Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 02/21/08

Click, click, boom...

Killing these guys never gets old. It’s kind of addictive, actually. You need to try it sometime. The sooner, the better. There’s nothing quite as satisfying about roasting some pathetic goon with a flamethrower. Or unleashing an endless stream of laser beams into the hordes of meat shields that’ll throw themselves at you. It’s probably a good thing the bodies are so pixilated; you’ll be spared the images of charred flesh and bullet-ridden corpses. Of course, you’ll still get to revel in all their tinny little death-screams. The fact that there’s so many of them makes it even better. Entire legions of throwaway enemies are practically begging to paint the screen with their blood. Their attacks may be ineffectual and nonsensical, but hey, at least they’re entertaining. And when you’re butchering people every waking moment, that’s all that really matters.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’d sound just as deranged if you were as hooked on Gunstar Heroes as I am. If you have any love for run-and-gun games – any interest whatsoever – this game will charm, exhaust, and eventually leave you begging for more. It'll start off innocently enough; legions of generic foot soldiers will practically throw themselves into your line of fire. But a few dozen corpses later, you'll find yourself tackling a brick-laden levitating monstrosity. After you've reduced it to a crumbling wreck, you'll go grinding down the side of a pyramid, dodging enemy fire and praying that you don't trip along the way. That’s on top of all the clay snake monsters, diehard midget soldiers, gravity-defying minecarts, and everything else the game throws at you. Gargantuan machines will rip a forest to shreds in its attempt to kill you, a flying ship full soldiers will rain leaden death from above, and a shape-shifting mecha will try to break your gaming will.

And given the insanely demanding gameplay, it’ll likely succeed. It’s not like the game is terribly difficult; compared to other titles in the genre, Gunstar Heroes is relatively easy. With no one-hit kills, a considerably large health meter, and unlimited continues, you’ll be ready for whatever the game throws at you. The thing is, you’re going to need all of that. While the game throws out plenty of freebies, it balances it out with some truly grueling, fast-paced boss battles. Remember that shape-shifting mecha I was talking about? It’ll start off as a running hunk of metal, then random switch into a fire-breathing crab, a tank-sized pistol, an eagle with a wingspan the size of the stage, and a handful of other equally deadly monstrosities. All it’ll take is one missed jump, one slight miscalculation, and you’ll watch in horror as your health meter crumbles to nothing and forces you back onto the Game Over Screen for the umpteenth time.

You can’t blame the controls when that happens, either. This game is a faithful port of the original Genesis version, right down to the responsive and surprisingly fluid controls. Though the game can be played with a mere WiiMote, you might want to shell out the extra money for a Classic Controller; it’ll minimize the blisters that’ll inevitably develop on your hands from fast-paced gameplay. Regardless, the controls are easy to pick up; unless you’re completely inept, you should be able to slaughter your foes with ease. The trick is learning how to deal with the opposition; since the variety of enemies forces you to fight both in close quarters and in the distance (getting punted across the screen is never fun), you’re going to have to master every facet of your moveset. Much of the game revolves around killing people, but there are regular doses of platforming to mix things up as well. While running, jumping, throwing, and badass slide-kicking action are both essential to your success in combat and level progression, the only real issue might have is with the aiming. But since you’re given the option of choosing free or fixed aiming commands before the game starts, it won’t take long for you to figure out which of the control methods you prefer.

Thus, the most prominent gameplay feature is the arsenal. You’re granted a selection of four weapons, including an energy pellet shooter, homing bullets, a flamethrower, and a laser capable of shooting through almost anything. Few games have such a varied and badass arsenal available at its start, but here’s the best part: you can combine them. Forget about limiting yourself to spewing short-ranged plumes of fire; with the right weapon pickup, you can change your wimpy projectiles into a grenade launcher with a wonderfully broken damage radius or a snaking line of flames that can be controlled as long as you don’t take damage. Think of the possibilities; heat-seeking lasers, rapid-fire Machine Guns of Death, and several other ridiculously powerful weapons. Actually using them, however, is another story. Since each weapon has a different control and attack style, you may not be ready to handle such a level of badassery. So choose wisely, and pray that you actually choose something useful.

If you don’t, you’re forever doomed to die every few minutes. (Or, depending on what area you’re trying to beat, every few seconds.) It’s not like the game is impossible to beat, but it awesome level design and unrelenting pacing are to be reckoned with. Invading a fortress designed like a board game (complete with some likely loaded dice) is by far the most original concept in this game’s genre. But if you prefer something a little more conventional, imagine trying to catch an airship as it takes off: you valiantly ascend the conveniently placed towers, barely grasping the edge of the forward deck. There’s no time to catch your breath; with bullets, bombs, and God knows what else being thrown at you, the only thing you can do is rush forth and hope. After murdering countless random goons, you’ll mount the wings of a hidden helicopter and take down an M. Bison wannabe as it crashes back to the deck. There’s nothing quite as epic as grappling a muscle-bound monstrosity (with the wind and clouds dramatically rushing past) and listening to the little cheers of all his villainous cohorts below. The blend of colors, animated characters, and lively atmosphere make the game undeniably awesome.

Look, folks. If you’ve got access to the Virtual Console, get this game. No arguing. That goes for all of you still clinging to the original Genesis cart; the port is faithful to the old game in every respect. As such, Gunstar Heroes is easily one of the best games available in the VC’s library. The action involved is unparalleled; with so many different weapons and subsequent combinations to create, you’ll be sure to find some kind of gun to satisfy your desire to kill random enemies. The creative level structure and demanding gameplay are not for the faint of heart; unless you’ve developed your gaming skills with the likes of the Contra and Metal Slug series, you’re going to be in for quite a few Game Over screens. There’s no shame (well maybe a little) in your failure; this game tests your prowess unlike any other. With plenty of crazy bosses, memorable moments, and unquestionable quality, Gunstar Heroes is as satisfying as ever.

Rating: 9

Product Release: Gunstar Heroes (US, 12/11/06)

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