Gunstar Heroes
Box Shot
Gunstar Heroes
Platform: Genesis
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Treasure
Genre: Action
Players: 2 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1994
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

(Note: Before I begin the review, I'd like to beg forgiveness if I sound like a gushing school girl in this review. Look at the ratings above and you'll see reason why. Thank you.)

Gunstar Heroes is quite possibly the best game ever released on the Genesis. It is the product of Treasure, a group of former Konami employees that created its most successful titles (Castlevania and Contra among them.) The game itself is one of those blast-everything-in-sight side scrollers, but it's the best of the genre, superceding even Contra 3.

The game is given a semi-anime look and a small backstory. According to legend, many years ago, an evil being was sealed into four crystals (why they never destroyed these stupid evil beings instead of locking them in crystals so they could wreak havoc centuries later is beyond me.) An evil emperor decides that he wants these gems to help him conquer the world. He invades the planet of Gunstar 9 to find these jewels.

It's up to the Gunstar Heroes to stop them, of course. The two mains characters are the Red and Blue heroes, which you control. However, the Professor and your sister Yellow also help you a bit. At the beginning of the game, you get to choose your movement orientation (Free Shot, meaning you can move and shoot, of Fixed Shot, so that you stay stationary when aiming your weapon in any cardinal direction.) Then, you can choose one of the four starter weapons (Force, Fire, Homing and Laser.)

Once your characters are armed, there are four stages to choose from. Similar to Mega Man, there is a unique boss guarding the end of each stage, and thus one of the four jewels. They almost seem to have been given their own personalities...Pink is a domineering woman with two little helpers to do her bidding, Orange is a big muscle man, Black is a psychotic, grinning madman, and Green (your captured brother) has a machine that has seven different transformations. Each level also has its own little unique charm...for instance, Black's level is a board game. Pick up the dice to choose how far your little characters move on the board in the background. Land on certain spots, and you can get items, fight a great variety of bosses, or even get sent back to the beginning. Another level places you deep in a mining shaft that constantly switches directions. What's even better is that you can shift gravity...you can ride your carts on either side of the screen (top or bottom, left or right, depending on which way the shaft is going.)

Once you beat the four levels (it's best to go in order from easiest to hardest, since you get an extra 20 points of life every time you beat a level), your sister Green is kidnapped and you've got to save her. After beating a long intermittent level, you get to hop inside of a spaceship for a shoot-em-up battle, then finally face each of baddies for the final showdown.

But despite all of the cool levels, it's the gameplay that truly makes a great title. And Gunstar Heroes has it all. Shooting, mad destruction, death (but no blood), explosions...so much fun, it's hard to measure it all! The weapon system is one of the coolest I've ever seen...you can take one of the four weapons and combine it with another. Get two Flames to make an extra long Flamethrower...a Homing with a Laser gets a really cool Homing Laser...a Flame and a Laser gets you the equivalent of a light saber. Everyone seems to have fun customizing their weapons and finding the best one to suit their maniacial means.

And that's not all. Treasure decided that it would be cool if you could also do some hand to hand combat! You can jump kick and even throw enemies, if you get close enough. It's really just a small addition, but little things like this add up to an incredible game.

The graphics...my God. The programmers at Treasure seem to have mastered the 68000 (the Genesis CPU) to perfection. From the spinning opening logo to the background effects used throughout the game, you think you were playing a Super Nintendo game. Many of the bosses (and trust me, there are lots...but they aren't too hard, and they aren't put in to the point of oversaturation) are composed of many sprites, giving them a very cool animated look. And using bright colors, it never falls into the typical Genesis trap of a dingy palette . The music and sound effects do everything to compliment the action, especially the yells of your two commandos.

Quite all in all, Gunstar Heroes is a near-perfect game. Seven stages may be too short for some, but it's still better than Contra 3. The difficulty levels are balanced so that novices should be able to trek through Easy mode, but vets will have a tough time with Hard. Two players make it all the more pleasant. And nobody can doubt the pure adrenaline rushing fun of blowing the shiitake out of everything that you can lay your eyes on. Gunstar Heroes is a horrendously overlooked title and one of the best side-scrolling action games in existence. Must buy, no matter what.