Gunstar Super Heroes (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Caleb

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Introduction

Those of you who owned a Genesis system back in the early 90's might remember a little gem of an action platformer known as Gunstar Heroes. At the time it was one of the best reasons to own Sega's system, and was an excellent game in every sense of the word. Its fans waited years for the sequel, but as time went on it became fairly clear that Sega wasn't interested. Until now. Gunstar Super Heroes breaks its way onto the Gameboy Advance in a fully stunning performance. This game will be largely ignored due to the decreasing interest in the aged GBA platform, but that's no reason not to look into this amazing piece of work.

Gameplay

Being an action platformer, gameplay is obviously the most important factor in Gunstar Super Heroes. And gameplay it is. Never have I experienced a more addictive, more accessible handheld game than Gunstar Super Heroes. The game beings with a brief intro describing the previous game, then jumps right into the action with no explanation of how on earth you're supposed to fight.

But that's the beauty of it: no explanation is needed. The gameplay is so streamlined and the controls so perfect that it just seems natural. Within seconds you know how to get your way around and beat up the bad guys, of which you'll be fighting hundreds in the first few minutes. Ranging from simple grunts to robots taller than skyscrapers, these enemies just keep swarming you at every point. There's never a dull moment, and the action is so well-integrated that you won't even notice the level progression.

It's not until after you've beaten the first level that you realize you've only begun to scratch the surface of the gameplay. Each level is so radically different and the gameplay so varied that each provides an experience worthy of an entire game! One minute it's a standard action platformer, the next minute it's a helicopter flight sim, the next minute it's a space shooter, the next minute it's a high-tech race, the next minute it's a bizzare gravity-altering pinball experience. Every minute is a frantic, addictive experience unlike any other. Suffice it to say that you will never, ever grow bored of this game until the very end.

Unfortunately, that ending comes all to soon. The primary flaw of Gunstar Super Heroes is the length, which is - sad to say - pitifully short. The entire game can be beaten within one sitting without too much difficulty. Reaching the end boss won't take more than 2 hours unless you're really terrible at this sort of thing. Even putting the difficulty on hard won't extend this life of this game by much. The game isn't too easy - in fact, it's extremely challenging and points - but it's just too short for its own good.

Despite the length, this game is still excellent and very polished. It's so insanely fun that you'll likely play through it multiple times, which extends the life quite a bit. This is also one of those few games where you'll want to go back and beat your high scores, and try to top the scores of your friends. I haven't had that desire since the old arcade days, when I would attempt to gain dominance of the Gradius machine.

Controls

In a word: intuitive. For instance, while on platforming levels the A button allows you to jump, but serves many other functions when used in combination with other buttons. Press Up while pressing A and you'll execute an upper-cut. Press Down while holding A and you'll slide forward. While in mid jump, press A again to execute a kick! This is just one example of how the game uses a single button to seamlessly perform various operations. Throughout the various different level-types, the controls remain fluid and intuitive, and always feel perfectly natural. Never have I felt such a measure of control on a handheld game, and that speaks worlds of the time and energy that went into perfecting Gunstar Super Heroes.

Graphics

The very best the GBA has to offer. In fact, nothing else comes remotely close. The heroes (Gunstar Red and Gunstar Blue) are represented by wonderfully-animated sprites during gameplay, and buy fully-animated cartoon models during cutscenes, complete wtih lip-synching! Many of the bosses, environmental harzards, terrains, and backgrounds are pre-rendered 3D, and they look simply fantastic! The animations of things like laserfire and explosions are breathtaking. This is the first Gameboy Advance game since Golden Sun that truly "WOWED" me. It easily competes with the best that the Neo Geo arcade systems ever had to offer, and looks like something you'd see on the Playstation. In fact, very few 2D games on the Nintendo DS have come even close to this level!

Sound

The music isn't really anything special, but it doesn't really matter since you won't be able to hear it above the sound effects anyway. And they certainly are excellent sound effects. Gunstar Super Heroes uses the GBA stereo to its full advantage, and delivers an enviroment on par with all the top games of the system.

Final comments

An incredible game, by far the most unique GBA action title around. The gameplay is so fluid and so addictive that it serves to disappoint you even more at just how short the game is. Which is a shame, since gameplay this good deserved a longer game to go with it. Still, it's hard not to recommend Gunstar Super Heroes, as it's certainly one of the finest titles of the year, regardless of its length. Besides, it's so replayable (thanks to all the varied gameplay across levels) that, if you're like me, you won't care that much about the length.

Pro: Fluid Gameplay. Insanely Varied Level-types. Incredible Graphics. Wonderful Sound Effects. Endless Replay Value.
Con: Too short for its own good.
Final score: 9

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Boxart of Gunstar Super Heroes (Game Boy Advance)
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega