Review: Gunstar Heroes (PS3)


Title: Gunstar Heroes
Format: PlayStation Network Download (34.3 MB)
Release Date: June 11, 2009
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Treasure
Original MSRP: $4.99
ESRB Rating: E10+

Gunstar Heroes saved me from quitting gaming and just happens to be my favorite game EVAR! It’s true (kinda). Let’s harken back to the twilight of the 16-bit era… The Sega Genesis was making it’s abrupt exit, the 32X add-on was a failure and the surprise Sega Saturn launch was met with apathy from the public. I also happened to be getting ready for my first year of college and decided I should be done with video games, so off I went to FuncoLand to sell off my Genesis collection.

That’s right, I was done. I don’t remember if I felt I should “grow up” or maybe just had no real interest in spending a crapload of money on the next generation of gaming. Thankfully, at the last second, I changed my mind a bit. I kept the Genesis itself and my favorite game, Gunstar Heroes (I traded the rest in for Beyond Oasis to have something else to play, but that’s not integral to this story :-p ). I figured I might need something to pass the time at school when I was bored. Why Gunstar Heroes? Because I loved the hell out of it!

I first laid eyes on it in a glorious EGM cover story. I’d never heard of it or it’s developer “Treasure” and at first glance I thought it looked rather generic. Probably due to the classically awful “Americanized” 16-bit box art. But the EGM Editors gushed over it and gave it a huge spread. Since I trusted EGM, I had to see what the fuss was about and gave it a rental. Needless to say I was completely blown away. The game was frenetic and action-packed, with great art & music and special effects normally only seen in overblown SNES games (Sega fo’ life!). EGM was right, the game was amazing! I beat it multiple times on that rental and immediately bought it when I returned it to the video store. That’s something pretty unheard of for me in that era, but I just couldn’t get enough of it.

The game was sorta like Contra, a series I loved in the NES days, but somehow Gunstar Heroes was way more fun. At it’s core it’s a run ‘n gun shooter. Just run through the levels blowing up everything in your path. Where Gunstar Heroes improves on the formula is the way it mixes those levels up. In one you’re speeding along on futuristic mine cart (MINE CART LEVEL!). In another you’re basically playing a giant board game and throwing a giant die. It even turns into a shmup at the end! Of course, special mention must be made of the bosses… Treasure is now known for some of their crazy-ass boss designs, but this really got them started. Huge, multi-segmented bosses with multiple patterns and who could forget 7-Force? A boss with 7 different forms but you only get to see them all if you play on Hard. And boy was this game hard! To do battle, you have 4 different weapon types and you can combine 2 of them to form a new weapon. Melee attacks are limited to throws and jump kicks, but they get the job done. You may also choose between Free and Fixed types with the former allowing you to run while you shoot and the latter forcing you to stop before firing. Add the hordes of enemy soldiers, robots, mini-bosses and ingenious level bosses and you’ve got yourself a hell of a game. One that I referred to as my favorite game of all time for many years.

Does it hold up? In my opinion, yes. The graphics and special effects are no longer jaw-dropping, but since they were functional and not gimmicky, it doesn’t detract from anything. The Sega Vintage Collection adds a blur filter to smear the pixels and I personally don’t mind it. I think it actually helps when displayed on an HDTV. Audio-wise it has a great soundtrack, especially for a Genesis game, but the sound effect samples are pretty scratchy. The gameplay doesn’t feel as fresh as it originally did, but it’s still a lot of fun. Co-op was always a great feature in this game and it remains although it appears they took out the ability for one player to steal half the other player’s life when they died. Unfortunately, online co-op seems to be borked on PSN. I can’t connect to or host a game and I’ve read many reports of others with the same problem. Hopefully Backbone and Sega can fix it. It’s still as challenging as ever, if not more so. My gaming skillz were far better in those days so Normal mode didn’t pose that much challenge, but nowadays it makes me realize how rusty I’ve gotten.

Wait, how did it save me from quitting gaming? Well, I kind of exaggerated that part a bit, but it did prevent me from being without video games. I did play it a lot at school, even more than I thought I would and I introduced it to new fans. It really held me over until I started hearing rumblings about Sony making their own game machine… something called the Play-Station? Chances are I would’ve moved onto another system sooner or later since gaming is in my blood, but Gunstar will always hold that special place in my heart.

So is the PSN version worth $5.00 USD even if online co-op seems totally broken? You bet your ass it is. Especially if you’ve never played it. They’ve even included a demo you can download to try it out! Is it the best version of Gunstar ever? No, the PS2 import Sega Ages Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box holds that trophy for being damn close to the original and including a plethora of options. The Wii’s Virtual Console has probably the closest to perfectly emulated version of it, but it’s also more expensive and not on PS3. Is Gunstar Heroes still my favorite game EVAR?! Grudgingly, I have to admit it’s not. I still love it and consider it my top 10 of all time, but age and nostalgia are funny things. I’m just glad it’s back for a whole new generation to experience at a bargain price.


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Written by Mark Senger

Glenn’s second co-host on the podcast , Mark graced the airwaves from late 2007 to early 2010.

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