Hits the Target
Inti Creates, a Japanese studio started by some ex-Capcom folks, know the Mega Man formula pretty well. The four-part Mega Man Zero series in the early 2000s cemented their status as action platformer experts, at least in my 10-year-old brain at the time. After playing those games again at PAX West, I still wholeheartedly believe in their skills. That’s why playing Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX was such a treat. It evolves beyond the old Mega Man Zero games and puts an emphasis on speed and skill. Despite a lackluster story and weak characters, the gameplay elevates Luminous Avenger iX, making it worth your time if you’re missing some Mega Man X style action.
The Legend of Luminous Avenger iX
In Luminous Avenger iX, you play as a red-and-white armored character named Copen, who’s accompanied by his robotic companion, Lola. In this far future, some humans have evolved beyond normal capabilities, able to tap into a natural power called Septima. The Sumeragi Institute of Human Evolution leads these evolved humans, called Adepts, on a crusade to wipe out the inferior part of the species. These normal humans, derogatorily named Minos (like minority), barely get by to survive.
Copen, colloquially known by his hero name iX, saves Minos wherever he goes. Despite not having any connection to Septima, his mobility suit and high-tech weapons put him in the same league as the most powerful Adepts. On top of that, his companion Lola can copy any defeated Adepts’ powers and use them as her own EX Weapons (hello Mega Man). With all these tools at your disposal, it’s up to you to save humanity from extinction.
Combat in Luminous Avenger iX
Across Luminous Avenger iX's 12 main stages, your goal is to work through a 2D stage and defeat enemies along the way. Every level ends with a boss, all of whom have three phases. The formula isn’t anything new, but the way Inti Creates has designed the combat here makes it engaging to novices and experts alike.
Copen has two pistols, along with whatever EX Weapons Lola copies off the bosses. The pistols can feel a bit lackluster at first, but after you dash into an enemy, everything changes. You mark the target with a reticule, and you bounce back into the air, letting your hover boots slow your descent. Every bullet homes into the target automatically, no matter which way you face. Once you fall into a rhythm of dashing, shooting, and dashing some more, you start to understand how the combat works, and it feels wonderful.
The EX Weapons play a similar role as the boss weapons in any Mega Man game. Finding a boss’ weakness always feels fantastic, and it goes beyond simply doing more damage to a boss. Hitting them with their weakness can change the way they fight. One boss shed his shield, making him more open to attacks. Another EX Weapon could blow away a boss’ projectiles, making the fight trivial. Outside of boss sequences, I often default back to the same one or two EX Weapons to get around. They’re fun to use, but in most cases, only some are useful, like the one that auto-targets your dash.
Your dashes are limited by a resource called Bullits. Every dash consumes a Bullit, but every hit you take consumes two. Run out, and you start taking real damage to your health. You can reload Bullits manually, which leaves you vulnerable, but if you bounce off something after a dash, you’ll regain a Bullit. The nuanced system takes a while to get used to. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do some gnarly things, like go through a stage without touching the ground once.
Luminous Avenger iX rewards your high-risk maneuvers and skilled play. Every time you kill an enemy, you earn Kudos. The cooler the kill, the more you earn. If you take three hits, though, you lose all the Kudos you’ve earned. Racking up 1,000 points unlocks your Overdrive mode, which can be augmented to give you extra buffs as you work your way through a stage. Essentially, the better you play, the more options you’ll have at your disposal. Oh, and the music changes to a poppy tune, which is nice enough.
Luminous Avenger iX Needs Electrifying Skill
However, Luminous Avenger iX isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. The first two-thirds of the missions are fairly easy, and you’ll get by, even while making a lot of mistakes. The constant dashing and Bullit management makes every stage a thrill to go through, especially as you notice yourself improving. Unfortunately, some of the later bosses can throw you for a loop, especially because they change up the rules a bit.
Most of the bosses play by the laws of your Bullits. While you have some, you won’t take any lethal damage. As long as you can find time to reload, you’ll make it through any fight, even if you take a lot of hits. Some bosses, however, channel the power of lightning, which goes right through your Bullits. This gives players a sense of real challenge, which, in retrospect, is welcome. However, it comes out of nowhere, and it can be frustrating at first to unlearn the way you’ve been playing.
Nonetheless, it’s all about making you a more skilled player. You learn boss patterns and react properly. Theoretically, you could get through every boss without taking a single hit, if you’re good enough. You can replay every level to practice, constantly getting better at dealing with every stage and boss. If you like doing time attack mode and beating your previous score, Luminous Avenger iX has you covered.
Weak Narrative, Strong Gameplay
For those who want more story, you won’t find anything satisfying here. Only Copen and Lola were memorable characters, and the group of ragtag survivors you stay with are fairly uninspired cliches. You have the young boy who only likes cool, heroic stuff. The older boy, on the other hand, wears glasses and is a bit geeky. You already know everything about them in the first few lines of dialog because of how simple they are.
The plot itself contains painfully transparent hooks. A character gets sick, so you go to an abandoned facility to get medicine. Surely the evil corporation you’ve been fighting won’t send someone to stop you, right? A big plot twist toward the end of the story might pull the wool over some of the younger players’ eyes, but for the most part, it’s heavily telegraphed. Overall, the weak storytelling can leave you unsatisfied, if that’s all you’re looking for.
That doesn’t hinder Luminous Avenger iX though. The narrative and its characters take a backseat to let the gameplay have the spotlight. While the final boss wasn’t narratively satisfying, beating his smug face absolutely was. It took quite a few attempts, but landing that final blow was worth the feeling of self-satisfaction. It brought me back to the simplicities of childhood, when beating a Mega Man game was the achievement in and of itself.
After beating the story, you unlock six remixed stages with more enemies and harder bosses. You’ll even find a boss rush mode, which acts as a nice cherry on top. Even after the credits roll, you’ll find a reason to stick with Luminous Avenger iX for a few more hours. Inti Creates has made a little playground for action platform aficionados to play in, and the extra stages keep on giving.
Luminous Avenger iX Review | What a Rush
Luminous Avenger iX is the first spin-off title in the Azure Striker Gunvolt franchise, and its quality justifies more sequels down the line. Combat forces you move fast and accurately, but it’s forgiving enough at first so you can learn the ropes. The system allows you to feel as cool as you look. Fans of Mega Man X should look into giving this title a try, as it ticks all the boxes a good action platformer should. It won’t shake the foundations of gaming, as it’s held back by weak narrative and characters, but the core gameplay hits the target with flying colors.
TechRaptor reviewed Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by Inti Creates.
- Fantastic Combat
- Unique Mechanics Encourage Exciting Play
- Offers Lots of Bang for Your Buck
- Extremely Predictable Narrative
- Characters Fail to Go Beyond Cliche