Review by kristina kim
Reviewed: 04/13/02 | Updated: 06/25/03
Treasure does everything right in this Contra clone
Treasure is known for creating games that are both original in concept and have incredible gameplay. Gunstar Heroes, their first effort, was and is still today one of the best offerings available for the Genesis as well as being one of the best shooters ever.
Gunstar heroes has graphics so amazing that you'll wonder if you're even playing on the Genesis. The graphics feature bright, colorful backgrounds and characters and multi-directional scrolling stages. The sprites are rather small in size but when you're packing 10-20 enemies on screen at once it can get pretty hectic. There are also a multitude of different sprite effects that are quite incredible, such as scaling and rotation, effects that were once thought impossible on the Genesis. There are stretching and scrolling bosses, levels that zip by at incredible speed, and well-animated sprites. Everything in the game oozes personality and originality – bosses range from a farting commando to a morphing mecha that turns into a gigantic gun.
The music is OK, there's nothing that's outstanding, but it doesn't wear on you as you play. As with most shooters, the music is completely lost in the background of explosions. The sound effects are also nothing special, it has the typical shooter fare of blasts and screams.
Gameplay is where Gunstar Heroes really rocks. At the beginning of the game you choose a basic starting weapon out of 4: a standard red shot that's weak but fires rapidly, a blue laser that is powerful but fires slowly, a flamethrower that is the most powerful weapon in the game but has the shortest range, and a green shot that is weak but homes in on enemies. Although these weapons are your standard shooting fare, 2 different weapons can be carried at the same time, which produce a totally new shot pattern. For example, if you start out with the red shot, and pick up a blue laser shot, then you'll end up with a rapid-fire blue laser. This makes for a great deal of strategy in the game, because some weapon combinations are better suited for some levels and bosses. Additionally, you can select between fixed and free shot. Fixed allows you to shoot in any direction without moving, and free allows you to shoot whilst running. I would have liked the ability to switch between fixed and free shooting while playing, because you only choose one at the start of the game. Beyond the shooting, however, your character is capable of a multitude of different maneuvers, namely punches, kicks, throws(which are handy when enemies come too close), sweeps, and the ability to cling to certain objects.
Gunstar Heroes has 4 starting levels that can be completed in any order, and one final level. The levels vary greatly in terms of gameplay and setting. One infamous level has you play through a board game by rolling a pair of dice and then fighting to reach the boss. Another has you speeding around on a mine cart, a typical shooter level were it not for the incredible speed at which the level zips by. Although the game is rather short and only takes several hours of play to blast through, Treasure games have immense replay value. Developers try too hard these days to make videogames an ''experience'' whether it be through awesome cinemas or through an engrossing story. These games do not hold up well to the test of time; furthermore, they lack any replay value as most people end up skipping the cinema sequences anyway. Treasure games can last forever because they're centered around the old-school formula of videogames: making it fun to play is the top priority. Coming back and playing the same game over and over isn't tiresome or repetitive, because the gameplay is so awesome; and that's why, reviewing this game years later, a game with utilitarian graphics, sounds, and control, but outstanding gameplay, i can firmly give it a good score. This game is a testament to the staying power that gameplay possesses and should be a hint to developers at how to create games.
Gunstar Heroes is one of the best games on Genesis, and any other 16-bit system, period.
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