Melon Bread. Seven Force. Pinky Roader. These seem like random words to many, but to players of a certain Mega Drive game, they’re some of the greatest bosses ever seen in video games. And they return in the game I’m about to review: Gunstar Future Heroes.
Name: Gunstar Future Heroes
Developer: Treasure Co. Ltd
Released on: GBA
Release Date: November 4th, 2005
As a sequel, Gunstar Future Heroes (as the game was called here in Europe, the rest of the world knows it as Gunstar Super Heroes) doesn’t feel particularly necessary, yet it’s existence is practically justified by the achievement of being an almost carbon copy of a classic Mega Drive game, in a portable form – And in 2005, a time when we couldn’t emulate console games on our smartphones, this was a very welcome thing indeed.
Let’s face it, it would be a difficult feat to create a sequel that bettered the majesty of the original game, and for better or worse, Treasure felt the same way, giving the Game Boy Advance a title that repackages the game we all love, but still delivering those classic moments that made the original into a massive hit. It’s got everything you loved from the first game – Fast-paced shooting action, a tough but fair challenge, multiple weapons, and of course – Black’s Silly Dice Maze. While all of these things have been changed around a bit for this sequel (and not always for the better), there’s a familiarity to Future Heroes that will certainly warm the heart for returning fans.
Why don’t we talk about the new stuff? The beloved weapon combination system has been stripped out and replaced by the option to select from three of the four weapon types, right out of the gate. The game can be played separately as both Red and Blue Gunstars, which changes the three available weapon types. Also, the free and fixed shot modes that dictated whether or not you could run while shooting has been replaced by a more flexible method of holding the R button while moving or while standing still to activate different fixed shot modes. This new system works incredibly well once you get to grips with it, offering offensive options you could only dream about in the original game.
You’re also given a brand new Supercharge meter that is filled up when enemies are attacked and can be used to power up each of your standard weapon attacks. While the throw attack from the original game has been removed, this has been replaced with a more dynamic system of close range attacks such as sword swipes, uppercuts and triangle kicks that are activated using different combinations of the D-pad and jump button.
All of these mechanics help to differentiate Future Heroes from its predecessor, even if the levels fail to do so. While there are a handful of mini-games found as you rush through the game’s seven levels, inspired by classic SEGA games like Flicky, Thunderblade and After Burner, the levels themselves are very much inspired by the levels that came before, complete with the same bosses performing very similar attacks. Pinky Roader still has her mech in Moon 1, while Moon 3 features a familiar anti-gravity mine craft section, culminating in the return of Gunstar Green’s Seven Force Boss, which is still as tough as before.
In fact, this is a pretty tough game all around, even with your progress being saved after every level, and on top of that, saving your place at specific checkpoints that you can revisit. Even with the small number of levels, and all those opportunities to save your progress, there’s enough of a challenge here to keep you engaged for quite a while.
As you would hope to expect from a system that’s technically 32-bit in terms of power, the 16-bit look and feel of the original release has been replicated perfectly. Even for a tiny display, the sprites are easy to pick out and despite the fact that you’ll be seeing screens full of chaos for the majority of Gunstar Future Heroes, it’s not too confusing to see what’s going on. It looks like the Mega Drive original, and although the GBA’s sound capabilities are very different from that system, series composer Norio Hanzawa does an excellent job of retaining the feel of Gunstar Heroes’ high-adrenaline soundtrack, while even including a few familiar tunes in there for good measure.
Highlights: Black’s Dice maze returns in different form, but is still as ridiculous as ever.
Low points: At many times, Gunstar Future Heroes becomes almost too similar to its predecessor, it’s rehashed levels and enemies lacking the originality that drew fans to the original game in the first place.