Gunstar Super Heroes – Second Opinion

Comparing Gunstar Super Heroes to We Love Katamari doesn't make much sense to me. They are both cash-in sequels that rehash their originals, but I think there's a big difference between a rehash that comes out 12 months later and one that comes out 12 years later. Half the kids who own GBAs now probably weren't even born when people like Andrew and myself experienced Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Genesis. I think it's a little ruthless to hold Gunstar Super Heroes accountable for every transgression against originality it makes. Maybe within the vacuum-sealed world of Treasure fandom Gunstar Super Heroes isn't what it could have been. But for the rest of us it's quite a fine game, full of thrills, humor, and style.

I didn't find my enthusiasm for the Gunstar Super Heroes draining every time I noticed something familiar. In fact, my biggest criticism is something I missed from the original: throwing. Probably the most memorable aspect of Gunstar Heroes was how it allowed the player to interact with objects that traditionally resulted in instant death. Being able to catch a grenade and throw it back into a stunned soldier's face was one of its many unique pleasures. This element is sadly missing from Gunstar Super Heroes, replaced instead by a sword that consolidates all melee possibilities into slashing. I was put off by this change at first, but as I played I realized that its limited focus resulted in a more balanced experience. Recycled elements or not, Gunstar Super Heroes has got to be one of the most user-friendly Treasure games I've played. It eschews the sadistic difficulty of Ikaruga for an experience one could actually expect a human being to finish. I found it a pleasure to play through Gunstar Super Heroes on every difficulty mode, and I still experience the urge to pick it up now and again.

Gunstar Super Heroes does revisit many concepts from the Genesis version, though it manages to put a new spin on most of them. The design aesthetic of Gunstar Heroes has always been largely hardware-driven. The original pushed the Genesis hardware in ways you didn't know were possible. Gunstar Super Heroes does the same for the GBA, making excessive use of scaling, rotation, and every other effect Nintendo's portable can muster. Horizon lines explode into fire. Spaceships zoom through spinning vortexes of space debris. This is all stuff that wasn't possible on the Genesis. The result feels like an alternate version of the original Gunstar Heroes, an experiment to see how the same concepts would play out if molded to different hardware. I wouldn't call the new version superior to the original, but I do find it stylish and engaging in its own way.

Gunstar Super Heroes is like a classic song covered by a contemporary band. Some fans of the original might like it and some might not. I happen to like it a lot. I understand why fans yearning for a true sequel might be disappointed. On the other hand, I found it pretty easy to warm up to the idea of a whip-smart remake as appealing as this. Gunstar Super Heroes manages to bring much of the thrilling style and manic humor of its legacy to the contemporary GBA audience. Given the decade long gap, I think we can forgive Treasure's impulse to play favorites. If Gunstar Super Heroes does nothing more than to remind us why its namesake was such a favorite to begin with, it'll have done an admirable service. Rating: 8 out of 10.