Review by MSuskie

"Make up your mind, you silly game."

If a good review requires an analogy, then I will say that comparing Gunstar Super Heroes to a bigger, better, more complete action game is like comparing the Bible to an actual novel. This is to say nothing of my religious beliefs or my opinion on the Bible as a piece of historic literature (my thoughts on this matter do not belong at a place like HonestGamers), but let's make this clear: Do you ever just read the Bible, chapter by chapter, like a normal book? Of course not. You read individual segments, quotes, and passages as appropriate. If you were to speed straight through it like you would with, I don't know, Dune, it would seem randomized and unfocused, like a book that was written by numerous authors who generally had the same theme in mind but all wrote about different things. (Which makes sense, because that's exactly what it is.)

Super Heroes is faced with precisely the same scenario, albeit without the historical background, inspirational status, and audience of millions. It's an action game, and it's comprised of parts that all add up to create the image of one big, loud, effects-driven Action Game. But the whole thing is so jumpy and unclear in its intentions that I can't even come up with a simple, fitting description of it beyond that. It literally feels as if every level was designed by different people, people who had little in common in their goals other than to jam-pack each stage with lots of shooting and explosions and whatnot. Playing in short segments and brief sessions will probably provide you with a decent amount of entertainment, but running through it all at once will leave you dazed and confused.

My experience with the original game, Gunstar Heroes, is so limited (and occurred so long ago) that I'm unable to recall whether or not it followed the same structure. I can tell you, though, that Super Heroes in its most basic form seems to imitate the success of side-scrolling action titles like Contra and Metal Slug, electing to become a side-scrolling action title itself, in which Things Must Be Shot.

When it keeps things simple, it's unsurprisingly enjoyable. Developer Treasure has demonstrated before that it understands many of its audience's primary sources of satisfaction; namely, shooting stuff and watching stuff blow up. Placing this in a side-scrolling, platforming environment has worked before, and there's no reason it wouldn't work now. Indeed, when Super Heroes tries to be all Metal Slug-y in its approach to conventional action game design, it's perfectly fine.

But then vehicles are thrown into the mix and risks are taken. The controls are complex enough as is, with certain buttons serving multiple functions depending on whether they're tapped or held. (You can tell Treasure really struggled with the four-button GBA layout.) But every time the gameplay takes a surprising turn, the controls change as well, and we're expected to pick up on it and play well despite the fact that the game itself never seems to know what the hell is going on.

Some of the ideas are just weird. One stage takes place on a sort of board game, with the player rolling dice and completing interactive mini-games to get to the final boss. Then a certain sub-level has you running through a rotating cave collecting little chicks while avoiding giant pincers that sprout out of the ground. Randomness has its place in videogames, but not at the expense of overall coherence and playability.

Aside from being unfocused, this presents an interesting problem that will likely frustrate some gamers. When Treasure comes up with something that's actually really enjoyable, it doesn't linger long enough to allow its good ideas to materialize into something concrete. An early level had me racing through a mine shaft on the back of a flying bird/lizard/thing, gunning down a train and challenging a rapidly-transforming boss. The controls for this section are simple enough, and the action is fast and furious. But it only lasts for about two or three minutes, and I think to myself, "Hey, that was fun! I want to see more of that!" But no. When it's over, we've moved on to the next random idea.

On the flipside, I think the more tedious segments are only annoying because they introduce unfamiliar control setups and expect us to master them in an impossibly short amount of time. Another early scenario had me piloting a sort of aircraft – a helicopter or hovercraft or something – that I found very difficult to move around. At first I thought this was the fault of bad controls, until I realized: Wait. These controls aren't bad, I'm just not used to them yet. And once I finally got used to them, sure enough, the game had moved on to something else.

I'll give it this: The game looks and sounds fantastic. Treasure had the unenviable task of making this GBA game stand out after the release of the graphically and aurally superior DS, and they pulled it off with striking 2D effects and a soundtrack that fits every situation perfectly. It is, if nothing more, a well produced game.

When Super Heroes is fun, it's fun in the same big, loud and crazy way that most of these action games are able to succeed. But then it's also a largely randomized and completely incoherent experience, one that simultaneously intrigues and frustrates, and leaves the gamer with an empty feeling inside. You can probably pick it up for a few minutes at any given time and get a smile out of it, but don't expect any long-term thrills, especially with an adventure this short.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 07/05/07

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