Action games from the 16-bit era have always held a certain pull for me, especially titles offering a mix of punishing gameplay and challenge that managed to keep me coming back for more. In recent times, the pixel artstyle of the Super Nintendo has been fully embraced, albeit with modernized gameplay and added mechanics to make newer games feel more – or less – punishing, depending on the developer. The best examples of this retro/modern hybrids have managed to progressively make older genres feel new and fresh, rather than just tired and stale nostalgia grabs.
The Gunvolt series has been a big proponent of revitalizing classics since 2014. The series is known for being very similar in vibe and tone of Capcom’s Mega Man X series and it very proudly displays this inspiration for all to see. Inti Creates has developed some incredible games in the past, including the Mega Man Zero titles as well as the retro-revival Mega Man 9 and 10 games. More recently they’ve helped modernize Konami’s Castlevania formula with the new franchise Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, proving they’re still capable of offering solid titles shaped around the ideals of the greats before it.
While this is my first foray into the Gunvolt series, Gunvolt Chronicles Luminous Avenger iX seems more like a side-story in the franchise. It doesn’t seem to be as substantial as what you’d expect from a full release in terms of content and story, dropping you right into a story that’s anything but welcoming to new players and seems to adhere with a larger picture story arch that fans of the series might be able to latch on a bit easier.
One look at those pixelated visuals and anime styled portraits and you’ll know right away this is a Gunvolt game, chunky sprites and everything. The story takes place in a future where most of the world’s population, called Adepts, have supernatural abilities known as “Septimas”. Anyone without these powers are labeled Minos, and are hunted down and studied by a group known as the Sumeragi Institute of Human Evolution. You play as Copen, who also goes by Luminous Avenger iX (pronounced “icks”), who travels looking to save the Minos.
While the game sets up a huge world with tons of backstory, the tale told within Luminous Avenger doesn’t lend itself to being standalone and requires some serious outside research to help fill in the gaps. Sadly, even doing this never quite kicked up any interest on my part as the last thing on my mind when trying to enjoy an intense action game is pouring through threaded Wiki pages.
Actual gameplay feels fairly bare bones throughout and upgrades aside never feels like they ever add anything exciting to change up the combat or flow of the game. Again, those proficient in the ways of Mega Man X will feel right at home here as Copen has “marks” enemies by dashing into them, allowing his photon gun to home in with pinpoint accuracy. Armed with different gun types and abilities, the game does do a decent job of giving the player some agency with how they decide to tackle the levels.
However, this flexibility almost causes an imbalance as jetting through levels becomes almost too easy, especially given how Copen can (essentially) just fly through levels as he can perform a “bullet dash” in the air after absorbing enemy bullets. This gives him exceptional added mobility, which stands out against slower robots and enemies you’re set to destroy. It’s possible to take a more cautious approach, but the enemy AI never puts up much of a fight and you’ll find it easier to just hold down the trigger and blast through them instead.
So often in games of the era like Mega Man letting down your guard for even a second can result in instant death by the most insignificant of enemies, thus creating a tense atmosphere of cautionary platforming and combat. In Luminous Avenger, though, each encounter ended before it began and everything felt rushed as Copen was able to drill through enemies like butter on a hot biscuit.
Even boss battles, which should be a highlight in action games like this, don’t offer that much of a challenge. While initially they appeared to offer more challenging encounters, once you’ve got the pattern figured out it’s pretty much game over for them. There would be times when I felt the big bads were tougher than they should be, but even these moments would pass as you’re given an extra chance after dying when Copen’s robot companion Lola (a scantily dressed robot companion, of course) revives you and offers assistance. Sometimes this could prove necessary but in a game already largely simplified this inclusion feels as if this was an extra added layer of accessibility that’s both unearned and gratuitous.
Also detracting from the overall flow are the unnecessarily long animations that play during special attacks. Much like the rest of the game, these are anime-inspired attack sequences that can take a good 15 seconds (!) out of the combat just to perform a giant screen-filling attack toward your enemies. Diversions like this in a genre like JRPGs, where the flow of combat is more methodical and slower placed, is more acceptable and even welcoming. But during frantic 2D platformer action gameplay these moments can feel like an eternity – almost long enough to put the controller down and grab a snack. This is especially painful during boss battles when quick-thinking and precision are thrown out of alignment while the anime attack does its thing.
It also doesn’t help that pronouncing the game’s title takes longer than it does to finish the actual game. OK, I’m exaggerating, but there’s not a whole lot of extra thrills to be had with the overall package. For fans of the series, I can see Gunvolt Chronicles Luminous Avenger iX offering a decent diversion while they patiently await the next real iteration, but aside from high scores or better gear I found little incentive to jump back in once the credits rolled. The lack of any real challenge, extra material or substantive gameplay make this otherwise nice-looking platformer difficult to recommend to anyone not already a superfan.