Run-and-gun shooter classic Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Mega Drive is the story about the heroic Gunstars, a family of gun-wielding mercenaries fighting against an evil Empire bent of reviving an ancient weapon capable of giving it immense power and influence over the world. Developed by Treasure and published by Sega in September 1993, Gunstar Heroes is considered by many game critics to be among the greatest games of all time on any system and most assuredly one of the best ever for the Sega Mega Drive.
Though inspired by games such as Konami’s Contra, Gunstar Heroes maintains a brighter look and a different, more arcade-oriented feel in its gameplay with less emphasis on bizarre looking enemies and an increased focus on bottle hell-style playing. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Konami’s aesthetic, it’s just that Gunstar Heroes is decidedly different and this is apparent from the first moment. But you shouldn’t discredit the game because of its graphics because underneath the bright exterior lurks a behemoth of a game.
The two player characters, Red and Blue, have different shooting styles, with Red being a free-moving shooter while Blue has to remain in place while firing his gun known as free shot and fixed shot respectively. There are four basic weapon types that players can choose at the beginning of the game – Force, Lightning, Chaser, and Flame – with chances during the stage to get other weapons, two of which may be in the player’s possession at any time. Gamers can also combine weapon types for different effects, all of which plays into the strategy of the game.
When you include the basic weapons, there are 14 total weapons when used in combination with each other, each with different benefits depending on your play style. If enemies get up close and personal then you also have the option of employing melee attacks, jumps, slides, and throws to get rid of your opponent. The variety in terms of combat and how you tackle various situations in the game makes it endlessly compelling and the fluidity of it all is true case study in how to execute gameplay properly. Not to mention the bright, colorful graphics, booming sound effects, and appropriately themed score to go along with the whole experience.
Of course playing the game alone is an experience, but what is multiplayer like? A fully cooperative mode that mimics the single player experience, Gunstar Heroes is again one of the best co-op games around. Not only does it handle all of the action with aplomb but it never stops being fun for either player.
Treasure is often noted for its mastery of the video game making craft, and Gunstar Heroes puts this prowess on display in thoroughly unquestionable ways. There is a plot and, for the day, it was an serviceable if largely forgettable aspect of the game which is an overall masterpiece. When someone talks about how gameplay overcomes everything else, look no further than Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Mega Drive.