If you ask any Mega Drive/Genesis collector out there for a list of 10 must have games for the system, you can probably bet Gunstar Heroes will be right up there. Released in 1993 from Sega and developed by industry favourites Treasure, it was in fact the newly formed studio’s first release. Now, over 20 years later, the masters over at M2 have given it the “3D Classics” treatment fans have been calling out for.
Gunstar Heroes is an action platformer, a genre very much in it’s heyday at the time. The player can take control of either Red or Green as they travel from left to right mowing down scores of enemies that dare stand in your path. It has a very simple story that has very little intrigue. You are out to save the world. That’s all you really need to know.
Like most classic games of similar ilk, 3D Gunstar Heroes can be brutal and unforgiving. It throws enemies at you constantly, never letting you rest for a moment. Thankfully, unlike some other games of similar style and brutality, it’s not a one hit kill scenario. In fact you start with 100 health points, which is increased after completing a level. That doesn’t make things easy however. There are no invincibility frames after being hit, so being contacted by larger enemies can often lead to taking multiple hits in one. This can be devastating as health pick-ups are few and far between and you’ll need as much health as you can muster to take on the bosses.
Bosses play a big part in Gunstar Heroes, most stages have multiple bosses and many of them are highly challenging. Learning the bosses moves and flaws is a necessity if you want to progress in the game. It’s safe to say that boss battles are the main focus of the game as they receive the most attention as Treasure don’t hold back on epicness. Even during one of the early stages you may be forgiven for thinking that you were fighting the final boss it’s so long and epic.
Gunstar Heroes is not a long game by any means but you really need to know what you are doing if you want to make it to the end, even on the normal setting. You’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to master those tricky boss battles. Despite its shortness, the developers have managed to squeeze a decent variety of gameplay into such a short experience. For example, there is a pseudo-shmup stage as well as a stage that is entirely based around the concept of a board game, Mario Party style. Which is totally unfair, by the way. I’m not bitter at all. I didn’t mind being made to go around the whole board TWICE only to be defeated at the last hurdle and had to do everything again. Nope.
There is also variety in how to tackle the game. As stated previously, there are two characters with different traits to choose from: one can run and gun, the other can shoot in more directions. There are also 4 starter weapons, each with different qualities, you are allowed to pick up two weapons along the way and they can combine with each other to create whole new weapons. Up to 14 in total. Some combinations are certainly more useful than others as you will quickly find out after experimenting with a few of the options. It offers surprising depth for such a small package.
Alongside the firearms there’s also room for melee attacks. Punching, crunching power slides, grapples and throws are all an option. I personally found them less safe to use than shooting as I would often receive damage in the process, but it’s still useful in certain situations, although that one small boss that can only be fought with fists can be blasted out of this universe for all I care.
To add to the variety, you can tackle the first 4 stages in any order you choose akin to the Mega Man games. There can be a little strategy involved as some stages are better challenged once you have collected more life, but you can only figure this out after going through it yourself for the first time.
So what does this 3D release offer that is new, aside from the subtle yet magnificent stereoscopic conversion, of course? Firstly, in “Gunslinger” mode you can have all weapons with you at once that are changeable on the fly via the shoulder buttons. This certainly makes the game feel less restrictive and is a nice alternative to the original.
The other option is to have “Mega Life” enabled. Which does exactly what is says on the tin. It gives you a nice fat 200 life to enable players with less time on their hands to master the standard game, get through it to experience everything. This would be especially useful for those who want to go through Expert setting (as enemies and boss attacks are different) but are a bit of a wet paper towel when it comes to this high level play… Not me, honestly.
I found going through Normal difficulty a brutal experience the first time. I can imagine Mega Life will be useful for me if I fancied a more relaxed play through on occasion rather than drowning my 3DS in palm sweat.
Like the original there is the option for 2 players. This feature needs two people to own the game, rather than using Download Play. This is as disappointment as I’ve heard 2 player co-op is quite fun and would have been able to try it if Download Play was available.
The music fits the game well. It has high intensity, futuristic instrumentation and that famous Mega Drive bass twang. I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is the most memorable asset of the game. First time hearing it, I don’t think I can say any track particularly stood out to me but that doesn’t mean it didn’t do its job well. It still fit the atmosphere perfectly even if many of them sound similar.
Overall, 3D Gunstar Heroes can be a frustrating and yet exhilarating old school run and gun experience. M2’s additions now make it accessible for just about anyone wanting to make their way through the game. It’s low price, brilliant 3D and timeless gameplay ensures it should be downloaded on to everybody’s 3DS as long as you’re into these kinds of games.