Let’s Talk About Gunstar Heroes

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If you’ve never heard of Gunstar Heroes, then you’ve not been privy to the cult following it seemed to have garnered over the years. For a game that didn’t do that well when it first came out, it seems to be massively popular and very well thought of. It’s not that it’s not worthy of the praise as it were but it’s another case of why some things in the gaming industry irk me. Parappa the Rapper did really poorly on release but it’s bloody amazing. This game also did quite poorly on release but again is good.

It’s not amazing.

I might be courting controversy with that one. I don’t fucking care. This game is not the amazing game everyone thinks it is. It is a good game but not for the reasons that everyone else seems to go on about.

Look, let’s level with you. If you take away a lot of this game and basically strip it back to what it is, it’s actually reasonably dull.

But this is a Treasure game. Treasure have a habit of turning not much into something.

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Here’s the lowdown on what is basically a fairly nothingy plot: A big giant robot is going to destroy EVERYTHING, as you do, and its four power sources are collected by The Empire in an effort to try and take control of this evil entity that probably will destroy everything including them if it’s reactivated. Your job is to get the gems back and stop this from happening in the first place.

So basically it’s gold versus evil versus BIGGER EVIL with a bit of emnesiac sub-plot in there for good measure.

OK, so it’s a bit more than nothingy. It’s actually not a bad set-up and it lends itself perfectly to the type of game this is. And what’s even better about this game is that it essentially inspiration for one of my favourite early PSOne games: Rapid Reload. I have reviewed it before. You shall find it here. IT IS GLORIOUS. This game is why it’s glorious.

And this EMPIRE you’re going up against? They’re Team Rocket. They’re basically the precursor to what Team Rocket ends up being. They’re so hopelessly incompetent that you wonder how they even got those fucking gems in the first place before you did. When you defeat them, one group of enemies actually FLY OFF into the background A LA TEAM FUCKING ROCKET only without the catchphrase. AND THIS PRE-DATES IT. Not that this was the only game or show in which characters fly off into the sky followed by a twinkly effect but Pokemon did not have it first. AND YET WE ALWAYS SAY TEAM ROCKET WHEN WE SEE THAT EFFECT.

But then again, this lot have no lines to yell when it happens so YOUR LOSS, TREASURE.

But yeah, the Empire are a bunch of rubbish shits, apart from Green. Who is your brother. Only he doesn’t remember. Because amnesia.

Yup. Easy way out of writing decent motivation: AMNESIA.

*ticks cliché box*

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Generally, what this game does do well is plenty. For a start, the graphics are bold, colourful and fun to look at. There’s SO much happening on the screen at once but the game handles it all so well that you wonder how they managed to do it. The explosions are snappy but don’t overpower the screen and unless you’re completely rank at gaming, you won’t actually lose yourself amidst the freneticism of the game. So much CAN happen and you COULD get lost. You don’t though. Everything happens so quickly that you’ll find that when you’re about to get smothered by insurmountable graphical odds and oddities, they’re gone just as quickly and you’re pretty much free to keep going without even so much as a scratch on you.

When things cool down on screen, that’s when you can take a breather. When ONE enemy appears, you might as well ready yourself for the smackdown. That won’t be the only one (unless it’s a boss). Get ready for the next battle, to quote the later Tekken games.

I have no idea why I’m quoting Tekken.

You couldn’t get much further away from Tekken, could you?

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In terms of general design, that is what makes this game go from being little more than a dull run and gun to something much more fun and interesting. The game has been lovingly designed from top to bottom with such ingenious ideas and cleverly designed levels and enemies and it definitely pulls this game out of dull territory. The generic enemies are, indeed, a dime a dozen and they’re not worth talking about. It’s the bosses and mid-bosses that makes this game much more than just SHOOT FOR THE HECK OF IT.

You cannot tell me that this game has boring bosses, particularly when one level is a MASSIVE boss-run from start to finish anyway. It’s a game where you face random turrets, trees, giant robot snakes, two balls and a vibrating Pong paddle, and many other bizarre designs. For the most part, there’s no real reason for them to be there. But the fact that someone thought “let’s shove in a load of boxes that turns into a aeroplane” and made it into a mid-level boss is smoking something that maybe everyone else needs before they start designing something.

“I CAN HEAR COLOURS.”
“TURN IT INTO A BOSS CHARACTER.”
“DID THAT HANDKERCHIEF JUST MOVE?”
“TURN IT INTO A BOSS CHARACTER.”
“CAN I GO HOME NOW?”
“TURN YOUR HOME INTO A BOSS CHARACTER!”

Actual* conversation live from Treasure’s studios, people.

(*not actually actual at all… but you knew that already…)

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Here you go. Level 1. A giant asparagus-looking tree thing that drops balloons on you that kill you. Because balloons do that, y’know.

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And, of course, everyone’s favourite boss, the floating eyes, nose and mouth boss. BECAUSE OF COURSE THAT COULD HAPPEN. Actually, who the fuck even cares? It’s ridiculous in the best way possible. There’s no reason for this boss to even exist. There’s no scientific possibility for it to even be explained. Who cares? It’s silly design thrown in for good measure because every single mid-boss defies reason. I’m fairly sure this boss has a silly name too. I just can’t remember what it is.

The silly designs are what make this game fun to play. There’s not much that’s fun about holding down the B button for the entirety of the game or pressing the square button for the whole of the game without there being something in there to hold your interest or to make it stop you in your tracks. There’s plenty in here to do that.

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And this is the best level for that to happen. This is the aforementioned boss run level dressed up as a board game. You roll the die, traverse the board and HOPE TO FUCKING HIGH HEAVEN THAT YOU DON’T LAND ON THE SKULL SPACE.

And hopefully you end up on the item squares so you get the guns you want and some extra health. Because those bosses don’t REALLY want to keep you at full health any time soon. Expect bullets to come flying at you and bombs to be thrown at you whenever you’re not paying attention. Although if you’re not paying attention to a video game then fucking hell, either the game’s that shit or you have to learn how to… you know… use your eyes, I suppose.

OR YOU SUCK.

DO YOU?

GIT GUD.

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Back to the game and less about your awful gaming skills. There are four main levels that you can start from, each of which garners you a gem to collect – because that’s the idea of the game, if you’d forgotten by this point – and each level is suitably different. Yes, there’s the dice palace boss-run level and there’s the first level which is mostly horizontal (but occasionally diagonal). The other two switch between vertical modes and horizontal modes. One of them has you ascending the screen to catch a ride on an airship, leading to a battle on a helicopter (I KNOW. FUCKING BRILLIANT). And the other one is from the screenshot above that takes place in an underground railway system. You traverse the levels on a little motorised doodah across the screen and DOWN the screen to break up the action. And the final boss on that stage is ABSOLUTE FUCKING GENIUS. There are seven different modes for this boss so you could get any of the seven boss types. You only have to defeat three of them though, which is good, but you never know which ones you’re going to get.

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Suffice to say though, they’re all pretty damn hard anyway so it wouldn’t matter. Any of them would probably equal your death if you’re not paying attention and WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS GAME? ARE YOU A SADIST OR A MASOCHIST? THIS GAME IS ALL OVER THE PLACE UP IN YOUR FACE AND YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION? HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?

ARE YOU NOT PLAYING THE RIGHT GA- ohhhhhhhh, did you turn off the console? Yeah, I hate when that happens.

Don’t turn the console off. That’s just rude.

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The reason this isn’t the game that everyone says it is is because it’s way, way, way too short. There aren’t enough levels in the game, basically. It could have been a few levels longer and STILL have been as good as it is. If it was double the length or something, we’d be looking at boring territory. It would have gone on to be too long and too repetitive. There really was nowhere else for this game to go. I mean… maybe into space or some-ohhhhhh. They did THAT. Yeah. If they HAD made it longer, there really was nowhere else for it to go.

They did land, air, underground and… er… mecha-city… and then went into space. OK, Maybe a sea level? But… sea levels suck. They spared us that one. Imagine taking this game and dumping the game into the sea. SLOW LEVELS. SWIMMING.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

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So it might be the amazing game that everyone else RAVES about but it’s a bloody good riot from start to finish while it lasts. It set Treasure up to be the amazing Grade A developer it ended up being. Dynamite Headdy, Radiant Silvergun, Sin and Punishment, Ikaruga… what a fucking marvellous developer they became.

Also… run and gun… can we start using rhyming terms for all game genres now?

Race and… chase?
Fight and bite…?
Quiz and…shiz?
Shoot and boot…?
Puzzle and… cuddle?

Yeah. Maybe not.

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