Ah, Treasure. You crazy guys, with your legendary reputation for bullet-flailing, toontastic madness. These guys brought us Alien Soldier, the lost classic in which a creepy bird-freak in a spacesuit blows up everything ever with absurd weaponry.

In the same vein, we have today’s slice of retro crazy. Feast your eyes on Gunstar Heroes.

This 1993 Mega Drive run and gunner is a game of simple tastes. It likes hordes of marauding enemies, far too many darn explosions, and ridiculous bosses. Naturally, we’d expect nothing less. Let’s take a look.

Gunstar Heroes is the tale of the titular Gunstars: Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. They’re heroic do-gooders of some sort or another, a kind of camp cross between the Power Rangers and the A-Team. When the world (which is to say, a world) is threatened by nefarious forces trying to reawaken a catastrophic power, they’re on the case instantly.

The Japanese and Western releases of the game have dramatically diverging plot lines. For the sake of familiarity, here we’re concerned only with the much-less-demented Western version. The robotic menace Golden Silver was once incarcerated by Professor White, and the gems that powered it scattered. This belligerent bot wanted to suck the planet’s resources dry, which is the kind of behavior that can ruin your whole weekend. Years later, the Empire want to gather the gems and release Golden Silver from its planet on an orbiting moon.

Gunstar Heroes 2

The game’s four main opening levels can be completed in any order, and a gem awaits at the end of each. They are in possession of some fearsome/ridiculous/ridiculously fearsome bosses, of course, so this is quite a challenge right here.

You play as either Gunstar Red or Blue, who play slightly differently. Blue can fire in eight directions, but cannot move while firing. Red, conversely, is more manouverable but less versatile in that sense. It’s standard left-to-right carnage-ery, with the addition of Treasure’s typical customizable weapons. Here, you have two weapon slots, and four varieties of shot to mix and match: Flame, Force, Chaser and Lightning. These have all kinds of effects when paired together (a close-range but deadly flamethrower/blowtorchy thing, a weaker but rapid-firing machine gun and the like), and are a lot of fun to experiment with.

Gunstar Heroes is a cult classic for its perfectly honed genre gameplay, its challenge and its pure imagination. Black’s Dice Maze is perhaps the most brilliantly odd stage a shooter has ever seen. As for the bosses, all you need to know is that this is the home of legendary transforming death-bot Seven Force.

My favourite Mega Drive game by a country mile, and a contender for my most beloved of all time.

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