Gunstar Super Heroes Feature Preview

We get an exclusive look at Sega and Treasure's revival of the 16-bit classic.

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The last time Sega and Treasure teamed up for a Game Boy Advance game, the pairing produced 2D magic with Astro Boy: Omega Factor. The excellent side-scrolling action game wound up giving gamers warm fuzzies with its razor-sharp gameplay and visuals that were a potent reminder of Treasure's skill with 2D. One of the reasons the game made such a positive impression with players was its similarities to one of Treasure's 16-bit classics for the Sega Genesis, Gunstar Heroes. Fans who have been nostalgic for that game are getting the mother of all treats with Gunstar Super Heroes, a sequel to the 12-year-old Genesis game. After getting a tantalizing taste of what the game had to offer at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, we recently had the chance to get an exclusive look at a localized near-final version of it to see if Treasure's still got it.

 Gunstar Super Heroes brings back the run and gun gameplay of yesteryear on the GBA.
Gunstar Super Heroes brings back the run and gun gameplay of yesteryear on the GBA.

Gunstar Super Heroes picks up after the successful events of the original game in which a pair of heroes saved Earth from the evil Destructor. Following an epic battle on the moon, where the villain was dispatched in a mighty explosion, four moons were created around Earth. As time passed, life returned to normal, and the people of Earth colonized the moons. A golden era of prosperity set in. But, like all good things, the era appears to be coming to an end, with the appearance of a fifth moon in the skies above Earth. The man-made creation is the product of an evil empire bent on reviving the Destructor. The key to its plans is a recently discovered artifact known as the megalith. However, the forces of evil aren't going to go unopposed, thanks to an elite peacekeeping unit known as 3YE, code-named the Gunstar Super Heroes after the mysterious duo that first saved the world. The tale is the perfect setup for what you would want out of a Gunstar sequel--an excuse to race around shooting things.

The structure is laid out a lot like in the original game in that you'll travel to each of the moons in search of the treasure gems, which you'll be able to use to stop the empire's plans. You'll start out on Earth, and once you've cleared the level, you can choose which of the four moons you want to go to. Each moon will be made up of multipart stages that will lead you to a final confrontation with that moon's boss. Once you've acquired all your gems, it's on to face the main heavy and save the world. You'll find two paths through the game--red and blue, depending on your choice of playable color-coded Gunstar. Each character has a slightly different story to discover as you make your way through the game. And you can choose from three difficulty levels: easy, normal, and hard.

You'll find some cool homages to the original game as you play.
You'll find some cool homages to the original game as you play.

The levels will offer a good deal of variety to keep the experience feeling fresh. In addition to the expected side-scrolling shooting sequences, some of which include slick homages to the original game, you'll find some cool nods to some classic Sega games. We won't ruin the surprise, but if you keep a sharp eye out, you'll experience some déjà vu as you make your way through the game.

The gameplay in Gunstar Super Heroes walks the line between staying true to the simple run-and-gun mechanics of its predecessor and making some changes to the winning formula that has made the Genesis game an enduring classic. The basic controls are easy enough to pick up. You'll move with the D pad, jump with A, and attack with B. The nice twist to the control scheme is that the B button serves several attack purposes. If you tap B lightly you'll perform a melee attack, but if you hold it down you'll fire your weapon. In addition, pressing up on the D pad and tapping B will perform an uppercut, while holding down and B will perform a powerslide.

The visuals are, in a word, stunning. Treasure's development teams, arguably the most proficient folks to wield a sprite, coax amazing visuals out of the GBA hardware that surpass the work seen in Astro Boy. You'll see well-animated character sprites, massive bosses with independently animating limbs, impressive special effects, and crazy scaling--all at blistering speeds with nary a hint of slowdown. More importantly, you'll be facing off against a seemingly never-ending stream of foes.

The audio is solid, with catchy tunes that recall those heard in the original game. The soundtrack is punctuated by a bevy of effects for weapons and the many satisfying explosions, more often than not caused by you. There's even some voice tossed in for dramatic effect. The only, very minor, negative point to note is that the voice is a bit too retro in quality and not quite up to par with some of the speech we've heard in other GBA games.

You'll see some impressive 2D visuals on the GBA.
You'll see some impressive 2D visuals on the GBA.

It shouldn't surprise you to hear that we're quite taken with Gunstar Super Heroes. It looks to be a gem of a 2D experience and should please fans hankering for a great action game for their underused GBAs. Obviously we would have loved to see some sort of multiplayer option for the game, but we suppose there had to be something left for the sequel. If you're a fan of Treasure or just love 2D action games, Gunstar Super Heroes will be the game to get this fall. It's fast and fun, and it looks great. Gunstar Super Heroes is currently slated to ship this October

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