Review: Gunstar Heroes (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Gunstar Heroes
Genre: Run “Ëœn’ Gun
Developer: Backbone Entertainment (Originally Treasure)
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 06/10/2009

Treasure has been long known for crafting highly sought-after games with challenging, classic appeal, basing most of its games after simple concepts while cranking up the originality to present the targeted genre in a new way. Its earliest effort, in 1993, was Gunstar Heroes – the Sega Genesis release which essentially put the developer on the map. While SEGA has been long toting its classic Vintage Collection and game compilations on the Xbox 360, many fans of the company continually wondered why this particular title had yet to be released in any form on the format. Last week, these fans finally got their wish as Gunstar Heroes finally hit the Xbox LIVE Arcade service along with five other classic SEGA franchises.

At its roots, Gunstar Heroes takes the run “Ëœn’ gun concept of games such as Contra. (In fact, some of the Treasure team formerly worked for Konami.) However, the basic foundation is just about the only similarity to be found between the two games. The title uses a vivid and colorful palette to accent the anime-styled tones used for the game’s characters and environments (Although this was butchered with chubby, American-ized cover art when the game hit the States.) to tell the story of Gunstar Red and Blue on a mission to clean up the planet Gunstar 9. Colonel Red has the twins’ older brother under mind control and is using his army to track down the planet’s mystical gems in order to awaken the apocalypse-inducing Golden Silver the Destructor, which lies dormant on the planet’s moon. As a classic game, this yet another example where the story is setup in the game’s instructors and players are launched straight into the action, but further snippets of the story are told through short scenes in between certain levels and the text dialog spoken by your allies at the menu screen. The story can be rather cliché and brief, but, nonetheless, it was a satisfying spin on tired run “Ëœn’ gun concept of saving Earth from aliens.

The game’s mode are by no means expansive, but they fit the bill and offer up everything you’d expect to find in the genre. Gunstar Heroes allows a player to tackle the game solo or grab a friend to battle the forces of Colonel Red side-by-side. Through the Xbox 360, however, players also get the added mode of connecting with players all around the world with Xbox Live co-op. The addition is by no means revolutionary and by 2009 standards is to expected, but it allows players another avenue to experience a game in this genre the way it was meant to be played – with the backup of a friend.

Presentation-wise, Gunstar Heroes is a textbook example of how to develop for the Sega Genesis. The game pushed as many colors as it possibly could, the characters were decent in size – towered over by huge bosses – and moved by solid animation and, in some cases, scaling effects to resemble 3D movement or depth. Sound processing has never been a strong suit for the Genesis, but Treasure made the best of the hardware with catchy, fast-paced tunes that push the frantic action along and sound effects that provide rattling explosions, a handful of voice effects and effects that are suitable for each enemy the player battles. Granted, today, the sound is quite outdated and far from clear quality, but that’s nothing Treasure is at fault for in 1993 and Backbone Entertainment has done a fine job carrying over the sound into this re-release almost 16 years later. However, much like other Sega Vintage titles, the smoothing option offered to players doesn’t do the game too many favors, but, nonetheless, the title still looks great in its original form.

Where Gunstar Heroes truly shines, however, is in its white-knuckle shooting mechanics. Being able to mix the game’s four different weapon styles, players actually have access to a total of 24 different guns – while a player starts with a single gun chosen from a straight pistol, homing bullets, flamethrower or laser, picking up a second gun melds the attributes of the guns together (such as homing lasers or flaming bullets) or by picking up two of the same gun, the strength and size of the bullets double. With a press of a button, players can switch between one gun or the other, along with the dual configuration so they always have an appropriate gun for the current situation. On top of that, players can also defend themselves by throwing enemies into one another, using a sliding kick or a flying melee maneuver. Add in the fact players can choose whether or not to have the ability to move and shoot at the same time and you can see there is a deceptive amount of options available to the player.

Those are very good options to have on your side, though, as the game is relentless with its enemies, even pumping out its fair share on the easiest difficulty. The levels try to overwhelm players with never-ending grunt enemies as players plow their way through to the game’s numerous boss encounters – which on the normal difficulty or higher can take just as long to tackle as the stages themselves. Bosses span from “3D’ block abominations to towering mechs and even to the infamous Seven Force – a boss that interchanges between seven different forms to attack players in a variety of ways.

Even so, players will have a blast the entire way through as Gunstar Heroes provides a ton of variety in its gameplay. While there are a few standard, “go right” levels, the game isn’t shy about mixing things up to keep the player entertained. One level has players speeding through a mineshaft at top speed with no concerns about gravity, another has players climbing a vertical tower to fight a boss on top of a helicopter, toward the end of the game, a space sh’mup stage challenges players, one well-known stage puts players on a game board, rolling dice to determine their next challenge and the stage where the enemy base is breached has players viewing the action from a monitor where the game’s bosses are housed as they look on, getting more and more frustrated as players defeat each one of them in a gauntlet stage. Gunstar Heroes mixes up the gameplay more than most other run “Ëœn’ games dare try and the tight and responsive controls make the relatively short game worth playing through every time.

As mentioned, most seasoned arcade players will be able to tackle the entire game within half an hour. The game is enough to keep fans of the title glued to it for multiple playthroughs, but given the easy, lazy achievements mapped to the game, most should be able to net all 200 points with minimal effort. Gunstar Heroes is a fantastic game that will interest any fan of classic action games, but the replayability of the title hinges solely on a player’s willingness to play the title multiple times through. With how much charm the game exudes and the player hype behind the game, though, it shouldn’t be too heavy of a task to draw players in, especially at an attractive 400 Microsoft Point price tag.

The Scores
Control/Gameplay: AMAZING
Replayability: ENJOYABLE
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Miscellaneous: ENJOYABLE
Final Rating: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

In short, there is a reason why Gunstar Heroes is so highly regarded as after almost 16 years, the game play is just as solid as it was when it released in 1993. Whether or not players of today will be impressed by the game’s presentation is debatable, however, the game pushed the Sega Genesis hardware when it was released and Backbone Entertainment has done a fine job porting the original product over to the Xbox 360. Some players might not buy into the short time it takes to blast through the game and the achievements are mapped pretty lazily, but, overall, Gunstar Heroes is definitely one of the better 400 Microsoft Point offerings on the Arcade service and debatably the best. Action and arcade shooting fans have no excuse not to own this classic title and anyone who wants to see how to properly develop an arcade-style run “Ëœn’ gun or Sega Genesis game should hop on for a satisfying ride.



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One response to “Review: Gunstar Heroes (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] as Gears of War for $20 or arcade-type shooters such as Shadow Complex for $15, and even Contra or Gunstar Heroes for $5, there is absolutely no reason to pay full price for this title and it may barely service […]

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