Gunstar Heroes charged onto the Sega Mega Drive in 1993, significantly marking the début of quirky developer Treasure, having been formed from ex-Konami staff wanting to go it their own way. Often seen floating near to the top of many 'best game ever' lists, Gunstar Heroes is a bona-fide classic of the 16-bit era that's now available to download from the Japanese 3DS eShop.
As 3D Gunstar Heroes is part of Sega's 3D Classics range, the porting duties are once again handled by the experts at M2 who've poured all their usual love, care and attention into this new version. In all fairness, a straight up port would have been just fine; Gunstar Heroes pushed the limit of what could be achieved on Sega's then-aging console, bringing with it a plethora of incredible graphic effects that many didn't think possible. Together with Treasure's unique graphic style, explosive pyrotechnics and not a hint of slowdown, it easy to see how Gunstar Heroes wowed gamers back in the day.
Thankfully, Gunstar Heroes looks just as impressive now on the screen of a Nintendo 3DS, the resolution seemingly a perfect fit for emulating Mega Drive titles. Switch up the 3D slider and it's immediately clear that M2 have thought long and hard about how to retro-fit a stereoscopic effect; most of the time it's rather subtle, but every so often it can be really striking. As an example, during the climb up (and sliding down) of the block shaped steps of the first stage, the sense of depth is fantastic and much more pronounced. For a game that's largely 2D, it's a wonderfully considered implementation.
As usual M2 have added in a fair few extra options and modes, such as emulating the look and feel of old curved CRTs; however, it''s worth noting that there isn't a widescreen option - the game is viewed in 4:3 ratio at all times, (which is also the case with the other Mega Drive 3D Classics). You can even switch between Japanese and 'overseas' game versions, which effectively swaps the text into English, and vice-versa. The storylines are a touch different in translation, but in practice the actual game itself is identical.
One of Gunstar Heroes' key gameplay features is the ability to combine the abilities of the two weapons you're holding in order to create a hybrid. M2 have added a new option that enables the player to permanently hold all four weapon types in both weapon slots, cycling through them with either the left or right trigger. This effectively grants access to all weapon combinations instantly; normally you are restricted by weapon drops and only being able to carry two types at any one time (note; you can carry two of the same type). This actually changes quite dramatically how you approach the game; being able to instantly swap to any attack of your choosing creates many new strategic options.
Another way in which Gunstar Heroes differs from most other run-and-gun shooters (such as the Metal Slug or Contra series) is the use of a life system. When hit you don't die instantly; instead a chunk of life is lost from the meter. This helps Gunstar Heroes feel much more accessible than other games in this genre where one hit deaths can make for a swift game-over. M2 have added the option to double the capacity of your life meter from 100 to 200; however make no mistake, it's still no push-over. That said, combine the new all-weapons option with doubled life meter and suddenly the end game seems much more achievable for new players - especially when used in conjunction with the all-important save state functionality.
A great feature of the original was the simultaneous two player co-op mode, which is also present and correct via local play only (and both players will need a copy of the game). It's totally worth the investment though, as playing together with a friend is a superb experience and there's something very satisfying about chucking your mate into an oncoming enemy.
What's really great about Gunstar Heroes is the variety contained within its classic run, shoot and jump formula; there are many twists and surprises, including a brief spell as a 2D 'shmup' and the infamous Black's dice maze, which sees the player having a quick bout of Mario Party board game madness, throwing a dice to find out their fate. Gunstar Heroes is a superb tour-de-force of variety, incredible graphics and fittingly rousing soundtrack that also happens to be an absolute joy to play in both single and co-operative play.
The new 3DS version brings to the table some well thought out optional tweaks to the gameplay and is immaculately presented, with lovely auto-stereoscopic 3D finishing off the package. Fans of the action genre should be chomping at the bit for the western release and if you've never experienced Treasure's original masterpiece, this represents the perfect opportunity to do so. We'll let you know the confirmed release dates as soon as they are announced, but in the meantime this is definitely a worthy addition for your most-wanted list.
Screenshot credit: Hardcore Gaming 101.