Review by Lord-Spencer
Heroic Run & Gun Game
I must confess that I wasn't a big fan of Treasure's other games on the Genesis. Alien Soldier was definitely a solid shooter, but it was too chaotic and hard to follow, and the less said about the Light Crusader the better.
I am also not a big fan of the Run & Gun genre, finding it too limited and repetitive for great games to come out of it.
Which is why it is doubly surprising that I managed to enjoy Gunstar Heroes so much, proving that this game is a pinnacle for both the console and the genre.
"No!... The Earth, under one person's power"
At the Genesis era, games like Gunstar Heroes didn't usually make any effort to tell a story or to have any sort of narrative. While this is mostly the case for Gunstar Heroes, it actually puts in more effort in crafting a story than other similar games.
Starting with an opening narrative, the evil empire managed to take control of the entire earth, and its up to the heroic Gunstar Heroes to save the world. In order to do so, they must take back the 4 power gems.
That's a very basic story, but the style of the game manages to add more character than that.
Featuring a unique sprite design for its characters, Gunstar Heroes achieves a similar effect to the Metal Slug series by crafting a world that's full of character. That's mostly apparent with the absurdly Bison-like character (from Street Fighter series) Smash Diakatsu, who showcases a lot of humor and personality through his design and animation.
"Your journey ends here"
Gunstar Heroes plays at the outset like any other Run & Gun game, but with a few differences. First, you have the ability to pick any of the four beginning level. Second, you can choose between two shooting styles through your choice of characters. Either fixed shooting, or fixed aim. The first option allows you to aim your shot at a single point and keep firing, but that sacrifices the ability to move and shoot at the same time. Obviously, the second option is the best.
That's not the only difference that counts though. Besides the ability to run and... well, gun, this game allows the hero some significant mobility as well as a variety of offensive option.
You can slide into enemies, as well as do some drop kick attacks. Also, when getting close, you could throw them at each other, with even some bosses being susceptible to that move. Since the game gives you a health bar instead of the one-hit kills of the Contra and Metal Slug series, this expanded move-set allows for extremely chaotic fun.
Added to your variety of beat-em-up moves, is of course the weapons themselves. The game basically offers a system where you can have two gems that affect your main gun out of four kinds. There is homing, laser, flame thrower, and rapid fire. Each type has been featured in run & gun games in the past, and you could probably guess how it behaves.
Gunstar Heroes does not only give you the ability to switch between two types, but also to combine them for an extra devastating effect. As far as I can tell, all weapon combinations are valid in some way, but some are clearly more suitable for the majority of the game.
"Welcome to the Dice Palace"
With such a great gameplay foundation to build on, Gunstar Heroes can only fail if the levels do not do justice to the gameplay. Thankfully, that's not the case here.
Each stage is in some way, drastically different than the other. With even one stage that plays more like a shmup than a Run & Gun game, and another taking place in something similar to a board game. This variety is especially apparent considering the bosses.
As seen in later Treasure games, they have a tendency to put their best work with their bosses, and that started here. From small-sized baddies to those that cover nearly half the screen, the bosses in show here are among the best in the genre.
By being both fair and fearsome, they manage to strike the perfect balance between challenge and frustration.
Since this game is meant as a score-attack game though, it is supposed t be finished in one-setting. Meaning that there is no saving or passwords, but that's a small issue if your considering emulated versions.
"Ha, Ha, Ha... If you want to save Yellow, come to me with all the gems"
With its character designs being part of the charm, and its varied level needing to look varied, this is game that manages to do both justice through its graphics. Through both good sprite arts, and very good background design, the game looks great despite the chaos in the screen.
It's a great sight to see multitude of bullets and enemies flying about at you mow through them with your double falmethrower.
Special mention needs to be reserved to the surprisingly good 3D graphics though. Somehow, the game manages to put in a couple of sequences where 3D polygons interact with 2D space without being overly offensive to the eye.
Audio-wise, the game is just as good. Through both effects and music, it showcases an energetic tone throughout. Something that particularly invites players to go forward despite the difficulties faced.
Most of the time, I am confident of what I think my opinion on a game would be. In this case, I thought Treasure would have a third strike, and they will be out. It's their first game, and their latter efforts gave me no reason to celebrate.
Which is why I am happy that this time I was wrong. This game is not only a fine first-time effort by Treasure, but a very good game as well.
Product Release: Gunstar Heroes (US, 12/11/06)
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