Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 (NS) - ReviewChristian Evans , posted on 31 January 2022 / 1,376 Views
Synonymous with the later Mega Man games, and the Blaster Master revival, Japanese developer Inti Creates has also been busy forging its own path with the Gunvolt universe. The second Azure Striker Gunvolt spin-off game featuring series rival Copen, Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 very much follows in the traditions of the classic 2D action platformer.
The isekai nature of the plot allows for a stand-alone story, which is of course great for series newcomers to jump in. Copen, Lola, and Kohaku are transported to a dystopic desert world inhabited by mechanical ‘Workers’. One of the inhabitants they meet, Null, leads the group to the ‘Grave Pillar’, an experimental test site for environment restoration, with the promise of a potential return home from somewhere within the upper reaches. Barring the opening level, which also serves as a tutorial for Copen’s basic moves, gameplay takes place within this structure. Progression upwards requires Copen to defeat special Workers known as ‘Gravekeepers’ to acquire sets of key cards, and they're located within several replicated biomes such as jungle and industrial, a little like a violent Crystal Maze if you would.
To achieve this goal, Copen has two forms: Break-Shift gives him the standard run, jump, and melee with his new Razor Wheel weapon, while Bullit-Shift allows use of the Bullit-Dash, which intuitively pinballs you about at speed, tagging hostiles on contact and enabling a barrage of projectiles to rain in on them. The Bullit-Dash is an especially tight and satisfying mechanic, adding a real zippy kinetic flow to the action. However, you only hold one use at a time (unless in overdrive mode), reloading upon contact with solid ground, so it needs to be used wisely at times, especially around bottomless pits. Adding to these, in classic Mega Man style, each defeated Gravekeeper awards you a new EX Weapon ability, such as the Whirling Chopper or Cryo-Flash, which can be button assigned or quickly scrolled through depending on preference. These of course afford advantages based on the situation, be it exploiting enemy weaknesses, traversing different terrains, or accessing previously unreachable areas holding bonus emblems.
Effective use of all forms of attack, and locating those elusive bonus emblems scattered around the levels, is necessary to up your kudos score. Upon hitting 1000, your trusty AI companion Lola transforms into Idol mode, bursting into one of several original songs with some perfectly suited J-Pop anime style tunes sung by the Japanese VA for Lola (Mayu Mineda). This shifts Copen into overdrive, allowing for multiple Bullit-Dashes. Overdrive is without doubt the most enjoyable element of the game; it enables you to quickly string air combo multiplier attacks together, racking up large scores for the mission leaderboard, which is vital if going for the high rank grades. Once mastered, pinging around levels that are well designed while jamming to the excellent music is always a joy.
It quickly becomes apparent that activating overdrive is the preferred strategy, though definitely not necessary, for navigating missions, with death being the only way to lose the privilege. The caveat in achieving that goal is in some of the basics automatically converting your kudos into score, ergo dialling the kudos combo back to zero and losing overdrive. Activating checkpoints will do this, as will using Lola and Copen’s powerful combo attack ‘Colossal Maelstrom’, and Lola’s healing ability, though all are optional, so it becomes something of a risk vs reward juggling act, at least in terms of kudos and score.
This leads us into probably iX 2’s only real flaw: the difficulty feels imbalanced. Sure, you will come unstuck from a poorly aimed dash, or encroaching lava, but given how quick you can traverse missions I would say it’s over generous. Lola’s healing ability can be used an unlimited number of times, meaning you should never really die from attacks, unless you're risking towards a high score, and even when you do perish there’s a chance Lola’s ‘Anthem’ mode will activate, giving you a second chance with an even more powerful overdrive in place. A raft of purchasable ability perks (with in-game currency) for the most part further improve your chances, though to be fair there are one or two which do upgrade mission difficulty.
Of course, this all makes iX 2 very accessible for anyone to pick up, play, and finish, even if perhaps too quickly. As such most players should see the ‘ending’ in less than a handful of hours. Collecting all the hidden emblems and going for high scores and ranks will add some extra mileage, as do extra missions centred around a boss rush mode and individual boss fights, which reward cosmetic extras. Genre veterans, however, will look to blast through the opening hors d’oeuvre to get to the main course of hard mode, which strips away virtually all your perks, adds to enemy capabilities (including new moves), and is comparatively very challenging, all in order to seek out the true ending. In all honesty I’m not convinced it quite strikes the right balance in the two set difficulties.
Quibbles aside, it doesn’t really detract from the overall enjoyment iX 2 delivers during the time spent with the game. The whole presentation matches the gameplay in being generally very good, the pixel art looks great, highlighting decent variation across the missions and especially so in the designs of the protagonists and Gravekeepers. The transitions and static cut scenes are always framed with pleasing artwork that pops vibrantly, while any accompanying dialogue is brought to life with some very likable characters and engaging voice acting in both English and Japanese, especially from Lola and Kohaku, even though I’d wager the narrative won’t be up for any awards. Deserving of another mention, all of these elements are well complemented with at times excellent music tracks.
The Inti Creates team understand who they are and where they excel, and have thus delivered another very good 2D action platformer in the vein of the modern retro classic. A polished game with sharp gameplay means most who take it on will have a good time, even if the feelings of brevity may detract for some, and tweaks to difficulty could have further improved the overall package. Nevertheless, the quality is there and as such this is a recommended entry in the ever-growing Gunvolt series.
This review is based on a digital copy of Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 for the NS, provided by the publisher.