When I heard about the release of 3D Gunstar Heroes, I got really curious about it. Gunstar Heroes was originally released for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive back in 1993 and I’ve been seeing it come up in different “best of” lists for the system. It’s classified as a run and gun shooter video game similar to classics like Contra and Metal Slug. For several reasons, I decided to give the 3DS remastered version of Gunstar Heroes a shot – it had an impulse buy friendly price at just $5.99, I enjoyed Metal Slug games a lot, and because I like how the 3D effect was utilized in 3D Streets of Rage 2 (another Sega classic). Is 3D Gunstar Heroes a hit? Well, here’s what I think.
As mentioned earlier, 3D Gunstar Heroes is a run and gun shooter so its gameplay involves making your way through stages by doing plenty of running and jumping, dodging enemy fire and shooting a lot in response. There are two gameplay mechanics that make 3D Gunstar Heroes stand out amongst all the other run and gun games, one of which is it’s Life/Health mechanic.
Unlike other run and gun games like Contra and Metal Slug where you’d lose a life after one hit, you have a Health meter in 3D Gunstar Heroes which makes the game more accessible than the other titles in this genre. To balance it out, you only get one Life and you can’t get any more than that – lose it, and you’d have to use a Continue. Continues are unlimited, but your score goes back to zero (bad for those who care about setting high scores) and you’ll have to start over from a certain point in the game.
This change in the Lives/Health mechanic also allows 3D Gunstar Heroes to be much more frantic than the usual run and gun game – since you won’t die from one hit, the game throws a LOT of enemies and enemy gunfire at you. And there’s even variations on the enemy attacks – some will do minimal damage while others can take out a big chunk of your health.
The second gameplay mechanic, and Gunstar Heroes was quite known for this, is it’s unique weapon system. When you start the game, you’ll first be asked to choose between two shooting styles – Free Shot that allows you to shoot your weapons while moving and Fixed Shot which forces you to stop any time you shoot.
You are then asked to choose your starting weapon from a list of four different types – Force is your standard rapid fire pulse weapon, Lightning is a beam type laser that can shoot through enemies, Fire is a short range but high damage flamethrower, and Chaser is a homing rapid fire weapon that is weaker than the other three types.
During actual gameplay, you’ll have two slots for your weapons and you’ll be able to pick up different Weapon powerups throughout the game so you’ll be able to switch between the two weapons that you have. Or you can activate both weapon slots and combine the effects of the two weapons that you’re carrying, which leads to a lot of different options in terms of gameplay. This isn’t just for show – some weapon combinations are more effective against certain stages and bosses – so you’ll really have to test out each of the weapons in order to beat this game.
This variety also extends to the game’s stages and boss fights. Run and gun games work differently from standard platformers so level design isn’t normally something that stands out, but this is not the case with 3D Gunstar Heroes. There are four initial stages and each one plays out differently from each other. One such stage takes place in a mine where you’ll get to ride a fast-moving mine cart that can also attach itself to ceilings and walls. Another stage involves doing battles in different areas that are chosen based on die results – yes, you’ll have to roll a single die in this stage – making each playthrough quite different. There’s even a stage later that plays like a horizontal shooter (e.g. Gradius) wherein you’ll have to pilot aircraft.
Each stage has its own mid- and end level boss fights, and each of the end level bosses have distinct fighting styles that result in memorable boss battles and even give these bosses some personality. Yes, it’s strange to say that about bosses in a run-and-gun game, but I’ll go ahead and say that the bosses of 3D Gunstar Heroes are much more fleshed out characters than most of the bosses I encounter in story-based RPGs.
Run and gun games are a pleasure to play with friends, and I’m glad to report that 3D Gunstar Heroes retains the two player co-op mode, but this is limited to local WiFi sessions only. Also, both players will need their own Nintendo 3DS unit (for obvious reasons) and their own copy of the game, which I think is a minor and justifiable drawback.
I hate to admit this, but the weak point of 3D Gunstar Heroes is its graphics. As with the other Sega 3D remasters, Gunstar Heroes is essentially the same game that was originally released on the Genesis/Megadrive more than two decades ago. The graphics aren’t bad, they’re quite good actually, it’s just that the art style is too dated. Gunstar Heroes was a technological marvel when it came out, but whatever sprite trickery that its developers used back in the day doesn’t look all that impressive now. But it works – projectiles are visible and distinct, character sprites are well animated and even allow recognizable facial expressions.
Thankfully, the 3D enhancement works well for 3D Gunstar Heroes and does set it apart from other run and gun shooter games that you can get on today’s mobile devices or consoles. There’s something about a 2D game that’s presented in 3D in such a way that sprites and backgrounds separate and have actual depth, making objects in the foreground appear much closer than those in the background. All those parallax effects that developers used to use back in the day become much more effective when you see actual depth between each layer.
As for the sound, what 3D Gunstar Heroes has works. The music matches the environments and the pacing of the game, and even comes with grunts and yelps to further engage you. You’ll want the volume turned up while playing this game, but this game probably won’t come to mind if you’re asked for your favorite video game soundtrack.
On top of the 3D enhancements are some new features that further add to the game’s accessibility. There’s the Gunslinger mode which will let you switch betweek the two shooting styles at the press of a button and also switch between the four weapon types, allowing you to experiment with all the available combinations in just one playthrough. 3D Gunstar Heroes also has the Mega Life mode which is as simple as doubling your Health meter, making it a little easier to handle the game’s challenges without reducing the game’s actual difficulty. Combining these two modes with the ability to save/load your game at any point and you have a run and gun classic that’s both very deep and at the same time friendly for on-the-go gaming.
With that said, I highly recommend 3D Gunstar Heroes to anyone who has a Nintendo 3DS, who loves a run and gun experience and doesn’t mind 16-bit style graphics. Gunstar Heroes offers a lot of replay value in its original incarnation and the additional modes further add to this. Anyone interested in getting a copy of 3D Gunstar Heroes can hop onto the Nintendo eShop – the $5.99 pricetag is quite affordable and you’re getting a lot of value for the money that you’ll be spending.
Have you played the 3DS version of Gunstar Heroes or the original Genesis version? What do you think about it? Drop us a line and let us know what you think!