With the handheld market quickly evolving with better, faster, more powerful hardware, it's been a very long time since Game Boy Advance developers have "wowed" us. Even though Game Boy Advance hardware is still as limiting as it's been since it was created nearly a half decade ago, gamer expectations are continuing to rise, and it's going to take something really, truly special on the GBA to make us sit up and say, "Holy crap!"
That's exactly what Gunstar Super Heroes does. This is old-school run/jump/blasting action, but with a high level of energy thanks to the development team's bells-and-whistles presentation. This is a GBA game that pulls off every sprite trick in the book to wow the gamer, pushing the handheld hardware every which way possible. But even though a lot of the focus was put on graphic techniques, gameplay doesn't sit on the sideline -- Gunstar Super Heroes is enormously fun with a game structure that throws a whole lot of variety at the gamer. This game is a huge blast to play.
And this isn't nostalgia speaking, either. Granted, Gunstar Heroes is one of those "must play" games that Treasure created on the Genesis more than a decade ago, and it's seen by gamers as the development team's finest hour. I, however, have never experienced the wonders of the original Gunstar Heroes. And if Gunstar Super Heroes is anything to go by, I may have to track down a copy of the game that inspired this sequel.
Essentially, Gunstar Super Heroes picks up after the end of Gunstar Heroes, and puts players in control of the uniquely named Red and Blue. That's their names. Really. Red wears Red, Blue wears
you get the picture Both characters are essentially the same dude with similar abilities and challenges, though each has his own unique weaponry and handling. The game begins with a very Contra-inspired side-scrolling design which is the main portion of the production. Players run through enemy-filled territory blasting their guns or punching/slashing them up close using simple old-school control.
The first level is merely a taste of the game design. Players will experience so much variety around this theme that it's staggering to see levels jump from side-scrolling action to Mode 7-based platform jumping to a top-down shooter design inspired by Sega's own Thunder Blade. The designers throw in a ton of references to games either A) Treasure team members have worked on in the past, or B) Classic Sega arcade games. Even though the design jumps around like a bunny on caffeine, most of the game remains fun all the way through. There are some levels that aren't quite as fulfilling or challenging as ones before it, overall the action is incredibly satisfying and amazing to experience on such a tiny handheld system. And even when it's over, players still have a lot to shoot for with score and time trial rankings recorded to cartridge.
Treasure clearly learned a lot about the Game Boy Advance hardware and 2D game design over the past few years, and the evolution from the team's sloppy first batch of games (Tiny Toons, Advance Guardian Heroes) works to Gunstar Super Heroes' advantage. If you thought the team's Astro Boy: Omega Force was an incredible GBA experience, you'll be amazed with this one. This game wouldn't be nearly as fun or energetic without the team's insistence of being over the top and excessive in its visuals. There's so much zooming, scaling, and rotation going on, and the game never chugs when there's a half-dozen characters jumping around the screen at the same time. The only thing missing here is a cooperative multiplayer option, because it seems like a missed opportunity what with two characters to play and its Contra-inspired game design.
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