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I don’t care for very many things these days. I attribute that to the fact that I’m old cynical and bitter about life and that it’s trickled into so many things that I am incapable of feeling joy. That’s why I was so surprised when I found myself filled with excitement at the sight and sound of the Gunstar Heroes title screen. If you haven’t ever played Gunstar Heroes, then you should probably jump off a bridge into a factory made of explosions, because Gunstar Heroes is the 16 bit equivalent of a Micheal Bay film. In the game you are tasked with finding some super powerful jewels that will destroy the universe or something, or give whoever possesses them, ultimate power. I don’t really know. To be completely honest like most older games I never particularly cared for the story, and just wanted to blow stuff up as fast as possible. Before you can jump into the fray you need to select a shot direction. Free shot enables you to shoot in any direction while moving, while fixed shot will stop you in place when you shoot. I almost always go with free shot. After you pick which shooting method to employ, you will have to pick a starting weapon. You can pick a chaser that follows enemies, a lightning bolt that shoots a beam of electricity through your enemies, a fireball weapon that shoots a beam of fireballs, and finally a flamethrower, and those are pretty self explanatory.
After you pick your weapon you’ll get to pick a level and go at it. There’s no real advantage in picking the levels in a certain sequence which is really cool, though I tend to play them from left to right. Gameplay between the levels is varied, and wonderful. You’ll start simply enough just shooting enemies, doing sliding kicks, and diving attacks into them. Or throwing them across the screen. But the coolest aspect of Gunstar Heroes for me has always been that you can combine the weapon powerups in the levels to create new and more powerful weapons. My personal favorite is double chasers, unleashing homing stars of death, though my brother tends to favor the lightning chaser.
Despite there being no real advantage or disadvantage in picking the levels in any kind of order, they are by no means the same rote experience over and over. The jungle level is a straight sideshoot, with tons of action and enemies to turn into explosive bits of nothingness, where the minecart level is all about jumping you cart from the tracks on the ceiling to the tracks on the ground to deal with baddies. Or later from side to side, as you fight a giant transforming mech of death. Hell at one point you’ll even find yourself in outer space taking the fight to astronomical levels of badass. But no review would be complete without mentioning Blackjack’s Palace. The level where you are placed on a giant board game and have to throw giant dice to move across the board. But the board is littered with obstacles and boss fights. Genius. This kind of wonderful design when paired up with the fast paced action, and amazing weapon selection is what keeps this game so damn entertaining.
There isn’t a single negative thing to say about Gunstar Heroes, even all these years later. It’s still one of the best sidescrolling games ever released, and it’s a damn shame it never got a proper sequel or even an HD remake. It’s fortunate that the game is now available on essentially every console or screen capable of playing games, but I would still salivate at the mere mention of a Gunstar Heroes 2. If you never got the opportunity to play Gunstar Heroes all these years later, then you are seriously missing out on what is arguably the best sidescroller released for Genesis. It gets an A with ease even 19 years later, and it has managed to translate that awesome to a host of platforms. Dammit Treasure, give us some Gunstar Heroes 2!
Gunstar Heroes was released for Sega Genesis in 1993
It was Developed by Treasure Games, and Published by Sega of America
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