Gunstar Super Heroes is a notoriously short game which was released in an era in which longer games were becoming the norm. Let's clarify that by "longer," I mean "can't be completed within a single sitting unless you're hopped up on caffeine and willing to forgo a lot of sleep." A little more than an hour, maybe two, two and a half tops. One reviewer of Gunstar Super Heroes says he knocked off the whole thing in 41 minutes without much of a problem, and this presumably included time for inconvenient deaths.
And so, how do you keep gamers engaged through such a short time frame? Through some pretty damn spectacular level design. And Gunstar Super Heroes does a fantastic job of keeping its contingent of gamers interested. Hell, even the less-spectacularly designed levels provide some interesting eye fodder. In the very first level, in the second section, you take your hero charging through an enemy base. You do it looking through an enemy's viewfinder - one of those giant video projection screens James Bond's foes are always using to get full pictures of the Earth. You also take control of a helicopter in an overhead shooter section, ride a mechanical beast through another scrolling level in which you can switch between the bottom, top, or middle of the screen to get a good shot at the bad guys, and one section where you stand on top of an airplane shooting down missiles and other attacking aircraft. Along the way, you also visit the bad guy's board game palace - played out like an actual board game - and play a version of the old Sega game Flicky which comes with a rotating screen.
Gunstar Super Heroes is the sequel to the Genesis cult classic game Gunstar Heroes, the first game from a developer called Treasure which was released to no fanfare or advertising at all but spread through terrific word of mouth. It currently enjoys a status as the Genesis response to Nintendo's vaunted Contra series, except with anime graphics and more difficulty. It was also known for being really short, but that wasn't as much of a problem in the Silver Era. Those who had the guts to take their chances buying the unknown Gunstar Heroes were rewarded, and Treasure built up a reputation as a respected developer with small but critically lauded releases like Dynamite Headdy; Silpheed: The Lost Planet; Wario World; and Astro Boy: Omega Factor.
In their beginning, though, they had a very strict no sequel policy. That's why it took ten years before Gunstar Super Heroes showed up on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. At least they claim it's a sequel. I can't vouch for anything because I missed the original on the Sega Genesis, but nearly every review I've read of Gunstar Super Heroes is sprinkled with a common word throughout: Remake. I'll take their word for it.
Gunstar Super Heroes puts you into the shoes of two members of what is apparently an elite military outfit called Gunstar. You get to choose between Gunstar Red and Gunstar Blue, though truth be told, there isn't isn't much difference. They share two of their three weapons, and the weapon they don't share functions the same for both of them. You only need one weapon through the game anyway since all enemies are dealt with in the same fashion: Shoot it 'til it don't move no more.
Most of the enemies in Gunstar Super Heroes are pretty generic, due mainly to the fact that there's an unstoppable stream of them. On the easiest difficulty setting, they're all simple enough to deal with. On higher difficulty settings, it's the firepower from other directions that becomes a bit more intense. The only real threats come from the enemies with standing machine guns, but that's more by merit of their placements. They don't move, they just fire away, but they're sitting right where you need to go. One of the odd features I've noticed about the controls is that when you shoot, you can't hit the enemies if they're right on top of you. Both characters come equipped with some kind of sword for situations like this, though, which is used by quickly tapping the fire button.
The plot of Gunstar Super Heroes revolves around a supervillain - complete with mustache and cool dark cape - trying to grab a small group of stones from the moon. Instead of selling them for cash and retiring like any smart person would do, he wants to use the stones to active an ultimate weapon, the God of Ruin, called Golden Silver. The plot is actually told through a series of cutscenes, and it does involve some cool twists, intrigues, and betrayals. But the most interesting aspect of it is that the difficulty level you play on - and the character you play as - decide how much of the plot is explained. On the easy difficulty setting, Red and Blue reveal very little about their personalities and you get the bare-boned minimum. On medium, much more is revealed, and Red and Blue begin to show some unique character traits. I haven't played on hard yet.
The difficulty of the game can also be deceptive. On easy, the game is easy. Medium is pretty tough, and you have less health against a flood of a lot more ammunition. The bosses, though, remain pretty consistent in their difficulty. Most of them are easy enough, and many of the battles are about dodging this large destructive beam or that giant fist. Others are simply about positioning yourself the right way. Some of them require a little bit of timing, but compared to the boss battles in a lot of other games, they're fluff. Although they do reveal some pretty cool cutscenes on higher difficulty levels.
The graphics are in the style of Japanese anime, which should reveal everything you need to know about the character design. There are some nicely designed bosses, but for the most part it appears Treasure was more about the quantity of enemies than the way they looked. As usual, it's a favorable trade-off; if graphics are sacrificed in the name of better gameplay, that means the designers were trying. But the noteworthy aspect is the style of graphics used in so many points. There seems to be a little bit of everything - screen rotation, mode seven scaling, scrolling, switches from horizontal to vertical scrolling, there's a lot, and it's all flawlessly done.
The sounds aren't quite as good. The music rocks, but the explosions are a little weak. Thankfully, there aren't any bad voice-overs.
Controls are fluid and solid. The firing rate is excellent, which is helpful because this is one of those games where you're best off just holding down the button. The sword blade can be a tricky thing to use, and that's a point against the game because it's so necessary to kill the enemies who make it right up to you. You can jump high, and there's a slide function which is helpful for those times you need to knock down multiple bad guys in front of you but are too distracted to actually shoot them at the moment.
Many reviewers tell you to stay away from Gunstar Super Heroes since it's basically a remake of Gunstar Heroes. That's all well and good, I'm sure. But what if you never played the original Gunstar Heroes? Well, I guess then you buy Gunstar Super Heroes, that's what. I can't vouch for the original game, like I said, but if you've never played Gunstar Heroes, you could do a LOT worse than picking up this alleged remake.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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