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Gunstar Super Heroes & the GBA = A Perfect Fit

When it first exploded onto the Genesis back in 1993, Gunstar Heroes quickly established Treasure as one of the premier developers in gaming. The things they did with the hardware, the tricks they managed to squeeze out of what was supposedly “inferior” and “outdated” technology, made gamers everywhere fumble about to pick their jaws up from off the floor (something hard to do when both eyes are glued to the television). It was a masterpiece that set a standard for run-‘n-gun action that many feel has yet to be matched.

The downside to all this 2D goodness was Treasure’s strict policy against sequels. For years, fans begged and pleaded; petitions were signed, emails were sent, and message boards everywhere lit up hoping for the chance to one day revisit the planet Gunstar. Treasure concentrated on other games, many of them excellent, some decent, and others forgettable. All signs pointed to Gunstar Heroes being a thing of the past, until this past September, when Guardian Heroes Advance made its debut on the GBA. What was this, a sequel from Treasure? Could it be that they were finally open to tapping their back catalogue? It would seem so.

Naturally, the first question to cross people’s minds upon reading this news was whether or not Gunstar would be far behind. Sega inflamed speculation even more on March 10, when they trademarked the title Gunstar Super Heroes. Treasure officially put rumors to rest May 11, when Gunstar Super Heroes was officially announced.

Ok, so you probably know all this already. Well, patience my friend, for there is indeed a point to the history lesson. I’ve been hearing a lot of people lately discuss the wisdom of releasing GSH on the Game Boy Advance. Many argue that it would have been wiser for the game to have come out on the PSP, DS, or consoles. The GBA, they say, is on its way out and is already being pushed to the back of consumers’ minds. Why not bring it out for Xbox? Give it Live capability and set the online world aflame with two-player mayhem! That’s what this game needs!

Hmm, sounds tantalizing, I’ll give it that; however, that is most likely a dream scenario that quickly loses its luster once you float back down to Earth. The reality is still very agreeable, and there are more than a few reasons why Treasure’s decision is a great one, so let’s break it down, shall we?

  • There a many, many more GBAs out there than Xbox, DS, or PSP systems. Sure, 20 million units is a great number for the Xbox, but compare it to the 66 million or so GBAs (original and SP) sold, and its clear where the bigger audience is. Releasing Gunstar Super Heroes on the Xbox would effectively cut your potential sales by more than half. Moreover, the DS and PSP’s bases are still miniscule compared to that of the GBA, and although GSH would be a boon for either system, the numbers don’t lie. Treasure may not be too concerned with the game’s sales, but I’m sure Sega is. They need a hit, and will probably do what’s necessary to ensure that it reaches as wide an audience as possible. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Sony would probably do everything in its power to not let it be released in the U.S. Remember what happened with Metal Slug and the other SNK games? How about Working Design’s Growlancer release, or Gunner’s Heaven and Panzer Bandit back on the original Playstation? Even Treasure’s own Rakugaki Showtime was left behind in Japan. SCEA has a thing against 2D games, unless they’re bundled, making the chances of GSH seeing the light of day on the Playstation 2 practically nil. Of course, a set of both Gunstar games with online play or ranking would be wonderful. What about that Treasure Box compilation rumored to be in development?
  • Treasure knows the GBA hardware very well. Just look at their track record: Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Hajime no Ippo: the Fighting, & Guardian Heroes Advance are all solid titles. The last system they released more than three games for was the Mega Drive, and their outings on the PS2 (Stretch Panic, Silpheed: The Lost Planet, and Gradius V) didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It’s entirely possible that they still view 2D games as a “sure thing” of sorts, and feel they can fall back on them while they get the hang of more powerful hardware. That, for example, is most likely why they opted to do a 2D sequel to Guardian Heroes on the Game Boy Advance and not a 3D one on consoles, even though Sega was willing to release it. That they’re better at 2D than 3D is undebatable, in my opinion, and one just has to look at games like Stretch Panic and Silpheed for proof. Even their best console efforts since the 16-bit era have merely been 2D games with 3D graphics (what’s commonly referred to as “2.5D”). Radiant Silvergun and Guardian Heroes on the Saturn are good examples of this.
  • Most of Treasure’s best games came out at the end of the host console’s life cycle. Remember what I said about Treasure’s lack of concern regarding sales? They seem to cater to a specific audience, and know where to find it. Radiant Silvergun was released on a virtually dead Saturn, Sin & Punishment on the forgotten N64, and Ikaruga initially arrived on the all-but-stillborn-in Japan Dreamcast. 2D is the company’s stock-in-trade, and what better way to go than the last, true 2D system left? The GBA is in the twilight of its life, and Treasure is gearing up for a big send off.
  • Treasure doesn’t really cater to mainstream gamers. They never have, and never will. That’s why they’re not concerned about sales, and why they come up with some of the most offbeat concepts you can think of. Anyone who’s played Bangaio or Stretch Panic knows this. Remember the Tazuka references in Astro Boy? They’re doing it again with Gunstar Super Heroes. The game references several classic Sega titles, such as After Burner, Galaxy Force II, and Thunder Blade. There’s even a Flicky reference!

So at first glance, It might not seem like the best idea to make Gunstar Super Heroes a GBA game. Yet upon closer inspection, the wisdom of the decision is clear. This essentially satisfies both handheld and console gamers. You get to play it on the go, whenever you want, and you can plug it into your Game Boy Player for some big screen TV action. The best of both worlds!

Regardless of your preference, I think that we should be grateful we’re getting a sequel at all. Treasure’s change of heart regarding the issue has opened the door to speculation about other games in their library, like Sin & Punishment and Radiant Silvergun. We might even see some other Genesis classics returning someday. There are many 16-bit franchises wallowing in limbo, waiting for a second chance to shine, and we now have another installment of one of the best run-‘n-gun games ever made coming out this fall. I embrace it and encourage everyone else who considers themselves a Treasure or Sega fan to do the same.

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Sources

  • Game Info. Multiple Titles. Treasure Homepage.
  • Harris, Craig. Gunstar Heroes Goes GBA. IGN. May 6, 2005.
  • Kennedy, Sam. Feature: Gunstar Super Heroes. 1up. May 9, 2005.

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