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.)