Monday, October 18, 2010

PS1 Look - Gunners Heaven

If you’ve ever wondered why it can take so long for me to write a review I can sum it all up in one word: Inspiration. Whenever I wake up to start a new day I spend the first fifteen minutes or so looking for this inspiration. If I don’t find it I don’t write reviews that day. Since you’re reading a review right now I guess I’ll tell you what inspired me to write it. This review was brought to you today by my own two eyes.

At one point or another within the first fifteen minutes of my day I’ll sit and stare at a mirror for about a minute or two. Aside from lamenting the effects of a life-time of sleep deprivation and videogames when I look into my eyes I start believing that one is slightly larger than the other. Sure humans aren’t required to be perfectly symmetrical but this is still cause for concern to me. It must be something that either only I can see or not only can I see it but everyone else I’ve ever met can see it as well. Do I go around asking them if one of my eyes is bigger than the other? I guess I could but it’s possible their response will merely be something that I want to hear, as in “yes one of your eyes is bigger than the other” or “no your eyes are equal in size”. I think the only way I’d get an answer I believe is if they stared into my eyes for at least one minute of every day.

Gunners Heaven if you can believe it is a lot like my predicament. This run & gun shooter is permanently trapped under the shadow of its inspiration Gunstar Heroes. While preparing for this review I started seeing both of these games as my eyes. There is definitely something off about one of them and things are already looking bad for Gunners Heaven when I’m already comparing it to another title.

A good game should always stand on its own merits and on the surface Gunners Heaven seems to do just that. It is six stages of shooting, exploding, and many boss-fights for only 600 yen off of the Japanese Playstation Network. It’s a good value and could last anywhere from forty-five minutes to however long it takes to completely master the game. The controls are solid, the graphics are serviceable, and all in all it is perfectly functional. Unfortunately I think of it as my “off” eye. This is the one that’s either smaller or larger and in comparison to the other eye is also remarkably inferior.

To start with for a game that takes itself after Gunstar Heroes, Gunners Heaven makes little effort in terms of creativity. While Heroes was not a flawless game it had different ideas for its many boss encounters that made all of them unique and interesting, even if they’re not always challenging or even fun. Heaven on the other hand does none of these things and puts out uninspired and bland boss battles that take too long to destroy, offer no sense of accomplishment, and don’t even have interesting attacks or movement patterns to set them apart.

The sections that are in-between bosses aren’t any better as whatever good idea the developers had ends up getting repeated several times. This means if there’s a particular enemy that seems in anyway different than the one that came before it’ll be seen again and again without so much as a change in frequency or other factor that might make them more difficult. This style of level-design goes far beyond repetitive and becomes mind-numbing. The appeal of holding right and holding the fire-button down loses its appeal before the first boss of the first stage and this game’s attempts at providing variety only bring the game down further.

Both playable characters offer their own set of selectable weapons and have the ability to jump, slide, and even use a grappling hook. The grappling hook is one of those gimmicks that gets used for a few fights but is otherwise irrelevant. The slide is sort of in the same boat but at least every now and again some enemy feels the need to throw out an attack that can only slid under. I guess I lost the coin-toss or the game is trying to say something but the character I chose is weak. Usually women in videogames are known to wear tiny outfits and kick ass but somehow I got stuck with someone who would be better off getting captured or offering to bake Mario a cake. All of her weapons offer no punch and have that plink-plink effect as they slowly whittle away the boss’s life. There is some strategy in using the right weapons for the right situation but there’s nothing to alleviate the fact that the heroine absolutely sucks. I guess I should start again with the hero but…why?

Opinion of the matter here is that I don’t think the game is fun at all. Maybe I’ll kill bosses more quickly if I use the other character but it won’t make them fun to fight. I could also probably pay less attention to what I’m doing as I run forward and hold the button down but there’s no point. This is all because the game is just too strict. It’s this Dragon’s Lair style of game design where to get past every obstacle the player must either have the reflexes to find the one spot that is safe or already know what’s going to happen. In a way a 2D shooter like R-Type has a similar style but it has many effective ways of preparing the player for situations that will occur. This game does nothing of the sort as despite having a fairly lengthy health meter I find myself repeating sections solely because there was no way I’d know I was supposed to stand there at that moment for an attack that wasn’t quite clear of.

Worst of all there is something that feels “off” about this game. This is one of those admittedly nebulous details that points out whether or not the developer has got “it”. It’s clear from what I see that Media-Vision does not have it and that’s why they went on to do RPGs. The placement of enemies in various stages is such that if they were shifted slightly to the left, a little in the other direction, and maybe a little downward as well, they’d be just a bit more entertaining to destroy. Gunners Heaven is most likely just a series of adjustments away from being a good yet uninspired game yet as it is there’s really nothing that makes it worth playing.

Even the comparison to Gunstar Heroes seems a bit unfair. I’ve been playing Gunstar Heroes for over fifteen years and Gunners Heaven for less than six months. Obviously that time spent isn’t in literal terms, which makes it all the more inexplicable. It could just be that I’m giving Heroes the nostalgia-pass while Heaven despite coming out only a few years later gets stuck. Then again if you the reader feel that I have slighted Heaven unfairly than please let me know. However would you just tell me what I want to hear or would you have come to this conclusion through many hours of playing both titles back-to-back?

Really I should have avoided this direct-comparison entirely. It may just be that since I started staring at my eyes so recently that I have already picked one of them as inferior. It’s also possible that I could have compared my eyes to those of others but that would have been a fruitless affair. In fact if it wasn’t for all this I would have simply written Gunners Heaven off and given it some throwaway write-up in the back of this blog.

Game Rating – 1.5 out of 5 stars

This game gets a star and a half for competency but there’s really nothing else worth talking about.

My Rating – 1 out of 5 stars

Despite all of my complaints and my completely dislike of the game it is still important as it serves its place in my eyes. I really can’t do without it even though I most likely would have been better off not knowing of its existence. Maybe it’s just me as I can’t even tell which eye is supposed to be the inferior one.

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