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Gunstar Super Heroes (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Gunstar Super Heroes (Game Boy Advance) review

"Over the years, Treasure has become one of the most renowned developers among hardcore gamers, thanks to its penchant for creating intense side-scrollers and shooters that always have projectiles flying everywhere and plentiful, huge multi-jointed bosses at every turn. It's ironic, then, that a company known for such fast-paced games started out as a group of disgruntled Konami employees responsible for the sluggish and stiff Super Castlevania IV. But that's for another review. "

Over the years, Treasure has become one of the most renowned developers among hardcore gamers, thanks to its penchant for creating intense side-scrollers and shooters that always have projectiles flying everywhere and plentiful, huge multi-jointed bosses at every turn. It's ironic, then, that a company known for such fast-paced games started out as a group of disgruntled Konami employees responsible for the sluggish and stiff Super Castlevania IV. But that's for another review.

Perhaps no other Treasure game is quite as highly regarded as Gunstar Heroes. Being the first game to bear the Treasure name, it exploded out of nowhere onto the Genesis in 1993 and blew away everyone who played it. The game unabashedly borrows a lot from the Contra series...and improves on it many times over. With superb, varied level design, fantastic boss battles, an excellent weapon-combo system, and an amazing two-player co-op mode, Gunstar Heroes is easily the best run-'n-gun ever made, and probably the best game on the Genesis, period.

It's a pity that the game sold so poorly. Being from an untested rookie developer and having lots of weird anime-style characters, Sega of America decided not to advertise the game whatsoever and slapped some atrocious art onto the box, effectively sealing the game's fate to become a commercial failure. Its one saving grace was the Fruit Roll-Up that was included with the game to sweeten the deal. It goes without saying that this didn't help much.

But nonetheless, the game is about the most famous "cult classic" you'll ever hear about on the video game front, being brought up on internet forums any time someone starts talking about underappreciated games.

Unfortunately for those fans, Treasure had a strict no-sequel policy in its early years, essentially guaranteeing that we'd never hook up with Red, Blue, and the rest of the gang ever again.

...But then, out of nowhere, the game was announced. We had already played the so-so Advance Guardian Heroes by this point, but few expected Treasure to follow up that game with the announcement of another sequel to a fan favorite so soon. Would it live up to the legacy of Gunstar Heroes, we wondered? Would it redefine the run-'n-gun subgenre as we know it? Is it the game we've all been waiting for these past twelve years?

I'll cut the suspense short and say that it isn't. What Gunstar Super Heroes is, though, is a thoroughly fun tribute to the original game that anyone with a pulse should be able to enjoy.

I might as well get the plot over with first: you're the good guy. Go beat the bad guys. The end.

...Well, it's not quite that simple. In fact, I was rather surprised at how much effort went into the storyline of this game. There's a surprising abundance of dialogue before and after each level, and the game is full of twists and turns, with a large cast of characters and an odd moral battle regarding the meaning of life, the ignorance of mankind, and the futility of the universe. It's all rather convoluted, and to be honest, it's more than a little pretentious when you consider that this is all just an excuse to run around and blow stuff up.

And believe me, Gunstar Super Heroes has no lack of things blowing up. In fact, it's rare that more than ten seconds go by without an explosion occurring.

The core gameplay of Gunstar Super Heroes lends itself to total chaos, of course. This is pretty typical run-'n-gun fare, though it is executed quite well. You have three weapons at your disposal at any given time (which you can cycle through by pressing the L button), and a meter that charges as you inflict more damage with them. Once the meter has built up a fair amount, you're able to double-tap the R button and unleash a powerful super attack upon your enemies. Sound like a million other games you've played already? It is. But it's still fun, so that's okay.

Fans of the original Gunstar Heroes will immediately notice that this system is somewhat of a step backwards from that game. In Gunstar Heroes, you can combine any two of the four available weapons in the game to create a new, unique attack, on top of using the four basic weapons individually. Fourteen different weapons in all. In Gunstar Super Heroes, even if we count the super attacks, we're down to eight. I really don't see a logical reason for the old combo system to be simplified so much. It's not a detrimental flaw to the game, though it is a bit of a disappointment.

Treasure has attempted to make up for this by giving you a few melee attacks to use. Unfortunately, these are all pretty useless. Your sword is way too short-ranged and weak to be a useful weapon, and while your uppercut and slide maneuvers help you get around faster, their usefulness as offensive techniques is very limited. To top it off, Treasure removed the enemy-toss move from the original game. It boggles the mind.

One thing that's remained fully intact, however, is the sheer variety in the level designs. In one level, for instance, you'll go from riding on the back of a ship, constantly rotating the scenery as enemies fly in from the background, then shoot your way through a standard side-scrolling segment filled with enemies, fight a giant plant boss, then randomly go into some bizarre alternate dimension where you have to collect all the chicks (as in a baby bird...of course) and bring them back to a door to score points...and it continues with another side-scrolling segment and two more bosses after that.

As far as level design goes, I have no real complaints. My main gripe with Gunstar Super Heroes is that there just isn't enough content here. After the introductory level, you're presented with four more levels that can be accessed in any order (though, since it makes no difference which order you complete them in, this feature is rather pointless.) Since they're all rather short, it seemed to me at first that this was just the tutorial segment of the game, designed to teach me the mechanics of the game, so I'd be prepared for the main meat of it. Little did I know that the level select screen I was looking at was the entire game, with two more follow-up levels afterwards.

41 minutes. That's how long it took me to beat Gunstar Super Heroes my first time through. I waited twelve years for less than an hour of gameplay. Hell, even the original Gunstar Heroes is longer than this (and it's way too short to begin with.) For God's sake, the original Contra nearly matches the length of this game.

To be fair, though, the game does give you good incentive to play through the game again: there are two characters (the androgynous Red and the laid-back Blue) and three difficulty levels for each. The catch? Unlike most games, the storyline changes depending on the mode you play. This is definitely one of the best games, as there's new storyline revelations and dialogue on each mode. The changes can be pretty significant at times-there's two plot twists in the last two levels in particular that completely change the context of the ending depending on the mode you're playing. This is just about the only area of the sequel that is indisputably an improvement over the original Gunstar Heroes.

...Though, admittedly, I have to use the term "sequel" loosely here. Gunstar Super Heroes often feels more like a remake of the original than a true follow-up.

For example, just about any fan of Gunstar Heroes can agree on what the most memorable parts of that game are: the epic showdown with Seven Force, the board game-like progression of the Dice Palace, and the final level on the moon in which the bad guys watch you progress through a giant monitor and exit the room one by one to challenge you. Therefore, it's more than a little conspicuous when you discover that all three of those parts have returned in almost identical form in Gunstar Super Heroes.

The similarities don't end there: every villain (and hell, every good guy) from the original Gunstar Heroes is back, and their boss fights are all very similar to those in the first game. And if you were underwhelmed by Gunstar Heroes' brief and lackluster final boss battle, you'll be crushed to hear that it's back, except it's even lamer this time.

Furthermore, almost every level is ripped straight out of Gunstar Heroes; entire sections of Moon 1 are exactly the same as the Ancient Ruins level from the original. Even Bravoo Man, the humanoid boss made out of a bunch of floating blocks, is back. Except he can't even hurt you this time. The mine level, too, has returned, with only a slightly different control scheme differentiating it from its Gunstar Heroes counterpart. Remember the part where Smash Daisaku desperately tosses his henchmen out of a burning train to attack you? Well, that's back too, just in case you were a big fan of that part.

Don't get me wrong; it's great that Treasure is letting us live the best parts of Gunstar Heroes again. But the fact that they've lifted almost the entire rest of the game and slapped it into the "sequel" goes beyond paying homage to the original and just comes across as lazy and a forced attempt to woo over their hardcore fans.

Whatever the case, however, Treasure has pumped some truly gorgeous graphics out of your GBA. Mode 7, rotation, scaling effects, the whole shebang-Gunstar Super Heroes looks absolutely outstanding. Animation is some of the best on the system, the environments are bright and richly colored, and there's no slowdown to boot. While, overall, the game doesn't have quite as peppy of a pace as the original, this is arguably the best looking game on the GBA. If you want to see a true technical marvel on your handheld, do not hesitate to check out this game.

As for the sound department...this probably won't be much of a surprise by this point if you've read the rest of the review, but about 90% of the soundtrack is lifted straight from Gunstar Heroes, adapted to the Astro Boy: Omega Factor instrument samples (which leads me to believe that some of Astro Boy's engine may have been recycled for GSH, but this is a non-issue.) The voice samples have all been redone for the US version of the game, and they're pretty good; notably, Red's voice sounds a lot more feminine now. The rest of the sound effects are your pretty standard shooter fare, consisting of lots of gunfire, explosions, etc.

In regards to the game as a whole...perhaps I'm nitpicking. I don't know. I had lots of fun playing Gunstar Super Heroes, despite its numerous flaws, and I'm sure just about anyone else will, too. But even so, it's tough not to notice the lack of ambition all throughout the game. While there's not enough game her for me to recommend buying it at full price (like I did), it would make a great rental. If you have a GBA, you should be playing it; just remember that if you've played a lot of Gunstar Heroes, you're going to have a major case of deja vu. And if you haven't played Gunstar Heroes yet...what the hell are you waiting for? Do so. Now. You can thank me later.

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (March 22, 2006)

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