Gunslugs 2 goes right for your sense of nostalgia for dumb '80s action movies; we mean dumb in the best possible sense, in terms of those movies with muscle-bound heroes shooting everything and causing enormous explosions. If you're too young to remember that era then, our sympathies, but you can watch The Expendables and imagine that with younger action stars and better one-liners.
Like the movies that inspire it, Gunslugs 2 doesn't have to mean anything, in fact we're not even sure of the story's details beyond "there are bad guys, shoot 'em". It's simple carnage, just the way Sly and Arnie like it.
What this doesn't represent, for those itching for such a thing, is a modern and heavily stylised Contra-style game. That's because Contra demands precision and focus, especially with those one-hit deaths, whereas Gunslugs 2 is rather different. It's far more chaotic, and with a meaty health bar the temptation can be to charge forward indiscriminately like... well, some kind of '80s action hero.
As a result Gunslugs 2 keeps things very simple. You run, jump and shoot from a side-on 2D perspective, with no fancy mechanics like aiming to worry about. Sometimes you'll jump into rocket firing mechs or tanks and ride them for a short spell, and the basic tactic is to charge right, obliterate enemies and grab all the health and ammo that you can, also keeping an eye out for different weapons to nab.
There is a little more complexity and variety on offer, to give this title its dues. The reason you need to grab ammo pick-ups is due to it actually being relatively limited; if you fire indiscriminately when there's no threat you can quite easily find yourself limited to attacking with a knife, which is enjoyable but hardly a long term solution. Weapon pick-ups are pretty darn fun, in any case, with some being powerful enough to obliterate a tank in an nano-second, which is just how it should be.
Across the modest batch of levels in the Story Mode (across seven areas) you have a number of stages in which the goal is to find, enter and blow up towers. These towers are snappy levels of their own with verticality thrown in; you jump on a detonator on the top floor to take the whole thing down. In these towers you can also rescue team mates to build up your cast of heroes, many very obviously referencing the movie stars of the era. The characterisations are fun and they each start off with a unique weapon - the Mr T. wannabe has a flamethrower, so he's officially the best - in addition to a full health bar. When close to death it can be a relief to find a colleague in a tower, when health packs alone aren't quite enough. Outside of towers there are also shops, in which you can also pick up handy health boosts - or an ammo boost - to help you through.
Once you've blown up a few towers you have to "Get to the Chopper" - yep! - and rapidly jump into the next stage. Each of the seven areas naturally also ends with a boss level, and though these have fairly basic patterns the designs are typically over the top and fun.
Across what is a short campaign there's nice variety in environments, taking in a host of action movie tropes along the way. Enemies ramp up too, and a sticking point for some will be dealing with the increased difficulty and chaos of ever more powerful foes. At times there's so much mayhem on screen - especially if you prompt a slow-mo helicopter crash - that it's hard to actually keep track and skilfully avoid damage. Repetition allows you to learn some patterns, however, and as the levels are very short and checkpoints are instantaneous - which it no doubt owes to its smart device origins - it's always just a matter of persistence to progress.
Another factor is that levels are randomly generated, though clearly within parameters to also ensure the campaign steadily increases in difficulty. For those on the edge of dying rather often there's the prospect of a potentially kinder batch of villains, though on the flipside sometimes enemy placements or combinations are created in excessively cruel ways. As it's such a short game, however, this approach was definitely the right call and keeps things interesting.
With campaign progress you'll eventually unlock the full cast, and you can choose any you please when jumping into modes. Beyond the story there's the Daily Challenge, which can be hit and miss, in addition to the Arcade Mode in which you chase a high score with just one life from the start of the main campaign. The absence of online leaderboards - or offline for that matter - to join the Arcade mode is disappointing however, so it's really only there for those that want to test themselves and beat the game with zero deaths. That's a challenge for the ages, frankly.
What Gunslugs 2 on 3DS has over its smart device versions is top-notch physical controls, with tight response in movement. This is helped by an impressive framerate, which only dipped a few times for us when explosions were a little too crazy - not all of it was intentional slowdown, but it was never a notable problem. The 3D effect is also rather impressively done; they help the chunky - and occasionally messy - visuals pop nicely, and we had that slider all the way up when playing. Special mention must also go to the music; there's not much of it but that doesn't matter, as it complements the action well and sounds fantastic.
Ultimately Gunslugs 2 is a solid game for short pick-up-and-play sessions. Its chaotic approach and slightly scruffy nature works nicely in brief high-tempo blasts, and though the Story mode is short it's just the sort of title we can envisage getting fired up for semi-regular 15 minute sessions. After all, blowing stuff up as a little pixelated Sly Stallone is as fun as it sounds.
Gunslugs 2 is a welcome addition to the 3DS eShop, providing enjoyable short bursts of mayhem. There's little thought or strategy required as you gun down foes and cause enormous explosions, meaning it's utterly mindless fun. It's not necessarily the most solid gameplay experience on an objective level, with the chaos being occasionally tough to manage or understand, but it's a good way to have some quick thrills on the portable.