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Xbox Live Arcade Review: Gunstar Heroes

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Sega has been slowly releasing classic Genesis titles onto Xbox Live Marketplace, but perhaps no title was more anticipated than the hard-to-find but much beloved Gunstar Heroes. Developed by Treasure, Gunstar Heroes is widely beloved by old-school gamers for its sheer difficulty and fun game play. Thankfully, the version Xbox 360 owners can download has all of what made Gunstar Heroes so great, and a little bit more.

The graphics have gotten a slight "smoothing," as Microsoft calls it. Or, in other words, they've made the game's sprites a bit more polished. It's slightly noticeable, but for the most part, you won't even see it because you'll be too busy trying to blast enemies away on the screen. For a game that's 16 years old, it's aged very, very well, as the vibrant scrolling backgrounds and colorful enemies, mixed in with a ton of explosions, make for quite the visual experience.

But what Gunstar Heroes is mostly known for is its frantic, fast-paced game play. Treasure is well-known for its shoot 'em up titles, and many of the elements that you'll find in games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga appear in Gunstar Heroes. Levels are filled with enemies coming at you from all sides, forcing you to stay on your feet as you collect power-ups and try to stay alive. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, it's not uncommon to be swamped by a sea of bad guys firing at you, which is, of course, part of the game's charm. Throw in some hulking bosses at the end of each level, including one boss that transforms into seven different robotic forms, and you'll find that Treasure's title is still as tough in 2009 as it was back in 1993.

While it might be easy to think the game's controls won't hold up well on the transition from Genesis to Xbox 360, I'd have to say the Xbox 360 controller, with its dual analog sticks, actually makes for better controls than the old Genesis controller. It's faster, more responsive and just overall easier to use. Of course, it's still possible to use the D-pad on the 360 controller, but with the analog sticks letting you move in eight directions much easier, why would you except for nostalgia? When playing through a game where the action moves at the speed of light, and where one false move can doom you, having the analog stick in place of the clunky D-pad is a very welcome change.

The game's original sounds and soundtrack return, and there's no complaining about that. The in-game sounds do sound a bit dated, but the soundtrack still has the same high-intensity feel to it as it always has, setting a good tone for each level. The music has that hint of urgency, especially during boss battles, that keeps you on the edge of your seat and meshes will with the heavy amounts of action going on as you try to reach the end of each level.

Of course, with the Xbox Live makeover comes your usual assortment of achievements, which can be unlocked by completing the game, leaderboards, and most importantly, online co-op play. Having that second buddy around to get through the game is a very similar experience to Contra 4's wireless co-op mode: the game goes from being rather hard to pretty easy and beatable in one shot. There's no real noticeable lag, except that which comes from Xbox Live itself sometimes.

The "new" version of Gunstar Heroes makes a solid transition onto the Xbox 360. There's a bit of polish, but the difficulty's still there and the controls work well on the Xbox 360 controller. Best of all, the game's only 400 Microsoft Points, so it's an absolute steal. Anyone looking for a solid challenge would do well to download this game.

Pros: Just as fun as it was on the Sega Genesis, except with "smoothed" graphics, online co-op, achievements and leaderboards. Controls translate well over to the 360's controller set-up.

Cons: Depending on if you get one power-up or not, the game is either incredibly hard or incredibly easy.

Gunstar Heroes is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on: PS3 and Wii.


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