Default Prime


The Bitereon Collection: 06 – ‘Gunstar Heroes’ (Genesis, 1993)

The Bitereon Collection is a series on Default Prime that seeks to catalog the most important, interesting, and entertaining video games out there.  These are the games you should be playing, whether you know it or not.  These are the games that define the people who make them.  These are the games that define the people who play them.  These are the games that define video games as an art form.  Once a week, a new game will be inducted into the collection.

Everybody loves a good run-and-gun game.  If you grew up in a Nintendo house, then you played Contra.  If you were a kid of the arcades, it was all about Metal Slug.  But if you had a Sega Genesis then you played Gunstar Heroes.  Now here’s a crazy game for you.  Red and Blue’s long lost brother is helping the evil Smash Daisaku (who looks mysteriously like M. Bison) in his evil plot to take over the world.  The story doesn’t really matter here, as it’s the gameplay of Gunstar Heroes that sets it apart.  The game is developed by legendary studio Treasure, a company birthed from ex-employees of Konami, and that influence can definitely be seen throughout the game.

The game is a basic run-and-gun ballistic adventure, but like most Treasure games, there’s a huge twist on the concept.  There are four different types of guns in the game, ranging from a flame thrower to a laser, but the catch is that you can combine two of the weapons to make a whole new one (or two of the same to make an even stronger one).  Maybe you want a rapidly firing machine gun?  Or a laser that homes in on any enemy on screen?  Or just a flamethrower that spans the entire space of the screen?  It’s all up to you and part of the strategy of the game—it’s not likely that you’ll ever see the game played the same way twice.

The moment you start up the game, you realize this sh*t is straight nanners.

Treasure makes sure you get the most mileage of these mechanics by doing something different in every stage.  The first stage has you sliding down the surface of a giant pyramid while the next has you speeding down a mineshaft for the entirety of the level.  The coup de gras comes near the end when one of the villains makes you fight through his board game maze to reach him—each room is a different test of your skills, both combative and platforming, and is complex enough to be an entire game on its own.  There’s no doubt that the sights in Gunstar Heroes helps to cement it in the memory of anyone who dares to play it.

From an artistic standpoint, it’s arguable that Gunstar Heroes doesn’t really do anything significant.  But it is certainly an amazing action game.  To me, the best action games manage to consistently show you something new and exciting with expert pacing.  Newer games like God of War and Modern Warfare do this, and Gunstar Heroes does as well.  While much of the time, the entire screen might be swamped with enemies, the game shines in this respect during its harrowing setpieces and bizarre boss fights.  Anyone who’s played the game certainly has not, and can not, forget the giant sand block boss.  On a system that couldn’t tout Mode 7 as one of its killer specs, Treasure really made some memorable pseudo-3D effects on the Genesis.

One of the most bizarre and memorable moments of the game sees the whole thing turn into a child's board game, die and all.

Lucky for you, Gunstar Heroes is an extremely easy game to get a hold of these days.  While original copies on the Genesis might not be floating around as readily as some other Sega titles, if you manage to stumble across one, it won’t put you back a lot.  On the other hand, the game can be easily played on most modern systems.  The game was not included on the phenomenal Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the 360 and PS3, but can still be downloaded on both systems for a measly five bucks in addition to Steam on the PC.  It also is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console as well as a superb remake/sequel on the Gameboy Advance, Gunstar Super Heroes.  Sega has done an exceptional job at making this forgotten gem remembered, and if you have yet to check it out, it’s highly advised that you do.  Especially if you were a huge fan of games like Contra and Metal Slug and especially if you’ve never played a game by Treasure before.  You’ll be in for quite a treat.  And if already have played Gunstar Heroes, but it’s been a while, go dig out your old copy or download a new one.  You might be surprised with how well it ultimately holds up.

Past Entries

05: ActRaiser
04: World of Goo

03: Rhythm Tengoku
02: Bionic Commando (1988)
01: LSD 

John-Charles is an avid video game enthusiast who loves games with strong story, smart design, and a lick of fun. He's very hopeful for the future where others are doubtful and looks back on retro games with fond memories. With a long history with games, both old and new, he tends to Defaullt Prime's veritable museum of games, The Bitereon Collection, with a new entry every week. He's also a studying engineer turned communications with an eye for design. He also thinks cartoons are neat.

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