Hands-On: Gunstar Super Heroes
We have hands-on with the latest treasure from Treasure.
Have you noticed that EVERYONE loves Treasure? The core gamer milk man, the core gamer secretary, the core gamer librarian, the core gamer journalist. They drool like Cujo over anything the Japanese developer does. In fact, it's safe to say that for some of you, Treasure could walk right into your house and take a gigantic poop onto your dining room table and you'd happily clean it up just because you think Astro Boy is one of the greatest $#&%^#$ games ever made, which it most certainly is. With that being said, and bowel movements aside, Gunstar Super Heroes is going to slam into your GBAs with a force unlike anything you've ever experienced, providing you've never played Treasure's side scrolling opus Alien Soldier. However, seeing as how that game was only released on the Mega Drive and is nearly impossible to find you're just going to have to make due with this explosively-intense high-octane-fueled rocket-fest to the stars. Poor baby.
To be blunt (and at point blank range), Gunstar Super Heroes is a game for the hardcore if such a word can even be defined. It's the sequel to a ten-year-old Sega Genesis/ Game Gear game that casual gamers have never heard of, it features some old school Genesis music (Afterburner) and some famous Genesis game bosses populate its silicon innards. It's a relatively short experience but it features a well-balanced difficulty curve (making it a bit less Treasure than Ikaruga), but it features six different story paths. Bottom line, you'll get the most out of this title if you're familiar with and undyingly adore the original and/or if you're a newcomer who just enjoys a fantastic game that doesn't feature a rap or NFL star on its box.
Unless you're a scholar you're not going to have a damn clue who the characters are and at times you won't even know what the hell's going on, but the good news is you don't have to know anything save what the enemy looks like and how to beat the $#!* out of them, which, just like in the original, is at times going to take lots of skill.
Gunstar continues the adventures of characters Red and Blue as they battle an evil empire and attempt to prevent its demented leaders from capturing a sacred stone that would enable them to resurrect the God of Ruin, because as I'm sure you know, fiction is chock full of bad guys who, because they're insecure and too weak to fight their own battles, seek the aid of some insanely powerful nether being. In all cases, said resurrection is a very bad thing, so you're going to spend all of your time chasing after these morons and blasting their sorry behinds with four different types of weapons that can be selected on the fly: Machine Gun, Rapid Fire, Laser, and Explosive. Each has its uses and is appropriate at different times. The Machine Gun, for example, is great for plowing through enemy soldiers that come at you from the left and right sides of the screen. However, it's not as handy while in the air. Instead, you'll want to go with the Laser, which actually travels in all sorts of directions and is especially useful for taking out robots that drop from the sky. Think of this weapon like drawing with an Etch-a-Sketch. The line can travel left, right, up, or down, but instead of you twisting knobs it moves on its own.
Super Heroes is all about blasting. Blasting while on foot. Blasting while on the back of a strange animal. Blasting while in the air. Blasting while clinging to walls. There's never any reason whatsoever to remove your right thumb from the B button, though that won't always get you out of tight spots. In order to beat the game you'll also need to perform some expert dodging since everyone's gunning for you. If it's not the lesser enemies it's the first level boss that rises up from the lava and attempts to squash you with your space craft, or it's that dude Green, who shape shifts into several different types of bosses during a single fight. Each time he morphs his attacks change, so one second he's sling shooting these spikes at you and the next he's rolling up and down a wall and attempting to nail you with something else.
Your energy meter (located at the top left corner of the screen) can be depleted in a hurry, so it's best that you make like Frogger and avoid getting squashed. Thankfully, bosses of all types (both micro and macro) feature their own energy meters on the opposite side of the screen, so you always have somewhat of an idea where you stand.
What I especially like about this game is how varied the levels are. Treasure's done a wonderful job mixing it up and the result is a game that has several distinct flavors. It begins just like the old Gunstar, where you're just running across the screen blowing up bad guys, but then you'll transition to riding on the back of this strange bird like creature and then piloting a helicopter through a city and blasting tanks and gigantic planes. Things are exciting enough that there's never a dull moment.
Easy, Medium, and Hard difficultly levels await you, and unlike some of Treasure's most notable works, Super Heroes isn't nearly as maddeningly difficult. I was able to (on Medium) clear the first couple of boards with ease before slamming into a brick wall, but that's what is supposed to happen. Clearing those early stages built my confidence, so once I approached the more difficult challenges, I had a desire to continue after meeting my end.
There's also some pretty Mode-7 like effects going on. The aforementioned lava monster features some cool animations and his body flies all over the place, and then there's the Afterburner inspired level where you're standing atop your space ship destroying incoming enemies as the scenery quickly zips by. This is just a gorgeous hand held game that's best experienced on either the Game Boy Player or the Nintendo DS so you can take advantage of the brighter screens.
The music is equally impressive. I've noticed that most of the tracks are unfortunately quite forgettable but there are a few memorable tunes, one of which is the opening theme. Also, I really like the voices in this game. There isn't a tremendous amount of speech, but when you run into important characters (bosses really), they'll announce themselves before attempting to murder you.
Going back to what I said in the opening paragraphs, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that casual gamers won't enjoy this game. On the contrary, it doesn't matter whether you've been playing the original for the past ten years or never heard of the series. Gunstar Super Heroes is just a $#%^$ sweet videogame. However, it's akin to seeing the original Star Wars in the movie theater back in the late seventies as opposed to watching it on DVD last year. The ancient nostalgia greatly enhances the gameplay experience. With that being said, and whichever Star Wars experience you've had, grab your GBA and insert a Gunstar Super Heroes cartridge into it when Sega releases the game on October 25. System's are defined by the games, and Nintendo's famous hand held will be remembered because of this one.