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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Virtual Console Review: Gunstar Heroes

System: Genesis
Genre: Action
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: SEGA
Virtual Console Release: Dec 11, 2006 USA / Dec 15, 2006 EUR / Dec 2, 2006 JPN
Original Release: Sept 9, 1993 USA / Sept 10, 1993 JPN / 1993 EUR
Players: 1-2
Cost: 800 points
Controllers Supported: Wii Remote, Classic, GameCube
Rated: E for Everyone 10+

In the early 90s, a small group of Konami employees left the company and founded Treasure. Their first game was a unique run 'n gun shooter for the Genesis called Gunstar Heroes. A true masterpiece, Gunstar Heroes has since been revered as one of the crowning games on the Genesis and for many Treasure fans, the greatest achievement to come from the company.

From the get-go, the action in this game is very chaotic.
The mode-7 effects here have to be seen to
be believed.
At the start of Stage 3, you have to board this ship or take screen
damage from the screen scrolling you off.

Other than it's sequel, you won't play a run 'n' gun game quite like Gunstar Heroes. Oh sure, you run and shoot like you would in any other game in the genre but Gunstar Heroes is far deeper than that. Before you even begin playing, you're given the option to choose between Free Shot and fixed shot. Free Shot lets you move and shoot at the same time while Fixed Shot holds you in place while firing. I'd assume most players would want to move freely while shooting but it's still nice to have the option, especially for more experienced players or those merely looking for a challenge. You also get to choose from four weapons: Force, Lightning, Chaser and Flame. No matter which one you choose, you'll get to play with all of them since each stages drops weapon icons of each for you to pick up and use. These weapons can also be mixed and matched for a total of sixteen different weapon types. Awesome. The combat options don't end there. You aren't just limited to shooting as your character can execute a number of melee attacks that do a surprisingly amount of good damage. You can slide into enemies. Pick them up and toss them into a group of oncoming foes. Got a two player game going? Grab your partner and hurl him/her at the bad guys! Don't worry, he/she won't take any damage from it.

Mini bosses are everywhere. 
The famous board game. Throw the die!
One of the many places you can end up in Stage 4.

In most games of this type, you're a one hit-point wonder. Not so In Gunstar Heroes and once you see all the action that can occur on screen, you'll be thankful that you aren't. You have a numerical health bar that starts off at 100. Through out each level, health power ups drop and that number can be increased to well over 200. Even the bosses have health. It's so nice to shoot at something and not have to wonder how long you have until it's destroyed.

Typical for this kind of game, Gunstar Heroes is short with only seven levels, but each one is unforgettable, packed with very imaginative design. The first stage starts out on the ground and eventually has you working your way up a pyramid and sliding down it to get to the stage boss. Stage 2 is has you riding on a mine cart that let's you shift gravity so you can ride on the ceiling. Riding the mine cart alone is pretty rad but the real reason stage 2 will stick out in your mind is the boss. Stage 2 has one of the most fondly remembered bosses from a video game, Seven Force, a shape shifting mech that can assume seven different forms. If you're playing on the highest difficulty, you'll have to defeat all of his forms. A few of his forms include the mythical bird, Phoenix, and a pistol that has to reload after several shots. The fourth level is one of the most brilliant stages invented. It starts outs normal then throws you into a board game that even has you throw dice to see where you'll end up. Destinations range from a simple maze where you have to get out in a limited amount of time, a boss fight where you can't use firearms, a room full of power-ups, and a battle against a small soldier who packs unimaginable levels of strength to name a few. One of the final levels of the game is a shoot 'em up. Gunstar Heroes stages are one of the main reasons it's such a fantastic game.

Here, Smash Daisaku throws his mooks at you. It's goes
over about as well as you can imagine.
Gunstar Heroes SHUMP level isn't just
tacked on, playing extremely well.
One of the many forms of Seven Force.

Treasure squeezed a lot of power of of the Genesis when they made Gunstar Heroes. The end result is one of the most impressive games of the 16-bit era. Loads of bright colors are on the screen with incredibly detailed sprites, some of the finest the Genesis has to offer. There's even some stunning mode-7 effects thrown in. Norio "NON" Hanzawa  has done a lot of work writing music for Treasure games. His compositions for Gunstar Heroes are still rank among his best material with themes like 1 Stage, 3 Stage, 4 Stage, 7 Force and the tear jerking Ending theme.

For 800 points, you're getting one heck of game. Yeah, the game is short, but that just makes Gunstar Heroes all the more fun to run through time and again. The game features four difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert) so the game is made accessible to new players and offers plenty for masochists on higher settings. If you've only heard great things about Gunstar Heroes but never played it, you owe it yourself to experience this classic. You most definitely can believe the hype on this one.

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