Never Played: GUNSTAR HEROES
Gunstar Heroes is a game I’ve had suggested to me a few times over the years but one I never knew of back around the time I had access to a Genesis. Now I’ve bought it specifically for this review so that I can finally try it out for myself.
The game was developed by Treasure, who I know from their creation of the two best shmups of all time: Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. Sega published it in 1993, so naturally it only came to the Genesis, not the SNES. Gunstar Heroes is a “side scrolling shooter” game, which is kind of a cross between a side scrolling platformer and a horizontal shooter, akin to the popular Contra series. The player can start the game with their choice of character and more importantly their choice of four weapon types. Along with throws and sliding attacks, the player uses their gun to defeat waves of aggressive enemies and runs through a level to eventually defeat its boss, picking up weapon types along the way. Up to two weapon types can be held at a time and doing so combines them into a new style of shooting, changing the actual gun options from 4 to 14. The player also has the choice between Free Shot (lets you run while firing) and Fixed Shot (holds you in place while firing but allows for more accuracy) for even more potential playstyles. Gunstar Heroes was very well received and had overwhelmingly positive reviews.
The artwork and game cover are honestly not too different in resolution from its actual gameplay. It shows Red and Blue fighting through enemies while being chased by one of the game’s most infamous bosses. This is a fantastic game visually, one of the most well defined Genesis games I’ve ever seen.
The art style is kind of cute and cartoony but not in an over-the-top way. Its soundtrack was very solid as well. Gunstar Heroes is all about the gameplay, that’s where I found the game to truly shine. I loved this game from jump street. It’s like an arcade shmup and Rocket Knight Adventures had a baby. Its fast, its frantic, its fun. The combat is exceptional, with its mix of power ups for guns and effective melee attacks as well. It showed me that Max Payne wasn’t the first game to feature badass slow motion gun-blasting dives. The ability to combine power-ups really added to my interest in replays and approaching bosses. Then towards the end of the game it switches from its typical style and goes full on side-scrolling space shooter in awesome fashion.
The bosses, aside from the first one, are insanely difficult and fun. They also had a personality, especially my nemesis, Orange (who’s seen on the cover). He gave me the most trouble of anyone on the game and thus I grew to love to hate him. Speaking of bosses, this game may have the best cast of boss fights ever. So many are memorable, not just because you face them again near the end in a “boss rush”, but also because of the personality and challenge they possess. Each one seemed to have a unique mechanic that you had to master to take them down, actually quite similar to Rocket Knight Adventures in that aspect. Also, the minecart level’s (because every 16 bit classic seemed like it had to have a minecart level) boss is one of the most memorable bosses I have ever faced. He changes into multiple forms throughout the fight and each must be approached in different ways than the last. While fighting each form both he and you are constantly in motion on-rails, giving the fight an intense and frenetic rush to it.
Gunstar Heroes is one of the best arcade games I’ve ever played and it never even came to arcades! Its right up there with Treasure’s other stand-out arcade games Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. I only wish it hadn’t taken me this long to play this game.