Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gunstar Heroes (Genesis) Review

Gunstar Heroes is, without a doubt, a top 10 Genesis game (arguably the best) and is also one of the defining titles of the run 'n' gun genre. While Nintendo fanboys were busy getting their keisters handed to them by the brutally difficult Contra III: The Alien Wars, Genesis gamers were treated with a much more balanced game in Gunstar Heroes. GH is not a walk in the park by any means, but the ability to sustain multiple hits before biting the dust leads to a much lower level of frustration and in turn, makes playing through the game a much more enjoyable experience.

At the start of the game, you (and a friend if you're playing co-operatively, which is HIGHLY recommended, as always) are given the opportunity to choose from 1 of 4 starting weapons:
1) Force—a machine-gun-like weapon with moderate power.
2) Lightning—a laser-like weapon that can go through multiple enemies.
3) Chaser—a machine-gun with low power that homes in on enemies.
4) Flame—a flame-thrower with high power but fairly short range.
During the game, you are able to pick up an additional weapon and combine it with your original selection, giving you a total of 14 different weapon combinations. For example, if you have 2 Flames, your weapon will simply become more powerful and have an increased range, but if you have 1 Flame and 1 Chaser, you will now have a heat-seeking flame-thrower.

Once you've selected your weapon, you are then taken to a level-select screen, allowing you to choose between the games 4 main levels. You can tackle these 4 levels in any order you'd like, as there is no benefit to beating them in a particular order. After taking care of the first 4 levels, you are then forced to play through the remaining levels in a set order. As I mentioned before, GH is a side-scrolling run 'n' gun, however the 5th level that you will play is a horizontally-scrolling shmup—a fun little diversion from the game's slightly repetitive formula.

While the game's main levels are a lot of fun to play, it's the frantic boss battles that have you dodging one attack after another—for several minutes each—that really set this game apart from it's peers. I suppose this should be expected, considering the fact that GH was developed by Treasure (Dynamite Headdy, Bangai-O, and Ikaruga). However, unlike other Treasure developed games that are incredibly difficult, Gunstar Heroes manages to present a good challenge while still feeling fair from star to finish. It's also a little less bizarre than the typical Treasure affair, but despite the lower degree of difficulty and lack of any mind-boggling craziness, GH still stands out as the cream of the crop when it comes to Treasure developed games, despite being the first title ever developed by the company.

Being a fairly late release in the Genesis' life span, Treasure was able to harness a majority of the power inside of Sega's 16-bit console. The soundtrack gets the job done as far as setting the atmosphere goes, but there isn't any one track that I can recall just 3 short days after completing the game. The graphics, on the other hand, are where the game truly shines in audio/visual department. The screen is constantly overflowing with explosions and enemy sprites and only suffers from a minimal amount of slow down in the process, which rarely becomes anything more than a slight distraction. The character animations are incredibly smooth and give the game a very polished feeling throughout. For a Genesis title, the visuals really don't get much better than this.

When all is said and done, Gunstar Heroes makes for an incredible 2-player experience that won't soon be forgotten. It is without a doubt a top-tier Genesis title and, like I mentioned at the beginning of the review, is quite possibly the best game that ever graced the Sega platform. GH is also a defining game in the run 'n' gun genre and possibly the greatest Treasure developed game to date, which is saying quite a lot. In other words, if you don't already own a copy of Gunstar Heroes, you need to do yourself a favor and pick up a cartridge off of ebay—or if collecting cartridges isn't your thing, then you can also download it from any of the 3 current generation console's downloadable services. There is absolutely no reason for any self-respecting gamer not to own this game!

Overall Score: 9.1/10 (This game is a must-own for anyone and everyone with even the slightest interest in video games...just be prepared to get owned by it a few times.)


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