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Hands-On: Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box (PlayStation 2)

Genre: Compilation Developer: Treasure Publisher: Sega of Japan Players: 1-2 Released: 2/23/06 (Japan)

It’s hard to be a Sega fan without having some level of appreciation for small, Japanese developer Treasure. The genesis (pun very much intended) of Treasure’s cult following was without question on Sega’s 16-bit hardware. Though its Genesis offerings ranged in quality from the overshadowed action RPG, Light Crusader, to arguably the developer’s greatest game, Gunstar Heroes, Treasure offered owners variety, solid game play, and, perhaps most notably, something off the beaten path. It was with the spirit of Treasure’s 16-bit efforts in mind that Sega chose to include a sampling of the companies’ past relationship in its Sega Ages 2500 series on Sony’s PlayStation 2. Offering dozens of volumes, the Sega Ages 2500 collection contains a mix of remakes of Sega’s history, ports of PC versions of well-known titles, and emulated collections of past Sega hardware. The 2500 in the title comes from the fact that retail price for games in the series in Japan is 2,500 yen. For Volume 25 Sega chose three of Treasure’s best known action/platform titles: Dynamite Headdy, Alien Solider, and the collection’s headliner, Gunstar Heroes. The package was given a mouthful of a title, Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 25: Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box.

Rather than enlisting Treasure or another developer to attempt to remake the three titles or porting non-existent PC versions, Sega chose to go the emulation route for Treasure Box. However, this would be no ordinary, bare-bones emulation. Instead, Sega implemented a virtually complete wish list of features that any retro gamer could concoct. Whether the players’ affinity lies in the area of localization, high scores, graphics, or sound, Sega has the area covered with a simple press of the “Select” button.

Gamers who play both Japanese and western releases know that often more than just the language is changed as games are moved from one territory to another. If any of these changes leads to a particularly nasty case of heart burn, Sega has the antacid. The very first option on the list is “Version.” Both “Japan” and “Oversea” are selectable. It’s worth noting that although Alien Soldier was never released in North America, it did find its way to European shores, so this option is available for all three titles.

It has become increasingly popular over recent years to work toward speed runs or high scores and then record said accomplishments for posterity’s sake. Typically this process involves either a VCR or a video capture card in a PC acting as a pass-through between the console and the display. Sega changed all that for these three classics. Treasure Box includes an option for recording and watching replays under the title of “Archive.” The only thing missing is an “Upload to YouTube” button.

Whether it be adding an S-Video port or tracking down a Commodore 1084 monitor and an RGB cable, retro gamers tend to be very particular about how their classics appear. Afterall, nostalgia only goes so far in covering up color bleeding. Dremmels, screw drivers, and power strips are all spared by Sega’s plethora of graphical options in Treasure Box. For players without an HDTV, “Display Mode” can be set to either “Non-Interlaced” or “Interlaced.” Added to the list for true videophiles are two HDTV-only options: “Progressive (480p)” and “Progressive (480p) Scanlines.” All four offer noticeable differences and potentially vast improvements, based on the eye of the beholder. Fans of newer games may be accustomed to graphics free of sharp edges and nasty breaks. For this group, Sega included a “Texture Mapping” option, which can be set to “Normal” or “Smooth.” Finally, a “Deflicker” option that can be toggled “Off” or “On” is available to round out the visual package. Some combination of these choices should be ideal for even the most finicky player.

Audiophiles should not feel left out either. Treasure Box supports “Digital Audio” in the form of the PS2’s optical jack. Again, this option can be toggled between “Off” and “On.” There is something quite special about hearing a Compact Disc send classic Treasure music to a home theater set-up via a digital connection. It’s as if Gunstar Heroes is asking technology, “Where have you been all my life?”

Genesis fans who have access to a Japanese or modded PlayStation 2 simply can’t miss Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 25: Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box. Considering all of these features simply are not possible on any single, out-of-the-box piece of Sega hardware, the collection truly is better than the real thing. Up until now, only a WonderMega could display Alien Soldier, Dynamite Headdy, and Gunstar Heroes in even S-Video quality without modding. Only a Pioneer LaserActive could pump digital audio quality music from these titles’ wonderful soundtracks. Now, a perfect marriage of those pricey pieces of hardware is available for 2,500 yen. It’s even less than $30 for players on the wrong side of the Pacific to import.

For only pennies a day, you too could be playing Alien Soldier in 480p with optical audio. Please, make that call. Operators are standing by.


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