iPhone port of Gunstar Heroes suffers from bugs, bad controls

Dec 3, 2010
Games

SEGA has put together a lot of iPhone and iPod versions of its classic games from the 1980s and ’90s, and they all get about the same treatment – namely, virtual buttons laid over the iPhone’s wide screen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: Gunstar Heroes is an example of the latter. Gunstar is a […]

SEGA has put together a lot of iPhone and iPod versions of its classic games from the 1980s and ’90s, and they all get about the same treatment – namely, virtual buttons laid over the iPhone’s wide screen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: Gunstar Heroes is an example of the latter.

Gunstar is a side-scrolling shooter, in which players are constantly inundated with enemies to shoot. You can aim your gun in any of eight directions, and are pretty much firing constantly. Various gun types are available (flamethrower, rapid-fire, heat-seeking and laser versions), and any two can be mixed. Most of the game is spent running, jumping over enemy fire and unloading on anything that moves, with bigger enemy boss fights sprinkled in along the way.

While Gunstar does manage to capture the mayhem of the original console release, the overlaid control scheme detracts quite a bit from the experience. Games like this are about seeing enemies quickly, and shooting them down, which is why firing in any direction is such a big deal. But with the buttons over the screen, your thumbs are covering most of the action, most of the time. Switching the view options to a smaller screen helps a lot, but the tradeoff is a tiny, square screen –  a huge bummer compared with the ability to play in full widescreen mode.

The small-sized screen is something that players can get over: The bugs in Gunstar Heroes, on the other hand, aren’t. The game doesn’t feel like it was properly tested, with enemies and even the main character often disappearing from the screen altogether when they’re hit. This can be infuriating, especially in Gunstar’s tough boss battles – you can lose track of the boss, or of yourself, for no reason at all. This is a bug that absolutely kills the game at points, and it shouldn’t have made it into Gunstar Heroes.

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SEGA also included an accelerometer control option, but it might as well not have – there’s no way any player could realistically fight through the hordes of enemies Gunstar throws at them by tilting the iPhone to move and aim. There’s no way to be precise enough to kill anything, and you just end up flailing away with the iPhone, trying desperately not to die. It’s zero fun and, as a feature, feels like a tacked-on addition that required no real planning or forethought.

SEGA likes to port its old console games because they’re good for a lot of money with little effort, but Gunstar Heroes needs more work before it’s a viable option at $2.99. Yes, this captures the feel of the original Genesis game, but it really isn’t a great iPhone game, it’s an old-school game you happen to play on the iPhone. An update will probably eventually fix any bugs, but the core experience remains the same: This is for nostalgic players only. For the rest of us, the price is a little steep for this awkward an experience.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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