Gunstar Heroes (Genesis) review
"Gunstar Heroes was Treasure’s coming out party. Who’s Treasure? Easy. The giant hit-maker known as Konami - responsible for such massively popular game franchises as Metal Gear and Castlevania - had one particularly talented sector of their team jump ship, ostensibly tired of the 'same old, same old' routine of sequels, and the equally mundane practice of applying new lacquer to dusty old floors. These admirable folks became Treasure. And Gunstar Heroes became their first game. "
Gunstar Heroes was Treasure’s coming out party. Who’s Treasure? Easy. The giant hit-maker known as Konami - responsible for such massively popular game franchises as Metal Gear and Castlevania - had one particularly talented sector of their team jump ship, ostensibly tired of the 'same old, same old' routine of sequels, and the equally mundane practice of applying new lacquer to dusty old floors. These admirable folks became Treasure. And Gunstar Heroes became their first game.
There’s too much here not to love this game. It’s one of those standout, memorable games, where people who aren’t even fans of the genre will oddly gravitate toward it. And it helps that shades of so many genres are encompassed in this polished package: running and gunning, grappling and even good old fashioned outer space shooting.
In the spirit of the Treasure-developed Contra, widely considered to be the pure jump and shoot masterpiece of all time, Gunstar Heroes is about shooting. Shooting until the barrel is more than hot, shooting until it convinces you that the muzzle of your weapon should melt altogether. Shooting weapons that combine and meld and merge into rampant destruction. You’ll have two guns at a time, and it’s perfectly reasonable to use one, then toggle to the other as the situation demands. But why would you?
Why, when Gunstar allows you to put homing together with laser? Will you believe your eyes the first time the boss-slaughtering blue bolt curls its way, snake-like to the very core of an enemy and harries his insides until he is no more? Look again: it's a thin blue line of impossible damage and lecherous character that acts like some fast acting virus in a person’s bloodstream. Will you believe it when flame and homing combine so that you've wrought a flame with dangerous sentience - a fire trail under your control? Not bloody likely. It will take time. And time is something you will have lots of; Gunstar will draw you in, and you’ll clear your schedule.
Tell a friend to do the same. You needn’t be alone. It’s rare that a good, non-sports, two player simultaneous contest rears its head, but a great one showing its face is nearly unheard of. Gunstar smashes the two player enjoyment barriers while stomping its own negligible slowdown into irrelevant mush with the sheer intensity it brings to bear. Find a friend - almost anyone will do. You need to shout instructions at, and cheer with, someone, because things get that engaging.
I don’t know exactly how they manage it. But outside of the brilliant weapon combinations, the hand-to-hand combat (genre #2 makes its appearance) adds a dimension not entirely necessary to make this a good game - but Treasure gives it to us anyway. There is a Mega Man-like slide attack that does good damage in the form of multiple, rapid hits. A standing slide has similar effects. A graceful full body press (I’m thinking of Rob Van Dam's ''five star frog splash'' as I write this) knocks down airborne enemies, as do the two deadly styles of flying kicks. All of these moves are a joy to execute, but none of them more satisfying than the throw.
Get close to someone a la Final Fight, and toss them for severe damage, and better still, for screen-clearing effect, as other enemies will be mowed down by the airborne, prostrate body if they’re in the way. Remember, all of these techniques are available to you at the same time as your guns. The variety of ways to apportion punishment is stunning, and it’s a good thing, because Gunstar Heroes keeps throwing stuff at you.
Whether the game is throwing side-scrolling shooting sequences (genre #3!) at you late in the proceedings, or whether it has you throwing die to decide your next foe on some perverse board game of death - Gunstar's role is of innovator and pulse-quickener. Boss upon creatively-conceived boss will confront you... such as the running robot that transmogrifies into a giant handgun while you hurtle downward in a gold-lit mine shaft. It does its job with stylish excess, but with the attitude that all of its gifts are a necessary unit of the game as a whole. Like giving us all of this is how it's supposed to be.
The execs at Sega must have imagined their war weary Genesis rolling up its sleeves, showing its guns off, so to speak, with the arrival of the masterful side-scrolling, jump and shoot marathon that the disgruntled Konami expatriates so thoughtfully blessed them with. Treasure gave them - and us - Gunstar Heroes to whet our appetites for purist gaming action; just one game, and it's still too much.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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