Gunstar Heroes review
A recipe for total awesomeness
I might've been alive back in 1993, but I hadn't developed the motor skills necessary to play video games. At this time, a game for the Sega Genesis called Gunstar Heroes was released. Developed by ex-Konami developers called Treasure, Gunstar Heroes was an exercise in seeing just how much ass the Sega Genesis could kick, showcasing some top notch colors, a rocking soundtrack, and some of the best levels you'll ever go through in a 16-bit sidescrolling platformer. Obviously, a lot of you have already played through this game and love it to bits, but some of you still haven't, so if you're in the latter party, there are many opportunities to go and get this game and be a part of the former party - you can do it the old fashioned way and get yourself a Sega Genesis and a copy of this game in your nearest second store or via Ebay, or if you want to be modern, you can download this on either Wiiware, Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network, depending on what system you have (and if you have multiple systems, well, what controller do you find more comfortable for sidescrollers). Honestly, I think everyone who hasn't already should just go out and buy this game, because there isn't nearly enough space to tell you all in great detail how awesome of a game it is.
There is a story, but it's mostly just some filler about a Bison lookalike stealing gems and some superweapon, honestly, who gives a shit? I certainly don't. I don't play these old games for a storyline; I play for the gameplay, though to its credit, Gunstar Heroes does have a neat concept, and if you have the instruction manual or Wikipedia open, you'll find it to be a riveting however brief tale (though we got screwed because the Japanese instruction booklet has more content than ours - well, that was until the internet came by), but really, did it affect how good the game was? This paragraph might sound silly after reading the introduction, but to be fair, you probably didn't pay attention to this paragraph anyway...
Gunstar Heroes is, for the most part, your typical run and gun game. It basically operates like Contra (fun fact: a decent chunk of the guys who came up with Contra became Treasure), except more frantic and one shot doesn't kill you. At the beginning of the game, you can select to either be able to run and shoot, or to just stand and shoot (Capcom must've been taking notes here - oh, and fixed shooters get a flying kick while free shooters don't), then what kind of ammo you want to start off with - homing arrow shots, fireballs, lasers or fast plasma shots. Then you're given the option to choose which of the first four levels to go through. There isn't much of a difference between levels if you do them in a different order from left to right.
As you go through the levels, you'll find some orbs with weapon symbols. Picking these up will allow you to mix it with the other weapon type you currently have, making your gun a lot more versatile and stronger. Nothing beats the homing laser when you just want to kill enemies while running through the level, or sit back and jump occasionally while going up against bosses, though the strength of an atomic fireball (two fireball symbols together) is usually one to consider when you want to destroy enemies quicker, especially when surrounded. There's a lot of mixing and matching to be done if you want to beat the game without too much trouble.
At the end of each level is a boss. Each of them have their own little methods of attack, and it's up to you to analyze their patterns and counterattack without getting hit too much. Treasure was kind enough to give you a checkpoint near the boss when you die against them, thankfully, though sometimes, a weapon upgrade won't be waiting for you, so I hope you can make do with the weapon you chose at the beginning of the game.
Despite the often frenetic gameplay and tough looking bosses, Gunstar Heroes isn't quite as hard as Contra. Oh sure, you may die a lot, and you're forced to start at the beginning of the level with just the weapon you started off with if you choose to continue after dying, but with a little persistence and some mixing and matching of weapon types, you'll be able to conquer these levels without too much trouble... at least, on normal mode, anyway. Hard mode is a true challenge, giving you a lot of grief as you try to conquer tougher bosses, making you thankful of the fact that you have some health instead of having the one hit death rule in effect, but for those seeking a challenge, hop aboard the hard difficulty train - always has room for one more!
But not everything is what you'd expect for the genre, for the levels aren't all “run right and kill everyone in sight” - the caves level, for instance, has you riding a futuristic mine cart along a semi swiftly autoscrolling level, and the beginning of the – at least that's what I call it, anyway – doom ship level has you ascending to the top of said ship while the screen autoscrolls upwards. One level has you proceed through the halls by a roll of the die... don't worry, it's not that bad. If you get good rolls, you'll get more rewards, like health and weapons. Bad rolls, unfortunately, result in you fighting enemies or bosses, which will inevitably decrease your health unless you're like the best gamer in the world or something. I find the dice tower level very surprising, mostly because of the fact that you proceed by rolling a die and have to survive the trials up ahead until you get to the end to fight the big boss... and just when you thought it'd be smooth sailing from there on out, there'll be a shoot em up level. It'll be a lot like Gradius or R-Type where you control the space ship and you have to shoot down other space ships and the big ship's guns. When even the levels come out of left field and manage to still flow with the rest of the game properly, you know you have a damn well designed game on your hands...
Without a doubt, Gunstar Heroes is the best looking game on the Sega Genesis. The colorful levels on top of immensely detailed environments, with a side helping of top notch animation that flows like a calm river, and despite all of the action, the framerate never, ever misses a beat. Honestly, if the graphics were my last meal, I'd ask for the lethal injection out of gross satisfaction!
The soundtrack is also excellent. Each song is very upbeat and catchy, while also distinguishing themselves from one another by conveying a different atmosphere and producing a different beat. It's hard to express how awesome the soundtrack (and graphics) are in words, because it just has that “you have to listen to get what the reviewer means” vibe. I'm proud to admit that I listen to this in my car while people stare at me and go “what the hell is that shit”.
As you can plainly read, Gunstar Heroes is required to be in your collection. Pulse pounding gameplay, lots of variety in level design, excellent graphics and top notch soundtrack. What are you waiting for? Nintendo to release a copy on their systems? Oh wait...
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