I remember playing Gunvalkyrie when it first came out in 2002, and my initial reaction at the time was that I hated it. I loved the idea of having a cool-looking character boosting around in a high-tech jetpack, but the controls seemed harebrained and I gained nothing from it but frustration. Admittedly, I didn't spend that much time with it because my initial distaste was so strong. However, enough people whose opinions I respect had continued to speak highly of the game, so I felt compelled to pick up the case and look at it again (and again) every time I went to my local shop.
Enough time had passed since my first go-round and the game itself had become so cheap that I felt like I should give it another shot. I'm not above going back to see if my initial impressions were correct, and once in a while I'll change my stance on something. So what do I think of Gunvalkyrie after all this time has passed? Well, I don't hate it as much as I used to, but I still think the thing needs a lot of work.
The good points are that the characters do look very cool (and I'm a sucker for good character design) and the idea of shooting around alien skies with wings on my back still appeals to me. The bad points? After seeing credits roll and taking in everything it had to offer, Gunvalkyrie felt like a very rough, half-finished experience.
The developers were obviously pretty high on the jetpack control scheme they had designed. The entire game is built around it, though not really in a way I appreciate. From the "civilian base" levels which would be impossible for any normal human being to navigate, to the teeny-tiny floating platforms in the alien landscapes, it's pretty obvious that mastering the controls is what the game is all about. Instead of thrills or adventuring, most of the time I felt like I was performing some kind of reflex skills test.
It also really bugged me that you can't reconfigure the controls. I did get used to them (like Mike B. says, the intro video that rolls after the title screen helps a great deal in demonstrating how the game is supposed to be played) but I still think it's possible to use the Xbox controller a little more effectively than it's being used in Gunvalkyrie. My left thumb was burning after fighting the last boss with the insane amount of stick-clicking going on, and my tendons were crying for mercy. At the very least you should be able to invert the camera controls.
Besides mastering flight, there isn't much to gain from playing Gunvalkyrie, an impression supported by the completely nonsensical paper-thin story and the way the game threw twitch-testing levels at me in a random, disconnected fashion. I prefer the kind of game that revolves around what you do, not how you do it, so the touchiness of the controls and the crushing emphasis on getting them exactly right came at the expense of accessible, enjoyable gameplay.
I will say that I did have a bit of masochistic fun with Gunvalkyrie, though I still think it's the concept I like more than the actual game. It's just doesn't feel as well-rounded or polished as it should be, though it does have a certain perverse charm. For under $10, it's an interesting niche-title oddity.