When one thinks about the ones who ruled the 2D side scrolling genre in the olden days of the 16-bit era, numerous names pop to mind: Capcom, Konami, Hudson and more can be named. Due to the limitations of the hardware at the time, it was truly a golden age for side scrolling. With a few exceptions, it was where the best way to show off what could be done. At the time, Treasure was the best kept secret. These folks really knew how to craft a game with unique mechanics and memorable situations. Lamentably, while they kept finding work, their games only seemed to garner real acclaim long after their release. In my small corner of the world, these always seemed to gain attention on the playground when someone at the school took a chance on renting it long after it has been out. The general consensus was that the boat was missed on this pass, but we would all hop aboard next time it came around.
This is all too bad, because gamers would have been well served to snatch up Gunstar Heroes when it first arrived on the scene. It was the absolute pinnacle of the 2D side scrolling, character based shooter/platformer. Yes, it was superior even to the venerable Contra III: The Alien Wars, which suffered from some ill-advised overhead portions that seemed shoe-horned in to showcase Mode 7.
There are quite a few things that make this one stand out, even today. The weapon mixing system remains flexible and interesting, catering to numerous styles. Mixing a machine gun with a flame yields a rapid flame thrower. Mixing the laser with the seeker creates a sure sign that the player is a boring cheater.
The bosses where also fantastic. Okay, to be fair, they were mostly just good with the incredible Seven Force in the mix. This boss can only be described as all the bosses rolled up into one transforming powerhouse of awesome. Someone could conceivably create an endless runner version of these encounters causing an epidemic of blistered thumbs to arise overnight in the gamer community. There is also the story. While cheesy by any standard, the anime influenced tale was not something that was commonly seen outside of RPGs at the time.
It seems Sega knows what they have on their hands, too, as it has made its way to an unprecedented amount of platforms. While the version designed Cuisinart brand juicers had some porting issues, the recent 3D Gunstar Heroes has seen a large amount of love.
Discussing the biggest addition, the 3D, reveals the only bittersweet portion of this release. There are only three parts of this title where the 3D effect was worthwhile: climbing the pyramid in an early level, the asteroid dodging sequence of the space shooter portion and the final boss area, the nature of which will not be revealed for the benefit of those who have not played it yet. Suffice it to say, it was cool then and the 3D adds to it, but it doesn’t add enough to make it worth another purchase for those who have already snagged a recent version. In fact, it could be argued that it detracts overall from an excellent game by adding headaches for the 3D sensitive to the equation. The 3DS’ slider does still work, though, and turning the 3D off does present a pixel perfect port of Gunstar Heroes
Now, for those of you who have only played the original cart, there is quite a bit more in the package. Boasting both the international and Japanese versions, Mega Drive and Mega Drive 2 emulation, and a wealth of various minor unlockable rule toggles, this is the most content complete version of Gunstar Heroes to be found. Save state support also helps to lend this title a portable friendly vibe. It does not have to be completed in one sitting, so there should be no hesitation to boot it up.
Actually assessing 3D Gunstar Heroes is difficult. It is Gunstar Heroes, which is the perfect shooter. Anyone who has never played it and enjoys this type of game is only doing themselves harm in not doing so. This version is content complete and as good of a version as any to rectify the issue. On the other hand, 3D, the major selling point of this release, is where it fumbles. It’s not worth the double (or quadruple) for those already with the game, but it’s still an incredible adventure any way it’s sliced.