Endgame: Gunstar Heroes

January 23, 2010

Gunstar Heroes to this day remains one of the only games I’ve bothered to take the time to master on its hardest difficulty level. This week, I decided that I had let enough time pass between my obsession with the game in the mid-’90s and now to give it another run-through, this time via Xbox Live Arcade.

Playing it again brought back all of the memories one would expect, but a playthrough in 2009 reveals a hole in the game’s design that might not have been nearly as apparent in 1993.

Specifically: The uneven choice of weapons is almost shocking. Back in ’93, it was easy to chalk up my affinity for a free-shot (that is, the ability to move while shooting) chaser (homing) to a matter of personal preference, especially given that my brother always went for the flame (exactly what it sounds like). Playing the game on the Xbox and retreating to my old standby, I realized that the chaser, especially when superpowered with another chaser pickup, was the option for those of us who didn’t want to do any of the work. In every area that isn’t a boss battle, you can quite literally anchor the fire button and run. I beat the game on the normal difficulty level in just under two hours.

One of the achievements in the Xbox Live version of Gunstar Heroes asks the player to “start the game with all weapon types”, and given the ease of the rest of the achievements (you can nab the other 11 on your first playthrough of any skill level if you’re lucky), it seemed worth finishing off the game by giving the other weapon types a try.

Imagine my shock when I used the force (disappointingly, it’s a machine gun rather than MIND BULLETS) and died halfway through the level.

Slowly, as I tried the other weapons and found myself fumbling through the easiest of levels, a humbling realization hit: I did not beat Gunstar Heroes. My gun did.

On one hand, this rather diminishes the pride I once had in my 1337 skillz at Gunstar Heroes. I was a hack, as it turns out. On the other hand, this gives me the chance to revisit the game in a way that offers a challenge, by resolving to beat the game with a weapon that doesn’t do all the work for me. After all, any excuse to play more Gunstar Heroes, no matter how specious, is an utterly valid one.

A modern runthrough of Gunstar Heroes affirmed something that I remembered from 1993 as well: Seven Force is an incredible boss fight. That it shows up so early in the game is almost criminal, although it does provide an almost instant setpiece that allows the player to demonstrate why Gunstar Heroes was one of the greatest games of the 16-bit era. Besides, placing it so early in the game allows enough time to pass between its initial appearance and its second boss-fight appearance later in the game to evoke a sense of nostalgia, enough such that its role (as driven by a now contrite, no-longer mind controlled fellow Gunstar) in the game’s conclusion feels legitimately melancholy.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s sense of humor: yes, “Melon Bread” still makes me laugh out loud.

With a growing pile of unplayed games sitting on my shelf, will I return to Gunstar Heroes to try and blast all the way through it with a new weapon anytime soon? Probably not — once you’ve played through it, you almost have to let it sit for a while to freshen your next experience with it. Even so, it’s nice to know it’s still fun, and it’s just as nice to know that it’ll be waiting on my Xbox the next time I need it.

Seven Force!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: