Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 01/18/08

The perfect rental

I’ve never been much of an old-school gamer, probably because my parents were pretty strict about not having video games up until I turned ten or something. I’ve always been kind of afraid of old games, for whatever reason, but even that couldn’t keep me away from Gunstar Super Heroes, an update of the classic Gunstar Heroes by fan-favorite developer Treasure. And while Gunstar Super Heroes has a lot to offer, it’s regrettable that this game’s biggest flaw ultimately puts a damper on the many good things that you’ll find in this package.

Gunstar Super Heroes is old-school running-and-gunning at its finest. You’re thrust quickly into a rather simple story involving aptly named characters Red, Blue, and Yellow as they suddenly become under attack from an unknown enemy. They’re all three operatives of 3YE, an organization dedicated to the protection of Earth, and the attackers, labeled only as the “Empire” and led by the mysterious General Gray, threaten its safety. Naturally, it’s up to you, playing as either Red or Blue, to stop Gray and his henchman and return the world to peace.

Gunstar Super Heroes is unique in that it allows you to play through the game either as Red (a girl, apparently, though you’d never know it by looking at “her“) or Blue (pretty obviously a guy). This isn’t, however, just a dumb attempt at imbuing the game with some replay value -- instead, the game is a noticeably different experience depending upon whom you choose to play with. For one, they have drastically different personalities, so the game script changes significantly for each character. Additionally, they have different weapons, which presents a small differentiation between the two characters, though it will likely not affect how you play the game.

The game is divided up into different moons, each of which have a single level on them. Naturally, you play through them progressively, and each beaten level opens up the next one. Essentially, your put in an area with tons -- and I mean TONS -- of soldiers, and you’ve got to shoot your way out. You’re probably going to keep your finger on the fire button for about 95% of the game, as you dash through levels filled with enemies. They don’t stop at all, they’re relentless, and they explode when you kill them. Awesome.

Despite some of this really intense action, the developers did a really great job of controlling the pace and variety of the game. The entire game doesn’t consist of you simply running through levels with bunches of soldiers intent on murdering you. Instead, the game mixes things up with several awesome additions to the core game play mechanic. For example, one level has you on top of a plane that’s automatically piloted forward; you have to rotate the plane to avoid projectiles and shoot the crap out of any airborne enemies that come near. Other examples include a top-down level in which you pilot a helicopter through hostile enemy airspace (blowing the life out of everything that appears on screen, naturally) and running through a tilting maze collecting…chickens (admittedly, this is one of the more random aspects of the game).

Running and gunning isn’t all the game has to offer, however, as it provides more experienced gamers a chance to master a surprisingly comprehensive list of combo moves. Some of them are quite essential -- for example, the one that allows you to simply pick up help, which you are desperately going to need) -- while others aren’t even that useful, but look ridiculously cool. Honestly, it’s going to be mostly “hardcore” gamers who even bother to learn all these moves, much less actually use them. Still, they’re a lot of fun and pretty cool, and it’s neat to challenge yourself to run through an entire level without shooting any enemies.

And then, at the end of each of the few levels, comes a boss fight. This, my friends, is how boss fights are supposed to be done. The game is not kidding when it calls these baddies “bosses” -- they’re huge, towering monstrosities that take up the entire game screen and make you feel tiny in comparison. There’s not a whole ton of variety, because you’ll mostly be facing off against robots, whether they’re just evil and want to smash you to bits or if they’re being controlled by one of Gray’s minions who wants to smash you to bits. Either way, you’ve got quite a job to do.

Sadly, once you get past how frigging awesome the bosses look, there’s not a whole lot to be had. Each boss has a health number somewhere beginning in the low hundreds, and each attack takes it down a bit. The thing is, there are really two main ways of defeating a boss: performing the same, simple action fifty times until he’s finally dead, or finding a kink in the boss’ armor and blasting the crap out of them. For example, one of the game’s bosses, Pink, can literally be beaten in ten seconds flat, no matter which difficulty level you’re on. Just jump up next to her, unleash a power shot (done by hitting R three times in quick succession), hold for a few seconds, and you’re done. Come on!

So, on the subject of boss fights, there are two other important aspects of the game that can be commented on. First off are the game’s visuals. Let me say that for a GameBoy Advance title, Gunstar Super Heroes looks absolutely incredible. Everything runs smoothly in a cartoony sort of way, and the colors lend themselves beautifully to pre-rendered backgrounds and excellent character models. The enemies are sadly monotonous (there are only a few different types in the game) but the bosses look absolutely incredible. It’s too late now for any developer to take a leaf out of Treasure’s book, seeing as no more games are being made for the GBA, but this is how you make a game look awesome. With awesome colors, tons of enemies, and plentiful explosions.

There’s also the difficulty to mention, and I feel it’s especially important to talk about this aspect of the game because it’s nowhere near what I expected. One of the reasons I’ve always been a bit wary of old school games is because of the reputation they have for being so nail-bightingly tough. I’m a pretty good gamer, but I don’t find it fun to play through a stage countless times just so I can call myself “hardcore”. However, Gunstar Super Heroes does a nice job of really catering to all gamers, thanks to its three drastically different difficulty mode. The easiest will allow even the most inexperienced gamer to complete the title with ease, but the hardest will prove a challenge to any hardcore gamer. There’s a nice range here and I appreciate the fact that Treasure went out of their way to make this a game that anybody could have fun with.

Now, I’ve saved the worst for last. And let me say, the worst is…pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that I’ve docked more than a couple of points from this game’s score up until now. The problem area? Replay value and overall game value. GBA games cost 30 bucks. Gunstar Super Heroes is pretty rare nowadays, so even a used copy might run you that much -- maybe even more, depending on where you get it. And the game can be beaten in less than an hour. Seriously. Even the later difficulty modes can be easily beaten by somebody who know what they’re doing -- and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have tossed this game aside long before you get to the toughest difficulty mode. Sure, there’s some extra content depending on which character you use and which difficulty mode you play on, and there’s the ability to go back and play levels again, but it’s not all that great. All told, you’d have to be a huge fan just to spend more than five hours with that game -- and for thirty dollars, there is a myriad of other great titles out there that will last you much longer.

Sure, it’s a fun game, but Gunstar Super Heroes just isn’t worth what you’re probably going to pay for it. If you can get it for less than ten bucks, consider it. If you’re one of those lucky people like myself who have a GameFly account, add this game to your Queue right now. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a fun game, but it’s just not worth buying. Still, it’s an excellent title to borrow from a friend or pick up from a game rental store, especially if you’re in the mood for some fun, intense, albeit short lived 2D shooting action.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Gunstar Super Heroes (US, 10/25/05)

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