Monday, 12 August 2013

Megadrive/Genesis: Gunstar Heroes

Treasure has had an odd history over the years; it’s created some incredible games and some real stinkers. This is one of the former and one of their first ever games, many touted it at the time as a game too ambitious for that generation of console but that never stopped them making one of the best run and gun games I’ve seen for a long time.

I still hate Curry and Rice though.

The premise is simple enough, colour-coordinated characters battle an evil empire that has found some gems and using them to bring back a super powered robot monster with another colour based name. Your playable characters, Red and Blue, will fight Black, Pinky, Orange and Green (several times, several several times in Green’s case) in a series of levels to then fight Golden Shower (Sorry, Golden Silver). I’m really not selling this am I.

I don’t think there is any real way I can describe this game without just saying how mind-blowing it is to witness what is done here. Let’s try again.

Your player character, using 8 directional shooting and running, utilising a combo system of 4 possible guns where picking up 2 items will combine the output of the firepower from a high power machine gun, to homing weapons, massive flame throwers, laser beams and multiple combinations of the 4 (i.e. homing machineguns, beam swords, explosive shots and remote control flamethrowers to name but a few) will run, jump, climb, cling, flip, punch, kick, slide, throw, drive, anti-grav, spaceship, dice roll and view-screen their way through a plethora of levels and many MANY over the top bosses and enemies (all of which pretty much explode, excessively).

From the Bravoo man made of blocks, to giant plants, robot crabs, a creature made of curry in a non-firepower room (hate... hate you...) to farting military commanders, airships, tiny soldiers, a jelly, time changing rockets... It’s one of the first boss rush games to exist and every fight is just stunning to watch and reveal. Particular focus and mention to the Green boss fight (first time round) where you travel along mine carts that look like knock-off fujikomas from that anime with cyborgs... I know, not being very descriptive here... Ghost in the Shell I think. Switching gravity to overcome lots of enemies and chasing a train (down a wall at times) until you fight a boss that is several bosses at once. Each boss phase made up of segments used in different ways to create very different bosses to an impressive and pulse-racing soundtrack.

Even now, I’m not getting close to describing this. Compared to what was around at the time, there was little that could hold a candle to Gunstar Heroes when it was released, even today there’s few games that could be as busy, action packed, and FAIR (bullet hell games... I’m watching you) where you could run your way through, or you could just melee and ninja your way through like a thing possessed. Standard enemies would keep appearing while you travelled the level until you reached a checkpoint battle or the boss. All bosses had a health value that waned as you (and maybe your partner) fought it until it ran out of health and blew up.

There is a lot of replay value in the game, for a start the first 4 levels can be taken in any order at all. The combination of guns alone can be worth of several runs through the game just to see them all let alone pick your preferred combo. Given there’s shot, flame, homing and laser and any combination of any 2 including the same twice, there’s plenty for all to enjoy. Later levels are linearly approached however but even after gunning your way through the game, you can still attempt to just melee attack your way through, in some places you MUST (curry and rice...). Black’s dice maze will take several replays to get every boss fought there in what is a boss rush section of a boss rush game. On top of this there’s the co-op way to play it with just as much action and multiple difficulty settings and changes in game play from run/gun, spaceship, mine carts, board game and an odd variation on where you’re watching yourself through a screen the bosses are watching.

This game turns you into Arnie. A 2D Arnie from his hay-day doing films like Commando, Raw Deal, Terminator 2, where he turns up with a huge amount of firepower and just lays waste to everything in short order. Standard grunts and enemies with no names drop like flies and die to the mildest touch while the tougher opponents take a bit of tactical dodging or exploiting of weakness before being rent asunder in a fiery blaze of glory and overkill.

The game is not perfect, far from it. In some places and cases, your choice of weapon and combination may be entirely ineffective against a boss and you’re left to slowly ping its health down in a slow pattern that will drive you mad long before you’re half way to killing it. In fact, dying and then hoping to get better weapons might be the more preferable alternative to a long drawn out fight.

In some cases the controls can be a little off when jumping from walls and hanging from ledges, not enough to be a problem but it can catch you off guard if you’re not expecting the result. Most awkward though is when you’re caught in a stream of attack that hits and hits and hits for consecutive damage and just slaughters you when other attacks knock you aside for just one mild hit. If it’s intentional then it’s quite the dick-move but if it’s a bug, it’s a rather detrimental one.

Aside from that, there’s really little else I can find fault within the game. A thoroughly enjoyable run and gun romp with such a varied source of bosses and enemies that will leave you wanting a few good runs through the game and trying out various combinations and possibilities.

It certainly won’t be my last Treasure review.