SEGA 3D Classics – 3D Gunstar Heroes Review (3DS)

I’d attempted Gunstar Heroes twice before in my life, both times not much more than for about ten minutes, and that’s not really enough time to get a good feel for a game heralded as one of, if not the, best Sega Genesis game out there. Something about the aesthetic turned me off before I could give the game a fair shake, and, yes, I know we’re told not to judge books by their covers, but let’s be honest with ourselves: we totally do. I’m not afraid to say that I was completely wrong about Gunstar Heroes, though. My original assessment was misguided by superficial impressions that failed to take into account the actual gameplay, and that’s no good.

This I now realize having played through the entirety of 3D Gunstar Heroes, the latest of Sega’s classics to be given the white-glove treatment on 3DS. Studio M2’s contributions here not only align perfectly with the high-fidelity seen in their previous 3DS conversions, but they also managed to ratchet up Gunstar Heroes’ lauded kinetic gameplay by leveraging what was already in the game, but more on that in a bit.

As most will know, Gunstar Heroes is a no nonsense run-and-gun where you shoot some bad guys for doing nefarious things. It’s a pretty unobstructive action-game premise, but how much of a reason do you need to obliterate armed mechs and bozos darting around in a clumsy frenzy? There no tutorials or pointers either, just select any one of the four main stages and, before you know it, you’re amidst a bullet hell like no other.

The basis of each level centers around a few waves of gun-toting bozos followed by a mini-boss or two, more waves, and finally the main attraction, though Gunstar Heroes often plays with this formula in cheeky ways. For example, one stage is a board game where players roll a die to advance along until they finally land on the boss tile. Another pits you against an galactic battleship in which the player takes control of a tiny spacecraft and suddenly the game transforms into a full-blown shoot ’em up. To wrap it all up, the final stage is a boss rush televised on a jumbotron within the villain’s evil lair. Gimmicky as they may be, the levels keep players on their toes and the kooky motifs with their brazen gamey flair are without a doubt memorable and probably have something to do with Gunstar Heroes‘ long lasting legacy.

Gamplay-wise, there’s two of ways of dishing out the hurt, one being melee attacks, which include baseball slides, directional throws, and a counter suplex, and the other involves bullets. Unlike most run-and-guns where you acquire temporary power-ups like missiles or grenades, Gunstar Heroes utilizes a creative gem system that alters the properties of your character’s firearm depending on which gem is in use. There are four kinds, each boasting a unique attribute: Force yields bulleted rapid-fire, Lightning fires thin laser beams, Fire shoots out a stream of flames, and Chaser is a peppery spray of weak homing projectiles. Each has its functions whether it be crowd control or fending off bosses, but the real fun begins when two gems are equipped simultaneously.

Players can mix and match these weapon gems to yield ridiculous combinations much like merging copy abilities in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Fire + Lightning, for example, creates a steady short-range beam that works like a lightsaber that deals TONS of damage. Then there’s Chaser + Chaser that spews waves of homing tiny green stars. Not the best in terms of damage output, but it’s fast and clears out bullet fodder fast. There’s over a dozen different combinations to play around with, each with its own utility, though some are admittedly more powerful than others, namely Fire + anything.

The only downside of the gem system is that, at Gunstar Heroes’ breakneck pace, it’s hard to find the time to experiment with every single combo. More than likely you’ll find one match that suits your play style and use and abuse it, and that’s fine. In fact, there’s virtually no breathing room between enemy hordes or even bosses, so there’s no shame in finding a combo that works and sticking with it. But again, with so many novel spins on firepower, it’d be an even bigger disservice to not try them all at least once.

Lucky for 3DS owners M2 solved this problem with the addition of Gunslinger mode. In this mode, the L and R buttons allow players to cycle through any pairing without hunting down the actual gems. Sure, this sort of tampers with the game’s balance, but Gunstar Heroes is hard enough as is (especially on Expert!) that even this new mode doesn’t spoil the grueling challenge. If anything, Gunslinger mode thoughtfully optimizes the gameplay to be even more kinetic by forcing players to swap out gems on the fly, adhering to the ebb and flow of battle as they utilize certain pairings over others based on their circumstances.

All in all, this is a spectacular port that does the original game more than enough justice. Despite a tricky development, no compromises were made in the conversion from Genesis to 3DS — heck, even the local co-op mode made the cut, though it does require both players to have the game installed. But if you’re A) looking to relive the Genesis glory days or B) looking for some blood-pumping 2D action, you’d be hard pressed to find a better game than 3D Gunstar Heroes, especially if you’re shooting for something that’s affordable and challenging.

3D Gunstar Heroes is now available on the North American 3DS eShop for $5.99 alongside other Sega 3D Classics like Outrun, Space Harrier, and more.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Gunstar Heroes Review (3DS)
Lasting Appeal9
Onlooking Cow10
  • Fast and furious gameplay
  • Weapon variety
  • New modes
  • Short campaign
  • Higher difficulties are T-O-U-G-H
9Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.