Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 electrifies the senses
A very good series finally becomes great
I still think of Gunvolt as being essentially brand new, so it was quite jarring to realise that it's seven games deep and coming up on eight years old. Taking aside the scrappier Luminous Avenger iX sub-series, I think Azure Strike Gunvolt has come from relatively humble beginnings into something a bit special, and Gunvolt 3 continues that path by topping the already very good Gunvolt 2. What you've got here is another story-focused adventure platformer with a heavy emphasis on scoring, but sensible tweaks and additions make this the smoothest, most enjoyable entry in the entire franchise. How have they managed it? By going full Mega Man Zero.
Okay, maybe that's a little reductive of a descriptor; your new main character is Kirin, a ninja-like character belonging to another shadowy organisation working behind the scenes. What's crucial is her playstyle, which harks back to - YES! - Mega Man Zero, by giving her a flippin' sword. The series' "tagging" gameplay is still present, however; Kirin can throw talismans at enemies to "mark" them, then hit A to teleport-slash straight on top of the target. Best of all, this is repeatable and intuitive - if you tag three enemies then tap A thrice, you will fly to each of them in turn. Every attack you complete in this manner gives you an extra jump, so skilled players will be able to stay in the air near-infinitely. Best of all, though, is that less skilled players (such as, erm, me) are no longer left in the lurch, so to speak. While tagged enemies take a little more damage, the ratio isn't as egregiously low as it was in previous games; using the sword alone is actually a viable and enjoyable option, here. While it's not how you're supposed to play, strictly, it's still perfectly valid and fun. I beat the game using mostly the sword.
Gunvolt is still here, but in an unusual new form. Look, he's a doggo now. A pupper. A floofer. Whatever internet parlance pleases you the most. He's now more of a side character in his own series, but remains playable - holding one of the triggers switches to GV, who can utilise his abilities from the previous games, this time hugely overcharged to give you a leg-up on the remarkably difficult boss battles. And they are rar-ther nar-sty this time around, with attacks that absolutely dominate the screen and require near-immediate mastery of your new skillset. Of course, the prevasion mechanic means you can absorb damage - and you have a means to heal, which we'll discuss - but if you want to score high, or see the end of even the opening stage without prevasion, you'll need to get good in a hurry.
A new gacha-esque system sees you unlock new abilities and passive bonuses based on the characters from across the whole franchise, with more unlocked relatively randomly after each stage. There's no microtransaction aspect to this, it's just the luck of the draw, so we didn't take it as anything negative. There are 150 different bonuses to unlock this way and some of them can only be acquired in the post-game, so you'll be plugging away for a while if you want 100%. Indeed, even clearing the game is a taller order this time around, with what I believe to be the most (and longest) stages ever to appear in a Gunvolt title. In fact, there's so much of it, it took me around five hours to clear. And no, that doesn't immediately sound like much, but for a Gunvolt series game that's actually pretty meaty. I barely scratched the surface of the post-game content, but I'm absolutely going to.
So, a completely accessible experience, then, with challenge to spare and tons of customisation. Any downsides? Erm, the constant chatting during battles is ridiculous, but can be switched off or set to a new English dub, making the subtitles unnecessary and leaving your view of the game unobstructed. So that's good! No, Gunvolt 3 is, frankly, exceptional - it's built around the Nintendo Switch this time around rather than 3DS, so everything looks as slick as the Copen titles (Luminous Avenger iX) did but without the compromised length. Overall, tremendous stuff here, and I'd recommend it even if you've never played a Gunvolt before.