is given throughout the entire game.
On the music side of things, I found the stage music to be good, but not quite as catchy as what we saw from Inti Creates in the Mega Man Zero or Mega Man ZX series. They’re great in the moment, and one of the later stages even gave me some Bionic Commando vibes (in the best way), but I didn’t find any of them to really stick with me long after I played. That said, the vocal tracks that come up are some pretty good earworms, even if I’m not sure what’s being said.
I feel like I’m doing more tearing down than building up in this look at the game, but the truth is that I did really enjoy myself throughout, with only a few exceptions (that final boss being the biggie). The core mechanic is a lot of fun, the art, story, and characters are really enjoyable, and if you’re the type who enjoys perfecting your craft, then there’s even more here for you. There are some pretty neat sequences, too, such as one stage which involves a lot of epic laser tripwire traps and evasion.
Oh, and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one thing which previously turned me off of Copen somewhat in previous entries was his problematic, let’s just say, “attitude” towards certain individuals. From what I’ve seen, however, there’s no trace of that here, for which I am quite pleased.
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX isn’t a perfect game and has a few rough spots here and there, but I think that if you enjoyed the Mega Man Zero series (its ties to the greater Mega Man franchise notwithstanding), then I think you’ll enjoy this.
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX is available now on the Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam on PC for a price of $14.99 USD. A review code was provided by Inti Creates.