Gunstar Heroes (revised from GameSpite Quarterly 12) Jan 19, 2018 14:57:02 GMT -5
Post by Sarge on Jan 19, 2018 14:57:02 GMT -5
Time to start this article off with the usual, “What’s left to say about Gunstar Heroes that hasn’t already been said?” shtick. Of course more can be said about the game, since this author hasn’t weighed in!
Gunstar Heroes really put Treasure on the map. While it might have been released at the same time as McDonald’s Treasure Land, Gunstar Heroes left a lasting impression. Their hallowed reputation largely stems from the game, and was further cemented with subsequent releases.
Given the last title that the Konami refugees worked on was Contra III: The Alien Wars, another run-and-gun shooter made perfect sense for the team. Contra III was filled with pure action: incredible set-pieces, graphical wizardry, and unbridled machismo. Gunstar Heroes, however, took a different approach, one that Treasure would become known for: a much more cartoony and “fun” take on the genre.
Gunstar Heroes keeps the frenetic gameplay of Contra, perhaps even increasing it to some degree. However, the punishing difficulty of Contra has been left by the wayside. While Gunstar still presents a challenge, the reduction in difficulty also makes it more accessible, allowing players to actually see all of the creativity on display.
The game’s tone matches well with the fun-but-frenetic mentality. Bosses are sometimes difficult, often hilarious; the game never takes itself too seriously. One stage consists of a board game where dice rolls determine the complement of enemies you fight (or bonuses, if you’re lucky). Orange, the macho boss, has a flatulent blast as an attack. The entire last stage sees the final boss sending henchman after henchman to try to stop you one last time, with less-than-stellar results. This unfolds as viewed from the enemy’s command center, on their security feed. Finally, the game features one of the coolest bosses in shooter history, Seven Force: A mechanized assault robot piloted by your friend-turned-enemy, Green. And it morphs into, you guessed it, seven different forms during the battle. This epic battle may be the highlight of the game, screaming along in a magnetic rail cart in which you can flip from the floor to the ceiling (or from wall to wall), figuring out how to combat each of the bosses forms. Even today, this battle exhilarates.
In keeping with the light tone, “Smash Daisaku” reoccurs as a boss throughout the game. He serves as the game’s primary henchman, and looks quite similar to M. Bison. The heroes never defeat him fully through most of the game, as he turns tail and runs upon each defeat. Perhaps seeing a stand-in for M. Bison flee in terror will prove some small salve for the pain inflicted upon Street Fighter II players!
Despite all of the humor, though, the game never crosses the line too far into zaniness. Some of Treasure’s later games really seem to jump the shark, but Gunstar Heroes offsets its cartoonish sensibilities with just enough seriousness to make it all work within the context of the run-and-gun genre.
In keeping with other changes, Treasure wasn’t content to simply keep the same mechanics of the Contra series. Your two playable characters, Red and Blue, have different capabilities. The former can fire while moving, whereas the latter must stand still while shooting. While generally less useful, the fixed shot can still be advantageous at points. Both characters have a set of melee moves. Red has a body slam attack for an aerial attack, where Blue jump-kicks and employs a downward kick unavailable to Red. They both get sliding attacks, a tackle move, and the ability to throw certain enemies.
In addition, weapons can be combined. In Contra III, you could pick up two weapons, and swap between the two. In Gunstar, you can go one step further, and either swap back and forth, or combine the two into an even more effective weapon (usually). This conceit will show up in quite a few other Treasure games, weaving its way into games like Light Crusader and Radiant Silvergun. The homing laser may be the most effective weapon in the game, so if you want to maintain any sort of challenge, you might not want to use it. The homing fire combination finds use in many speedruns.
In another divergence from Contra, one hit will not kill our protagonists. They have a set amount of health, and can pick up the occasional heart power-up scattered through the stages or dropped by mini-bosses. This helps the game feel more fair, especially considering all it throws at you.
Considering the team’s work on NES and SNES architecture, one would expect a bit of a learning curve going to the Genesis hardware. But Treasure’s programmers were able to squeeze a remarkable amount of power right off with the system. All sorts of graphical tricks that most developers would never try to pull are on display, on what amounts to their system debut. While this game helped establish Treasure’s sense of humor, so too did it establish their trend of pushing their target platform to its utmost limits. Gunstar serves up a tour de force, only really usurped by Alien Soldier a few years later.
Even the soundtrack drives the action well. The Genesis would never match the SNES in the sound category in most cases, but deft use of its YM2612 FM synthesizer could still produce some excellent tunes. What is present here certainly fits the hectic, over-the-top action, constantly pushing you forward in your quest for ultimate victory.
Unfortunately, Gunstar Heroes would also begin another trend for Treasure. Their games consistently brought in critical acclaim, but rarely achieved similar commercial success. The biggest strength of their games, the wild creativity and unbridled quirkiness, ultimately ends up being their downfall as well; most of their titles were relegated to cult-classic status. At the same time, however, you get the feeling that Treasure really didn’t care. Their passion came through in all their work, and while not everything they tried worked, you can’t accuse them of not giving it their all.
Gunstar Heroes embodied everything that Treasure was all about. It clocks in as likely their best output on the Genesis despite being their first (released) game. Every inch of Gunstar Heroes shows it as a labor of love. No run-and-gun fan should pass up on playing this timeless classic.