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RELEASE DATE (JP): March 24, 1995 GENRE: Action/Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

As good as Gunstar Grandma used to make.

Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Genesis was a diamond in the rough, subsequently considered one of the greatest games of the console's library and even is ranked highly amongst the greatest games of all time. Its manic run-and-gun shooting action pushed the Genesis hard and established Treasure as a worthy developer.

But wait! HOLLLLLLLLD up! What about that OTHER Sega console, the Game Gear? We can't forget about THAT! In March of 1995, about a year and a half after its Japanese release on the Mega Drive (the Sega Genesis), M2 developed a Game Gear version for Japan only. As the Genesis game got the most out of its hardware, Gunstar Heroes on a portable system certainly couldn't reach the same plateaus. Yet despite being stripped down, it's still a worthy experience and a highlight of the Game Gear library.

Similar to the Contra series, Gunstar Heroes is a run-and-gun shooter where you have to move through a variety of stages, shooting your way through a slew of enemies, as well as several interesting bosses. One of Gunstar Heroes' biggest draws is its weapon customization system, where you can combine different types of weapons (force, lightning, fire, and chaser — that last one being a personal favourite) to create different results, ten different combinations in all. For example, combining Fire and Chaser allows you to shoot a giant homing fireball; whereas two Lightning orbs combine to create quite a light show of lightning! (Makes sense.) Beyond physical weapons, you can also use physical force, throwing your enemies like chicken wings into a bucket ( do that) or body slamming them into the ground like chicken wings into a bucket.

I'm hungry.

Yes, I admit it, I like the double homing attack. A LOT.

The game runs rather well on the Game Gear, much better than I anticipated. The frame rate's lower, but all the fast-paced action feels just as quick on the Game Gear. The creative bosses are just as wild here, although I'll admit the final boss of the game is far tamer and less active overall. To compensate for good performance, parts of the original were removed, most notably the entire stage of Black's Dice Game, which I considered a neat highlight. There is something unique to this version: a short part of a stage where you actually drive a giant mech and shoot lasers all over the place. It's a quality addition that shows M2 knew they were making sacrifices and wanted to offer something of value in its place.

Despite its slimming down, Gunstar Heroes is exactly what you want on the go: fast-paced relentless action that still manages to surprise the eyes. The Game Gear's lower tech level doesn't prevent large bosses or speed-laden scenes to appear; the bosses are just as impressive as on the Genesis, if not more so. M2 did a great job at the conversion. I can't exactly say the same for the music, which grates on the ears a bit more, but blame that on the ol' Gear's sound chip. Just turn the music down and crank up a Lizzo album like all the cool kids are doing these days.

If you can get your hands on a Game Gear and a copy of this, you'll likely have a great time. Considering it was a Japan-only release, it feels as though American and European audiences alike were both snubbed and robbed of one of the better games of a library that was already teetering in favour of poor quality.

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