Top 100 Retro Games: Gunstar Heroes

Gunstar Heroes
Sega Genesis

I did not really devote a lot of time to Gun Star Heroes until I was in college. I dated someone for a while who was a big, early, user of eBay. She used it mostly for antique stuff, but turned me onto the fact that you could get what were already being called “retro” games on it for cheap prices and often in bulk. While buying the Phantasy Star games again, I also picked up Gun Star Heroes in a big bulk lot. I had read online that the game was really good and booted it up one day to check out.

I found Gun Star Heroes to be a fantastic side-scroller and played through it a few times. A few summers ago, I played through the game again and really enjoyed the play through. Episodes about the game on Back In My Play and Retronauts really cemented the fact that this is one of the best video games ever. We also streamed it, via donor request, during our Extra Life marathon this year. Gun Star Heroes combines the best of Mega Man, Contra, and Streets of Rage to create an incredible game that holds up today and might even be the best game on the Genesis. Run and gun games are not normally my favorite style of game, but I love this one.

So, the plot of Gun Star Heroes goes something like this: The Empire wants to resurrect an ancient weapon using four gems that are scattered around the world. The Gunstar family, seriously that is their name….hey is that a reference to Lonestar on Spaceballs…must stop them.

The reviews for this game at the time were incredible. According to Defunct Games, Gunstar Heroes scored above a 90% in pretty much every magazine of the era. From my research, I could not find it on any covers, but the reviews and coverage was extremely positive.

I was not surprised to find out that the game’s developer, Treasure, was filled with ex Konami people. Many parts of this game remind me of Contra, Jackyl, and other Konami games.

Treasure had an interesting non-hierarchical approach to making games too, which is really cool. We have too many bosses, in general, in our daily lives.

The cover for Gun Star Heroes is a really awesome action scene recreating one of the early boss battles in the game. It looks so cool and really makes me want to boot up the game right now. We often see the best and worst of video game covers, and this is one of the best ones out there.

This game also has an incredible soundtrack. It’s truly one of the best ever. We have been on such a roll this fall with great game soundtracks.

Gun Star Heroes has been reissued a number of times. First on the Game Gear with some different levels. This version got a PC port a few years ago. That version is also on the PS2 era Treasure collection that was put out as part of the Sega Ages series. I would like to check that out at some point. There is also a version of the game on the Game Boy Advance. It has also been available individually on the PS4, XBox Arcade, and Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Most recently the game was included in the Genesis collection on the PS4, which is how I played the game for this podcast.

Gun Star Heroes is an incredible combination of some of the best aspects of games, and series, like Contra, Mega Man, and Streets of Rage. It takes the best of these games to create what is honestly may be the best side-scroller ever made for any console.

My most recent play-through of this game was via the new Genesis collection on the PS4. This is such a convenient way to boot up the game and the controls, unlike some games in that collection like Beyond Oasis and various Phantasy Star games, smoothly transitions to the PS4’s controls without many problems.

Hey, you know what game I really wanted to play after playing this one? Bionic Commando. Gun Star Heroes plays a bit like it in some levels as you bounce around to different parts of a screen. There is often a lot happening on the screen, but never too much to really overwhelm you. As we mentioned in our episode about Streets of Rage II, it’s interesting how little slow down there is in this game. I have rarely seen it. This is definitely a game that would be severely hindered by lag. There is so much happening in the background of many levels. A game gets over with me so easily when it does that.

Speaking of Bionic Commando, I think it’s pretty cool that originally you were going to kill Hitler in this game. More games should have sections where you kill nazis.

Every game should have a section where you kill nazis.

Something that is really useful in this game is the vitality meter. A health bar is fine, but I was playing so many RPGs at this time, and today, that I greatly prefer a numerical expression. The vitality meter does this well.

Weapon mixing is really cool in this game. The right combination of weapons can make you pretty indestructible. It is a bit imperfect on the fly with so much going on around you, but when it works well it is fantastic.

I like the game’s sense of humor and references to other works. Like the Ultimate Warrior’s cameo in Streets of Rage II, although admittedly he looks like the WCW knockoff Renegade more, there is a boss who looks like a mix of Sgt Slaughter and Hawk from The Road Warriors. Were the creators of Gun Star Heroes big fans of the AWA around this time?

There is also another villain who looks like a mix of M Bison from Street Fighter and Dick Dasterdly from the Laff A Lympics and Wacky Races.

Do people remember the Laff A Lympics anymore? I watched that on Cartoon Express a lot in the eighties.

Another interesting, if a bit frustrating, part of the game is the dice palace, where you continue throwing dice until you get through all steps of it. That is a clever idea, but in my most recent play through I kept rolling “one,” so I had to go through most of it, which was a bit annoying for sure.

The different level styles here are so well done. Suddenly, you are on a ship flying through a Gradious style space shooter. How cool is that?

Finally, this game is gorgeous. In the same vein as Streets of Rage II, it has such lovely color choices and how they are implemented looks gorgeous on a big screen television. Like the aforementioned game, when I got a new television recently, I used this game to test out how the picture quality would be.


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