Retro Sunday: Gunstar Heroes // PSN
November 15, 2009
The beauty of the digital distribution services available on the current crop of games consoles is the ability to revisit some classic titles from yesteryear without scouring eBay for the original console and the game you wish to play. The Wii’s Virtual Console, the Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Network store all have many classic games to check out, and every Sunday I’ll be downloading one of them in order to bring you a retro review. To kick this section off, this week I downloaded the side scrolling shooter Gunstar Heroes, originally released for the Sega Megadrive back in 1993.
I plumped for the PSN version, but Treasure’s run-and-gunner is also available for the Virtual Console and XBLA. I never owned Sega’s 16-bit machine back when Gunstar Heroes was released (I proudly displayed my Nintendo colours with unswerving loyalty whilst growing up) but my closest friend did, and one game that I insisted on playing on each of my visits was this one, as well as Flashback, but that’s another story…
Gunstar Heroes’ best mechanic, but also its most flawed, is the weapon system. There are four initial variants – Force, Lightning, Chaser and Flame, but these can be combined with each other, or even doubled up, producing 14 combinations. The game doles out the second power-up randomly, so you only have control over your initial flavour, but it became quite clear within a few minutes which combination was the clear choice. Force and Chaser go together perfectly, producing an endless stream of fiery death that homes in on any targets on-screen, meaning the player only has to worry about jumping, melee attacks and avoiding the dozens of enemy projectiles flying towards him. Sadly, this clear preference unbalances the game, often proving the difference between success and failure for the very tricky later levels.
Still, it is this difficulty that gives the game any sense of longevity. Between download and 100% completion, Gunstar Heroes lasted a mere 3 hours, and even that included a break for lunch. For £3.99, this was acceptable, but at the time of release I’m sure a few people were miffed at shelling out full price for a game that only lasted an afternoon, no matter how great its action.
And make no mistake, Gunstar Heroes delivers action in spades. Whilst rank-and-file enemies are plentiful, producing levels that are absolutely chaotic with sprites (but no flicker, to the developer’s credit); this game is really, really fond of bosses. In the very first level I was awarded 3 trophies for a trio of the blighters, culminating in the destruction of Pink, one of the game’s colour-inspired characters, who counts Grey, Orange, Black and Green (our heroes’ turncoat brother) amongst her evil cohorts. It turns out Green is no slouch in the boss department either; the spiky-haired villain commandeers Seven Force, a machine that morphs into, you guessed it, seven different forms. The game lives and dies by these encounters, as without them, you don’t really have anything left. Fortunately they are amongst the best the side scrolling shooter generation had to offer, made up of multiple coloured sprites and often engineered to feel 3D in nature, particularly in the latter levels. Also, watch out for Smash Daisaku – if he wasn’t directly inspired by M. Bison from the Street Fighter series, I’ll eat my red military hat.
Short but ultimately pretty sweet, Gunstar Heroes is a splash of vintage fun that still provides some tricky twitch-gaming challenges some 16 years after its initial release. Just don’t expect the completion of those challenges to take you very long. But for an afternoon of nostalgia that manages to bear up admirably under those rose-tinted spectacles gamers are fond of wearing, Gunstar Heroes is a very good choice.