|I haven't played Gunstar Heroes that much, yet (hopefully this will be changing when the PS2 "Treasure Box" compilation comes out), so for now I have to evaluate its miniature offspring, Gunstar Super Heroes, simply on its own merits.|
I've read that it is short. After the intro level, which you can blast through in a couple minutes, you get to go through four stages, in any order. Each stage has multiple levels, but if you figure each level takes an average of two minutes, it doesn't add up to much straight-through time. Then there are two more stages after that, or so I've read, and you're done. Well, not quite: there are two playable characters, and three difficulty levels, and the dialog and even the flow of the levels changes a bit, depending.
But anyway, they say it's short. That's okay with me though, these days--and judging by how much the first few levels have kicked my butt on Normal difficulty, I don't think I'll be blazing through this game quite as fast as some people, anyway.
It's tempting to call it a shooter rather than a platformer; strictly speaking, it's a run-n-gun, but not only do you "gun" a hell of a lot more than in pretty much any other such game, most of the levels also throw some kind of entirely new gameplay mode at you, like the one where you ride a leggy robot at top-speed down a train tunnel, or the one where you rotate on top of a jet, shooting at incoming missiles. Heck, there's one level that really is a vertical shooter, although you can rotate your ship and shoot sideways if you want. It's twitch shooting almost all the way, and you play for score. So, like a good shmup, you can pretty much play the levels over and over, trying to do just a bit better than last time, and the massive variety of gameplay modes greatly exceeds what you find in pretty much any other shooting game...except maybe some earlier Treasure efforts.
This is great for a portable game, especially since it saves high scores per character/level, and lets you replay any completed level, or skip right up to the stage and level you were last at. It's true that it's annoying when the game takes you back through the intro screens after you die--that's really rather unnecessary, you'd think--but aside from that, it's a wonderful pick-up-and-play format.
True to their usual modus operandi, Treasure has a) made the controls a little tricky and b) pulled off some amazing visual effects. The controls pack shooting in any direction, switching weapons, jumping, jump kicking about five different ways, strafing, super-shot firing, normal weapon firing, and melee attacks, plus maybe some other stuff I'm forgetting, all into the GBA's few buttons. This takes some getting used to, but it wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared, once I actually sat down and started playing with it in earnest.
As far as the visuals go, well, it's damn impressive. Huge scaling/rotating multi-part bosses swarm across the screen, explosions obscure everything, backgrounds warp and linescroll, or blaze along at jet speed, and enemies attack en masse, all with nary a hint of slowdown. You wouldn't have thought the GBA had it in it. Good work, lads. The sound is impressive as well, with some nice voice clips from the bosses, and tons of effective laser/explosion/alarm/etc sounds.