One way to skin a gear.
In an alternate universe prior to the turn of the 20th century, a new dawn for mankind rises not with the industrial revolution nor with the agricultural revolution (nor a "game revolution" - hehe), but with the scientific work of a pioneering doctor named Hebble Grant. Dr. Grant has conjured forth a limitless energy from remnants of the infamous Halley's Comet. And now, the doctor is missing.
The fate of the doctor and the entire world lies in the hands of the Gunvalkyrie team, an elite class of super soldiers mystically chosen by Halley's Comet to wield the great power of the Gearskin suit.
But despite being serious badasses, their logo needs some work. A killer whale with tiny little wings? Riiight. Nothing says "terrifying" like a winged Willy.
Weirder still is that your commanding lieutenant in the game is a floating head. How did Lt. Meridian Poe get to be that way? Her father, the same Doctor Hebble Grant, had it surgically removed in the name of science. And you thought your parents were jerks.
As wacky as a flying Shamu and a floating head can get, the rest of Gunvalkyrie follows very standard sci-fi themes. Take, for example, the droves of mutant bugs that wish to plunder mankind ala Starship Troopers, or the requisite pretty heroine.
You can choose between playing as Kelly or Saburota. Kelly controls more easily, but Saburota has the stronger weapons. Saburota cannot be selected for the boss battles.
The 10 levels and 5 bosses follow strictly pronounced agendas - destroy all the bugs within a certain time limit, eliminate the pods, kill the boss, etc. Extermination is the name of the game. There's a definite dash of the old school flava, but I would have liked to see more continuity and spontaneity, like a mission where something goes horribly wrong and your objectives change during play.
Speaking of flow, Gunvalkyrie starts with an interesting story, but then fails to integrate it into the game. If they wanted to appropriate the anime stylings and the promise of an interesting story, then they really should have followed through and supported it with some FMV. Text logs can't hold a candle to rendering.
When you finish a level, your performance is graded. Good grades will line your pockets with Gunvalkyrie points, with which you can buy various upgrades like shields, lock-on, and gun boosts. Coupled with a Challenge mode that's unlocked when you've beaten the game, the system helps to instill some replay.
" border=0 align="left" width="300" height="225">The big buzz/gripe behind Gunvalkyrie revolves around the entirely new control scheme, which is essentially a dual analog control layout. What with the alien bugs and the dual controls, I'd describe Gunvalkyrie as the off-kilter psychedelic love child of Metroid and Virtual On.
The left analog stick controls your movement while the right stick controls your upper torso - turning dead right or left requires the use of both sticks. Your analog left and right buttons are shoot and jump, respectively, while the rest of the buttons are relatively ignored, relegated for intermittent weapon swapping. Thankfully, there is a way to perform 180 turnarounds. Despite the lack of true strafing, there is a horizontal somersault that can be angled to rotate around enemies. True strafing would have added more to the land-based combat.
The dual control scheme might be difficult and overly frisky to some due to the baby-head sized Xbox controllers, but it really just takes time to master. Still, I truly doubt anyone ever intended the Xbox analog joystick buttons to be used so much.
Certain options would have made the who;e thing easier. What about southpaws who'd like to swap the analog sticks? There isn't even a choice between the set-in-stone inverted flight control pitch or traditional pitch. The Options screen only allows you to change a piddling few audio settings. Rather thoughtless.
At any rate, the main idea is to sustain your airtime, thereby avoiding the many dangers on Terra Firma. Flip and twirl as long as you can maintain juice in your meter. Once you get comfortable with the controls, you should be able to last for long stretches in midair, flipping around like a futuristic Baryshnikov. Maneuvers grant you combo points that will increase the power of your gun, but also make you more vulnerable to fire.
" border=0 align="left" width="300" height="225">The result is fun and frantic and hard. This is not for newbie gamers who wanted an Xbox because they saw it on TV. This is a game for hardcore, old-school gamers who are looking for a classic arcade challenge in a new form.
Gunvalkyrie definitely has a visual flair. The blast of your suit propels a blurred and beautiful heat flare against the screen, while the textures are sharp and photo realistic. However, there's a tendency to reuse the same level themes and some slowdown occurs when the screen hits huge levels of bugs.
The music is a little too New Age for my tastes. I think some classical would have better complemented the whole "space opera" feel.
Smilebit, the same studio behind Typing of the Dead and Jet Set Radio Future, has again scored with originality and created a difficult game that taps into an old school vein. A good deal of people will dislike it, however, and I really wouldn't blame them. It's a niche title that takes time, open arms, and very, very fast hands.