Gunstar Heroes was the foremost release from Treasure, renowned purveyors of balls-out gaming insanity. (These are the guys, after all, who decided a gargantuan anthropomorphic chicken-beast with a vast array of futuristic weaponry was entirely sensible. Once you see it cruising along on some kind of ship piloted by a hamster-thing, you know it’s time to open a window, it’s getting pretty insane in here. I do sometimes wonder what these Japanese developers have been smoking/drinking/generally ingesting:
“Hey, let’s give him a jetpack, powered by earthworm turds. He can then be attacked by a swarm of woodlice in miniature suits of armour, shields decorated with a crest depicting a lion playing with its balls and drinking a beer as Mrs. Lion looks on, ashamed of her loutish husband. Are you ready for this next idea? Brace yourself, because you may shit. The whole level -get this!- could take place in the huge sweaty asshole of a whale!”
“Terrific, I’m writing all this down... -the scrawl on the notepad reads: this bastard’s nuts- Still, maybe you should put down that saké bottle, man. I daresay you’ve had enough.”)
This run and gun Genesis title from 1993 was a real revelation, and an example of a retro game that appears to have aged gracefully. In the gaming world, you’ll often find ancient titles abandoned, unloved, in the old folks home. They’re the ones screeching incoherently that their ungrateful sons don’t visit them any more, while ensconced in a piss-soaked blanket. Gunstar Heroes, by contrast, is the awesome old dude, who wisely took up tap dancing or su doku or something. As such, his brain hasn’t melted into a pathetic shrivelled raisin turd, the likes of which rabbits enjoy leaving in woodland areas for unsuspecting ramblers to tread upon. On the contrary, Gunstar Heroes remains quite the catch today, when he takes the time to dye the insidious invasion of grey from his hair. The George Clooney of gaming, essentially. Here’s why it remains my favourite game, almost a decade and a half later.
The story sees the Gunstars, Red and Blue, set out to collect four special gems. These are the power source for a funky robot with terrible hair whose name eludes me. Suffice it to say, he’s a big bastard who hefted me into the air effortlessly and punched me in my poor heroic nutsack several times at the end of the game. As such, I’m going to add his name to my list of evil, alongside Emperor Palpatine, Hitler, Justin Bieber and hot weather that makes my balls sweat.
The level design that constitutes Gunstar Heroes is some of the most innovative and extraordinary I have yet seen. One area is set entirely in an expansive mine of mass evisceration. Your bizarre little vehicle enables you to switch from the track atop the screen to the one that runs below at will. The vapid villains that are your opponents don’t seem aware of this fact, as you see in this image.
“That red guy is reducing everyone up there to a pitiful heap of mangled ‘nads and other such squelchy viscera! It’s like a freaking bomb went off up there! A bomb of, you know, bloody stuff. Like... blood and such.”
“I know,” the dude just in front of him replies. “Who’s going to clean all that nasty shit off the ceiling? I’m damn well not.”
Red switches track, and blows both the ass off of both of these fatuous morons while they continue to chatter inanely.
Moreover, the mine is home to the magnificent metamorphosis shenanigans of Seven Force. Surely one of the most memorable and enduring bosses you’ll encounter, if a little esoteric. Just look at it in this footage from ProjectTerra, it’s like something from Transformers. Without the terminal case of sucking:
Other notable encounters include a tree that fires giant balls of yellow shit and mutant caterpillars at you. By the logic-vacuum standards of Gunstar Heroes, though, that’s as normal as needing to get up for a piss as soon as you settle into bed. (I’m hoping that isn’t just me. One of these nights, I’ll just not bother. It’s one way to keep you warm on chilly nights, if you don’t mind the accompanying moistness/stench/feeling of mucho shame.) My favourite aspect of the game, boss battles aside, is the preposterous dice maze. One of your opponents created this abomination, presumably after a month-long brainstorming session: what would be the biggest ass-pain in the universe ever conceived by mortal man? Something that’d make you want to tie your nuts in a knot just thinking about it? Let’s make something even more of a bitch than that. Starting out as a regular level, you quickly discern that the very asshole of Hell has opened its putrid, shit-encrusted sphincter and engulfed you. A hefty dice-flailing ballache awaits, punctuated by a halfwit miniboss every eight seconds or so. When you do eventually reach the last battle, and plant your jackbooted foot in the bad guy’s plums with such vehemence that they come off and adhere to a nearby tree with a sickening splatter, you’ll definitely have right on your side.
Why, then, did I enjoy the dice maze? For the very same reason one of the first games I ever played is still the one I revere the most: I’d never seen anything like it. I still haven’t. Gunstar Heroes is a remarkable, timeless experience, combining odd and seemingly disparate elements to great effect. I’m a real admirer of originality and imagination, and this Genesis title has shitloads of such. It’s a brief game you can finish within an hour, but you can also do so numerous times and see a new little crazy touch with each playthrough. I only wish more of today’s developers would show the same degree of creativity in their work.
Finally behold the juxtaposition of wonder and horrifying terrible that is the dice maze, recorded by smoke072. In which the player is savagely attacked by disembodied facial features. Not a head, mark you. Not even a face, floating about and flapping freely in the wind, all blood-droplets and unpleasantness. Just eyes, nose, teeth, and murderous fury:
Article by Chris Littlechild
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