Gunstar Heroes
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Developers:
    • Treasure (GEN)
    • M2 (GG)
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    GEN
    • US 09/09/1993
    • JP 09/10/1993
    • UK October 1993
    GG
    • JP 03/24/1995
Score: 90%

This review was published on 07/19/2013.

Gunstar Heroes is a 2-D, side-scrolling shooter developed by Treasure and originally released for the Sega Genesis in 1993. There was also a stripped down Game Gear port released in Japan, but I'll be focusing this review on the vastly superior Genesis version. Treasure is a company that was formed by many former Konami employees, some of whom worked on amazing games such as Rocket Knight Adventures. Gunstar Heroes is Treasure's first official game, and boy, is it good. This game set the precedent for all of Treasure's future games. It's basically nonstop action from beginning to end, with almost no breaks in sight. Gunstar Heroes is similar to the Contra series in how it plays, but it's a lot more forgiving. If you liked the Contra series, then chances are good that you'll like Gunstar Heroes. In fact, you might like Gunstar Heroes even if you hate the Contra series. Gunstar Heroes was very well received by critics when it came out, and it now has an immense cult following among retro gamers online. It's not hard to see why, because this is one good game.

Image

Gunstar 9 is a celestial body that exists somewhere in the universe. Despite being called that, it's not actually a star, because people live on it. I'm guessing it's a planet, but who knows. In this place is a family of gun totting maniacs known as the Gunstar family, and together, they protect Gunstar 9. This place sounds a little like the South. The Gunstar Heroes, as they are called, are named after various colors, like White, Green, Red, and Blue. White is a professor, but he was a warrior in his younger days, having defeated an evil robot by the name of Golden Silver many years ago. The Professor extracted the terrible robot's power source, four mystical gems, in order to use their power for good. White then sealed the robot on one of Gunstar 9's moons to prevent it from falling into the hands of evil. Sure enough, it doesn't take long for that to happen. An evil emperor kidnaps fellow Gunstar Hero Green and brainwashes him into revealing the locations of the four mystical gems, as well as the killer robot. This spells trouble for the world, so the Gunstar twins, Red and Blue, must equip their guns and get ready to fight evil. Kind of an odd story, but it works. Cutscenes and text are few and far between, so the game never wastes too much of your time with exposition. That's just the way it ought to be, especially for a run and gun game.

Image

You control either Red or Blue in this game, depending on which character you picked. The main things you can do in this game is run and gun, you know, because it's a run and gun shooter. At the start of the game, you can pick two control types; free shot or fixed shot. Regardless of which control type you choose, you're able to aim and fire in eight directions. Free shot allows you to fire while running, whereas fixed shot doesn't let you shoot while running, but it does give you better control over your aim. The first is overall better than the second, to be honest, though there are rare circumstances in which the other one can be useful. Either way, you're free to choose whatever you like best. Unlike most run and gun games, you also have a couple of melee attacks to compliment your shooting. You've got a slide kick attack, a mid air dive attack, and some grapple moves. These attacks can sometimes do major damage to humanoid targets, but the most useful of these is the dive move. The slide and dive moves give you temporary invincibility and can be used to get out of sticky situations, on top of damaging enemies. It's not always necessary to use these maneuvers, but using them certainly helps. The dive move can also be used to perform a kind of wall jump, which is nice, though there aren't many opportunities in the game to do this. I should also note that this game supports cooperative play with one other player, and it works very well. A second player can jump in at any time during the game. Players can immediately rejoin if they die, too, though there is a catch: any player that rejoins the game will take approximately half of the remaining player's health. Even though this could potentially wreck friendships, it's a flexible system that keeps things balanced while eliminating wait time. With tons of moves available, precise controls, and even co-op, Gunstar Heroes is heroic in its awesomeness.

Image

The crux to most run and gun games is the power-ups, and this is also true for Gunstar Heroes. Similar to Contra, there are a number of power-ups to choose from, all of which will alter the type of shots your gun is capable of. What separates Gunstar Heroes from conventional run and gun games is that two power-ups can be combined to form different, often superior power-ups. There are only four basic power-ups, but the different combinations bring that number all the way up to fourteen. The four power-ups are Force, Lightning, Chaser, and Fire. Force is your standard rapid fire attack, Lightning pierces through enemy defenses like a laser shot, Chaser homes in on enemies, and Fire usually gives you a flamethrower of some sort. Alone, these power-ups are kind of boring and weak, but when combined, they are a force to be reckoned with. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to each weapon, and those advantages and disadvantages carry over into whatever combinations you decide to go for. Every player has his or her own preference for what weapon combination is the best, so experimentation is necessary to figure out what works best for you. For example, combining the Chaser with any other weapon will usually add a homing capability to that weapon, but it will typically do so at the cost of power. Two weapons of the same type can also be stacked to enhance the effect, giving you quite a lot of options. I'm personally quite fond of the dual Chaser combo, because I don't like aiming, but your mileage may vary. The mixing and matching of weapon types is what gives Gunstar Heroes its incredible depth, a depth that is lacking in most run and gun shooters. It's one of the best power-up systems ever devised.

Image

This game has some of the best bosses in the business. Starting with Gunstar Heroes, Treasure earned a reputation for making really awesome boss fights. The bosses are rendered using many interesting graphical techniques that push the Genesis to its limits, with big, multi-jointed sprites, and even a few 3-D effects. Many of the boss fights are also extremely difficult, giving the game an overall high challenge level. No matter how hard it gets, though, the game never gets totally unfair, and it's surprisingly forgiving with frequent checkpoints and unlimited continues. The forgiving nature doesn't diminish the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping action of the boss fights, though. This game's defining boss fight is against Green, the brainwashed Gunstar Hero. Green's gimmick is that he controls a large, mechanical contraption that can transform into various things, kind of like a transformer. Each form has its own attack pattern, and it changes forms throughout the battle. What's brilliant about this battle is that it has around seven forms, but you only fight around five of those forms. It may use different forms each time you battle it, making this fight so good, it's worth replaying. You're forced to fight all of this guy's forms on higher difficulty modes, so that's one way to see it all without having to replay the fight. Another cool boss fight takes place atop a helicopter as it flies through the air. Your opponent here is a muscle bound brute who will try to pummel you with a range of devastating melee attacks. It's like something out of an action movie, and it's awesome. Bosses also show up very frequently throughout the game, something else that became a signature for Treasure games. The last few levels are basically a gauntlet of one fantastic boss after another, back-to-back. Treasure never disappoints when it comes to spectacular boss battles.

Image

Gunstar Heroes is, without a doubt, one of the best games on the Sega Genesis. I would expect no less from Treasure. Every game Treasure makes is like, well, a treasure. Treasure excels at making excellent games that push whatever hardware they're on to its absolute limits, and Gunstar Heroes accomplishes this task. It's got great music, amazing graphics, fun bosses, and the mechanics are full of depth. Best of all, this extraordinarily enjoyable experience can be shared with a friend, thanks to the seamless co-op multiplayer. It's definitely recommended to play the game with a friend, as that makes it way more fun. You probably already know about Gunstar Heroes, as its reputation precedes it, but if you haven't, then play it right away. It'll change your life.

Word Count: 1,537

Tweet