Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress. Especially when looking back on beloved games or consoles. Long cherished memories, when revisited with modern eyes, can be dashed in an instant. A crushing realisation sets in when you realise that a beloved game or system you cherished just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny anymore. It can be a sad and depressing time for those of us of a certain age, looking back wistfully, and longing for the “good old days”.
However, there are always exceptions to the rule and the Sega Dreamcast is one of those glorious moments in time that still holds up to this day. The Dreamcast was ahead of its time in terms of both performance and features. Boasting a whopping 128 bits of power, in a time when bits still mattered, with arcade quality visuals along with a built-in modem. You read that correctly, Sega was the first to implement online gaming on consoles long before Microsoft and Sony came to the party. So what happened to this magnum opus of a system I hear you say? Well, it died an untimely death when Sega discontinued the system on March 31, 2001…..or did it?
I have news for you. The Dreamcast is alive and well and is currently home to a thriving Indie and home-brew scene. There are many developers out there still producing games for this beloved system and leading the charge is German based developer NG:DEV.TEAM. Founded in 2001, by Timm Hellwig, NG:DEV.TEAM specialises in creating 2d arcade style games for the Neo Geo and Sega Dreamcast. The team released their first offering Last Hope, an R Type clone, in 2007 and released a revised version Last Hope: Pink Bullets in 2009. They followed this up in 2010 with Fast Striker, a vertical scrolling shooter similar to Super Aleste/Space Megaforce and the Raiden series.
Their latest offering Gunlord is a pulse-pounding, techno fuelled mix of exploration, platforming and furious action. Gunlord is a love letter to the Turrican games from the early nineties, which in turn were inspired by Metroid but featured a greater focus on action. The Turrican games were created by lead designer Manfred Trentz and the now defunct Factor 5 development studio. The similarities are simply undeniable, you can roll up into a spiky ball to explore and lay mines along with wielding an electric hose of death. This is a very European version of what retro gaming is and it makes no apologies for that.
The maxim that accompanies the game is “Jump. Shoot. Explore” and Gunlord delivers on this promise in spades. The minute-to-minute gameplay involves exploring the almost open world levels looking for secrets and power-ups, blasting enemies with the various weapons and navigating tricky platforming sections. This blend of styles gels exceptionally well and is helped by a generally rock solid 60fps. There are three main weapons at your disposal: the laser hosepipe that has a 360 arc of fire, a highly powerful wide arc beamed shot and a less powerful scatter shot. The idea here is to master the various weapons and utilise them in the right situations, this adds a layer of strategy to proceedings. There are also two side-scrolling shooter levels thrown in for good measure and the end of each level culminates in a large boss fight.
Visually the game looks to be created solely on a 16-bit machine, with level and creature designs heavily influenced by the artwork of Roger Dean. The Levels feature fully animated effects such as dripping water, rain and oozing slime further adding to the atmosphere. You can really see the homages to the Psygnosis games of the 80’s and 90’s. It is this design philosophy that truly elevates Gunlord’s aesthetic above the standard copy and paste pixel art associated with so many modern “retro” games. The boss characters are especially large and detailed, featuring excellent design and animation. The levels vary from metal edged decayed outposts to forests with floating cherry blossoms and a rather spectacular level that takes place under the pink and orange hues of sunset.
Gunlord also boasts one of the greatest video game soundtracks created in recent years. German composer Rafael Dyll creates a truly memorable score. There has not been a 16-bit synth/techno soundtrack of this quality since Yuzo Koshiro first filled our ears with the seminal Streets of Rage 2 themes back in 1992. The blend of synth and techno combine to create some thumping tunes, which elevates the action to epic levels in certain stages. The pulsing music generates an even greater sense of urgency to the platforming and combat whilst ratcheting up your adrenaline levels to 11. I highly recommend that you seek out this soundtrack and listen to it for yourself…..it is incredible.
This is the best Turrican game that was never made. The superb blend of the new and old combine to create a truly excellent game that stands on its own two feet. The excellently paced levels combined with the subtle nuances of Gunlord’s armoury create a well-polished adventure fuelled by one of the greatest soundtracks in recent years. Yes, there are few new ideas here and the difficulty curve can be steep. However, what we get is a truly fantastic love letter to the platform shooters of the 80’s and 90’s and a reminder that the Dreamcast lives on.
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