North American cover art
|Platform(s)||Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear|
|Genre(s)||Run and gun|
Gunstar Heroes[a] is a run-and-gun shooter video game, and the first game developed by Treasure and published by Sega. Treasure's debut game was originally released on the Sega Genesis in late 1993, and later on, ported to the Game Gear by M2. In February 2006, Gunstar Heroes was released as part of the Gunstar Heroes: Treasure Box Collection for the PlayStation 2. It is also available on the Wii's Virtual Console. In 2009, it was released on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. In 2015, a 3D Classics version was released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.
The game's premise was altered slightly for its western release, but is generally centered around the exploits of the Gunstars, a mercenary family out to stop the Empire, a dictatorship that seeks to revive an ancient weapon by using the power of four gems hidden throughout the planet. It has been listed among the best video games of all time by various publications.
Gunstar Heroes is a run-and-gun side-scrolling shooter much in the vein of Contra. The playable characters, Red and Blue, represent different control schemes: Red being free shot, which allows the player to move freely while shooting; and Blue being Fixed Shot, which makes the player stay fixed in one spot while firing. There are four different basic weapon types the player can choose from at the beginning of the game: Force, which fires a rapid series of small bullets; Lightning, which fires straight lasers that pierce through enemies; Chaser, which fires stars that home in on enemies; and Flame, a short range flamethrower that is very powerful. These weapons are dropped as power-ups throughout the game, and the player may hold onto two at a time. By combining two weapons, a new weapon can be formed. For example, combining Lightning and Flame results in a short range beam weapon that ignores most collision from walls and enemies. Counting the basic weapons, there are a total of 14 different possible weapons in the game. In addition to using weapons, the player can engage enemies in close quarters combat. Enemies can be tossed, and other moves can be performed, such as sliding and jumping attacks, and a long-range skid.
The first four stages of the game can be played in any order from a stage select screen. Unlike most games in the genre, the player has life in the form of a numerical health counter. However, the player only has one life, although there are unlimited continues. The game's main focus is on its boss encounters, which are often made up of multiple sprites allowing for fluid movement and simulated scaling and rotation. There are often multiple bosses per stage, each with their own special moves and abilities.
The game's backstory concerns an evil organization that created an extremely powerful robot, Golden Silver, for use as a weapon to destroy civilization from the moon. Through the efforts of the Gunstar family: twin brothers Red and Blue; sister Yellow; and older brother Green, Golden Silver is defeated and the four gems that served as its power source were taken and hidden throughout the Earth. The Gunstars, exhausted, seal themselves in stasis pods on the moon while civilization rebuilds itself. As time passes, Golden Silver begins to be seen as a God that will lead righteous people to paradise. General Gray, leader of a dictatorship known as the 'Empire', sends an expedition to the moon in order to excavate the four gems and awaken Golden Silver, so that he can use the android's power to rule over the planet. There, the leader of the expedition, Professor Brown, finds the Gunstars in stasis. The Gunstars learn of the Empire's plan, and learn that Green is helping the Empire to resurrect Golden Silver. The Gunstars convince Professor Brown to betray the Empire and help them stop the revival of Golden Silver.
Red and Blue journey to recover the gems with the aid of Yellow and Professor Brown. In their quest to obtain the gems, Red and Blue encounter and defeat General Grey's four lieutenants: The diva Pink and her henchmen Kain and Kotaro at an archaeological dig site; the mind-controlled Green and his shape-shifting robot Seven Force in an underground railway mine; military-man Orange at a launch base, and inventor and gambler Black in his mysterious Dice Palace. Grey's second-in-command, Smash Daisaku, continually challenges Red and Blue throughout the game.
After securing the last gem, the Gunstars return to base to find Professor Brown tied up and Yellow kidnapped by General Grey, who demands the gems in return for her safety. The Gunstars fight their way to the launch bay of the Empire's capital space ship, the Ark, where Smash Daisaku challenges Red and Blue to a final fight. He is defeated, but manages to get Yellow at gunpoint. Red and Blue surrender the gems to Grey, who releases Yellow and sets off on the Ark for the planet's moon, where Golden Silver is sealed away. The Gunstars commandeer a small ship to chase after the Ark, and after defeating Seven Force again, board the Ark just as it lands on the moon's surface. Red and Blue destroy the ship's core, and make their way to the bridge, where Grey once again sends his lieutenants to defeat Red and Blue. Each of the lieutenants is defeated, culminating in a final duel with Green. Red and Blue knock him unconscious, and his mind control device is destroyed. Grey, cornered, attempts to use the Gems to fight the Gunstars, but the gems attack Grey and fly into the chamber where Golden Silver was sealed. Golden Silver awakens and fights Red and Blue, but is ultimately defeated but the robot flees in an attempt to destroy the planet. General Gray and the Empire attempt to stop it, but are obliterated. The Gunstars begin to panic until Green, in his Seven Force and no longer mind-controlled, chooses to fight Golden Silver to atone for his actions while mind-controlled. The Seven Force and Golden Silver collide, and both Green and Golden Silver disappear in the explosion.
According to former Sega of America producer Mac Senour, Treasure's Gunstar Heroes was rejected by twelve of Sega's producers and associate producers, primarily because of its small sprites, before he decided to pick it up and get the game released. He also revealed that he "made only one real change. There's a boss in a military uniform, and in the original version he was Hitler. I asked them to remove the mustache or change the character."
Shortly after its original release, Gunstar Heroes made its way to Sega's handheld machine, Game Gear. The port was handled not by Treasure, but by development house M2. As the console's power could not be matched to that of the Mega Drive, the game was significantly scaled down, stripping its multi-player mode, Black's Dice Maze, and several graphic effects. It does, however, add in a few new features such as a jetpack level and the chance to drive one of the later walker robots from the 16-bit version. The game received a PC port on December 17, 2004 as a part of the Sega Honpo series, titled "Sega Game Honpo Gunstar Heroes" (セガゲーム本舗 ガンスターヒーローズ).
On October 6, 2005, Treasure and Sega released Gunstar Super Heroes, a Gunstar title for the Game Boy Advance. The game makes a few changes to the gameplay, such as having a fixed weapon selection and the addition of 'super' attacks controlled by the trigger. In addition, it presents itself as a distant sequel to the original, but the levels and bosses are remixed and thus gets labeled as a "retelling." On February 23, 2006, Sega released a Treasure-oriented entry in their Sega Ages series for PlayStation 2. Titled Treasure Box (トレジャーボックス toreja bokkusu), it contains Gunstar Heroes prominently (to the extent of it being on the front cover), along with Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier. Treasure Box also contains the various versions of these titles (such as Game Gear versions, versions from different countries and a Japanese prototype, which is essentially a near-final game lacking some polish and functional end stages), as well as digital manuals and other bonus materials.
Gunstar Heroes was released December 11, 2006 in North America on the Wii Virtual Console and December 15, 2006 in Europe. A version for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network was released on June 10, and June 11 in 2009, respectively, with online co-op, leaderboards, and 'improved graphics' via smoothing. However, both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions have reported that the co-op feature is a step backwards from the original, due to the inability to rejoin your partner upon death. Gunstar Heroes debuted on the iOS platform on November 22, 2010. It received a Steam release on January 26, 2011. On September 19, 2012, Gunstar Heroes: Treasure Box was released on the PlayStation Network in Japan.
3D Gunstar Heroes was developed by M2 as part of the 3D Classics series of games for the Nintendo 3DS. It was released in Japan on June 24, 2015, with a release in North America, Europe and Australia on August 20, 2015. It is redesigned to be played with the stereoscopic 3D effects of the 3DS and features two new gameplay modes: Mega Life, which doubles the lives each player has in stock, and All Spec, which allows the player to choose any combination of weapons they want.
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Gunstar Heroes was awarded Best Action Game of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. MegaTech magazine praised the animation and speed of gameplay, and could not think of any downsides to the game.
Retro Gamer often praised the game in its print edition, and also included it among the top ten Mega Drive games in its online version, describing it as an "outrageously good platformer/shooter that features dazzling graphics, a crazy relentless pace and dozens of fantastic boss encounters," featuring "astounding visuals" and "all manner of interesting play mechanics to ensure that every level remains as fresh as a proverbial daisy. If you're after a frenetic blaster then look no further. This is run-n-gun heaven and shouldn't be missed." They furthermore included it among the Game Gear's top ten list as well.
Gunstar Heroes has been listed among the best video games of all time by the following publications: Electronic Gaming Monthly (in 1997, 2001 and 2006), GameFAQs (in 2004, 2005 and 2009), Guinness World Records, IGN (in 2003 and 2005), NowGamer, and Retro Gamer.
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