Review by serados
Gunstar Heroes is what platform shooters should strive to become
Gunstar Heroes was a game I began playing without any knowledge of its hype. It still remains one of the most memorable and innovative platform shooters I have ever played, from its various weapon combos, creative (and sometimes hilarious) boss fights and its faultless control scheme.
When Gunstar Heroes starts, you have to choose between two nameless heroes distinguished by their control method. One has free shot that allows you to run and gun, while the other is a 8-way shot hero that allows you to fire in all 8 directions but forces you to stay stationary while shooting. Playing as the Free hero, you are far more agile than the 8-way shot hero, its control scheme allowing you to do slides, bodyslams and throws while gunning your way through hordes of enemies. The 8-way shot hero is more strategic and calculative, and movement is much more important a consideration than with the Free hero, as he cannot move while firing. This may seem like a disadvantage, but his advantage is just that you can fire the most powerful weapons and watch them do heaps of damage to your enemies without losing aim, unlike Free where you will move forward when you fire diagonally. Two vastly different styles of play, two very different approaches to fights, and yet Free does not seem stronger than 8-way, and vice versa.
Gunstar Heroes also takes liberties with the weapon system. In other more traditional platform shooters like Contra, your weapons are fixed and non-customizable. In Gunstar Heroes, though, you can have a mix of various weapons from 4 basic ones Rapidfire, Flame, Lightning and Chaser. Rapidfire does just what the name says, fire out streams of balls not unlike Contras machinegun. Flame acts like a flamethrower, and shoots out a powerful stream of fire that is limited in range. Lightning is just like a laser, shooting a thin line. Chaser shots home in on enemy targets, allowing you to just stand in one spot and watch the carnage.
You have 2 slots to place these weapons, thus allowing you to fire shots that blend traits from the basic weapons. For example, Chaser + Lightning allows you to shoot out a line that homes in on enemies, hitting them with the force of the original Lightning attack; Chaser + Rapidfire shoots out gigantic balls quickly, though they are unable to curl back and hit targets behind you. Not only can you mix and match weaponry, you can also combine two similar weapons for a more powerful version of the original. Chaser + Chaser shoots out stars that deal more damage and are fired more quickly than the original; Lightning + Lightning causes the bolts to be fired even faster, and so on.
In addition to just firing at enemies, you can also do various movement-based attacks. By pressing down and hitting jump, you can do a slide that knocks enemies away. By hitting jump again while in the air, you can do a body slam. You can also hang from ledges and damage enemies on top by swinging yourself up. By moving close to an opponent and hitting the attack button, you can toss your opponents a distance, and even choose which direction the throw should go. Tossed enemies will hit other grunts as well, taking both of them out of action. This freedom of movement is a breath of fresh air into the genre, and now you know platform shooter heroes can actually do tricks other than just jumping, especially the freeform throwing which is something rarely seen in platform shooters.
Bosses are creative and look marvelous. The end of level bosses are fairly challenging, and some battles require you to use your freedom of movement to dodge attacks. The levels are also quite unique, and one particularly memorable level is a chase down a mine tunnel in a machine that allows you to latch onto the rail on top of the screen, ending with a 7-part boss battle that is somewhat frustrating on higher difficulty levels because there is no room for a breather between the different boss forms. There are four levels where our hero must collect a gem that the bosses hold, and a final battle in space where the game shifts to a vertical shoot-em-up before ending in a messy boss battle.
Gunstar Heroes has some of the nicest sprite graphics seen, and is one of the best looking games for the Sega Genesis. Our heroes are well-drawn and his movements have realistic animation that is unmatched even in Super Nintendo games. The typical grunts are just recoloured, but that is a minor point due to the limitations of the cartridge.
A minor gripe I have about Gunstar Heroes sound is that enemies are completely silent. Most of the sound effects consist of your trusty weapon firing and the enemies being pummeled by your powerful weapons, and grunts your hero makes when throwing opponents. In the background, there is the typical synth music of the 16-bit era, though it becomes just a mess of sound in the chaos of battle.
There are several difficulty levels you can choose. You can replay through the game on a higher difficulty after you have completed it, or experiment with other weapon combinations and see how they fare. Other than this, there is very little motivation to replay Gunstar Heroes, though you might want to just boot up the game and just do something crazy like completing the game using throws only as far as possible.
Final Score: 9/10
Gunstar Heroes is one of those games people want a sequel to but the developer does not accommodate. The greatness of Gunstar Heroes is definitely hard to recreate, and are not many things Treasure can really improve besides the graphics. If you are looking for a game that all the mediocre platform shooters should have been, Gunstar Heroes it is.
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