I have a history with Treasure games. While I totally appreciate and applaud Treasure for their ability to squeeze the most out of a console's hardware, I never seem to actually love playing their games. And trust me, I've tried. I've played Guardian Heroes, Gunstar Heroes, and both GBA sequels, along with Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Silhouette Mirage, Gradius V, Bangai-O and its DS sequel, and Silpheed: The Lost Planet. Yes, I've really tried to get into these games. I like a lot of them... but I don't love them.
I first attempted Gunstar Heroes five or six years ago and I remember thinking it was pretty good, though. It actually stands out as one of the better games in Treasure's resume along with Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun, though I still don't think I share the enthusiasm that most retro gamers have for these games. The last time I played Gunstar it was online with a friend via XBLA. I remember feeling like it made for a pretty fun co-op game, but we eventually quit when we got to the board game level because it just got so damn tedious.
This time I played the game alone and via the Xbox One's Sega Genesis Classics compilation. I was immediately reminded why my memories were so good of this one. I'll cut to the chase and say it probably stands out to me as Treasure's best game. Really. I still don't love it, but I do seem to appreciate it more now because it's stood the test of time for me. As a comparison, I played Guardian Heroes again this year as well and I think I hated it more than the last time I played it. Come at me.
Gunstar Heroes still looks absolutely lovely. The sprites are all so full of expression - as is Treasure's way, and I think the color choices are sublime. As far as traditional 2D run and gun visuals go I'd probably put this one above Contra, but below Metal Slug - for whatever all that subjectiveness is worth.
Without looking it up (because I'm lazy) I'd have to guess that this game was developed by Treasure dudes who had worked on some of the Contra games, though. The various choices of bullets certainly feels like a throwback, but it's done so much better here. I like that you can pick two weapons and use either - or combine them. It makes for a game that caters to each player's play style. I dig that. Admittedly for me that meant sticking with a combo that involved homing shots. No doubt that makes the game easier, but eh - remember I already knew I didn't love this game so I needed a little help pushing through to let myself see the whole thing this time through.
It turns out that board game was only the midpoint! But I was determined to play through the whole game this time. And I must confess I started to get annoyed with all the fake "final'' battles. The game is maybe two hours, but it feels much longer than it needs to be in my book. But, to say something positive here - at least those two hours are spent doing interesting things. Each level does feel truly unique and the bosses are cool and varied.
So yeah, that's about that. I still don't love Treasure games, but there's a handful that I do really think are quality and this is one of them. Will I return to it again any time soon? Nah. Like I said, I'd probably pick a Metal Slug or Contra if I was in the mood for this kind of game. But um... Gunstar Heroes is a good game. Yay?