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RELEASE DATE (JP): January 31, 1997 GENRE: Action-Adventure
// review by Jeff

Proof positive.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES has been widely lauded as being one of the finest adventures ever to grace the console. Some Zelda fans consider it to the series' finest hour, though Ocarina of Time fanatics will likely give them the stink eye. Its smooth and clever blend of sword-swinging action, world exploration, and dungeon puzzle-solving made it an irresistible gem. But this isn't a review of any Zelda game — so what the heck am I even talking about this for? It's quite simple: put a cowboy hat on Link and a revolver in his hand, and you have Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof, a late entry into the console's library and a Japanese exclusive we outsiders had the unfortunate luck of never playing.

Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof (where the first word is actually just a portmanteau of "Gunman's" and "Proof", making it a very redundant title) was developed by Lenar, a company with a supposedly very spotty resume whose final game was actually this one. Who can help but love a company whose first game is called "Bird Week"?

They then followed up with a game everybody lovesloathes from the NES library: Deadly Towers. Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof is essentially Lenar's swan song (unrelated to any birds from the above image), and it was a positive way to go out because I must say, I had a pretty good time with this adventure.

So strap on your boots because you're about to go on a journey! A-way back in 1880, meteorites fall from the sky and land in the American West — probably somewhere near Texas, as everyone seems to be cowfolk around there, and the only town within 100 miles is called "Bronco Village". Monsters are also appearing, bearing crests labeled "Demiseed". As a young and seemingly inept li'l pardner wanders outside the village (to the dismay of his worrisome mother and rather abusive father) to see what all the fussin' is about, he soon discovers a UFO crash-landing in the nearby field. Two aliens, Zero and Garo, emerge and explain that they are on the hunt for the space criminal Demi, and that he is hiding somewhere on Earth. The planet's atmosphere is not really suitable for foreign entities, and Zero requests that he inhabit the young boy's body during his lengthy search for Demi. The boy surprisingly agrees without giving it much thought, and so the two connect and set about their task.

Right away, the comparisons to Link to the Past make themselves clear. Your quest is an overhead perspective similar to that of Zelda. The overworld has similar physical properties, including cliffs that the boy can hop from. Chests are fairly abundant; opening them gives the boy reason to lift the treasure over his head as a pleasant (and relatively long) jingle plays. He has a life meter that grows similarly to that of Link, extending only when he finds Heart Cont—I mean, "Zeal Coins", which don't look like coins at all. More like just red orbs. He has to hunt down different dungeons all around the area with layouts similar to those of Zelda (even the maps of those dungeons bear a striking resemblance), navigate them, and defeat the grumpy boss within. Indeed, the general structure of the game remains the same as Link to the Past.

That doesn't mean, however, that it's a carbon copy. Great lengths have been taken to ensure this isn't a mere clone, to be tossed to the wolves like a pitiful six-minute Apple Store hack job of a popular franchise. Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof has more than enough charm to hold its own. Perhaps the main difference is in the gameplay itself. Our hero (let's give him a name... how about Lloyd?) isn't packing a sword at all. It's the Wild Wild West, so he has to pack a gun! Shooting in 8 different directions definitely puts a spin on your strategy, making it easier to attack enemies from a distance, keeping yourself safe. Over time, you'll gain access to additional sub-weapons, although like a Castlevania game, you can only hold one at a time. This includes machine guns, a flamethrower, and a bazooka. You know, stuff from the 19th century. [cue sarcastic face] Lloyd can also toss bombs, but he's not really inclined to hold that many. And for all you Chuck Norris fans out there (I believe there are still around 4 of those), you can use those fists of fury to knock out enemies if you're up for a close-quarters melee.

Awwww... shoot.

And the game is far more comical. Everyone speaks with some sort of accent, typically that of a rootin' tootin' Westerner, and they often have something silly to say. It's not all hilarious, as the one salesman in town (who actually doesn't have much to sell) speaks in a bit of a racist Chinese accent with broken English. What exactly he was doing there in 1880 is anyone's guess.

But none of this... NONE of this... compares to Robaton. He's the top reason to try out this game. Robaton is a mule inhabited by the spirit of Mono, an alien sheriff who came to Earth ahead of the others in search of Demi. He wants to be called "Robaton" for reasons unknown, and he's a decent comic relief. More importantly, he's a fine temporary method of transportation! If a defeated enemy leaves behind a carrot (I'm not sure why so many aliens are wielding vegetables), pick it up and Robaton will come a-runnin'! Suddenly, you're a powerhouse! Ride that mule and bowl down enemies without question! It doesn't last very long, and you can't open chests or enter doorways while mounted, but I had a goofy rush of adrenaline atop that mighty beast!

This isn't to say the game isn't without its flaws. For one thing, the dungeons are almost sickening simple. There's really no way to get lost. They're too straightforward to be considered a maze, and enemies drop enough health apples to make navigation a breeze. The boss battles are usually the most difficult part. Luckily, Gunman's Proof has a life system, so losing all your health in battle doesn't mean it's over; you'll just lose a life. It's a similar insurance system to having potions in bottles, but it's an automatic revival, so there's no need to worry about fiddling with an inventory system at the last minute. Actually, there's no inventory to deal with at all! Granted, Lloyd can hold things, but anything he's got is automatically used, so item management isn't an issue.

The game's presentation style won't astound you, but it's far from unpleasant. Everything has a simplified cartoon visual style to it, with different townsfolk and enemies each bearing their own unique appearance, as opposed to generic NPCs. I'm reminded of Earthbound in its modesty. The soundtrack also has a certain Earthbound vibe to it as well with a hint of Illusion of Gaia, though mostly a blend of Western-style tunes and tension-filled dungeon themes. The theme to your home town and Robaton's song will probably be the most memorable. Don't you dare turn down that volume!

Gunman's Proof was released very late in the Super Famicom's lifespan, and it was likely passed over for that reason, what with the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 dominating the markets at that point. (Hey, what about the Sega Saturn! It!) But I think Western audiences would have really enjoyed this game. Even though it's somewhat derivative of Zelda, there's a certain fresh feel to it as well. Plus, I think I'd want a break from Western shooter games on the SNES that weren't first-person blast-a-thons. An English patch translation exists for those who want to give this a go, but for the rest, Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof remains an ace in the hole.

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