Treasure Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Treasure's run-and-gun action game: Gunstar Heroes for the Genesis.]

Lunatic Heroes

I first played Gunstar Heroes was with a friendly rival (he had a Genesis before I did, and more NES games). One day, after school, he came over to my house with a game box in hand and said this new game was better than Contra, which we had to play. It was the last game I played with him before I moved away. I don't know if I agree that it was better than Contra.

The game was originally conceived with the title "Lunatic Gunstar," but Sega of America recommended "heroes, since it's cool," to the then-unknown development company. The game was programmed in their spare time, and after a few bumps, Gunstar Heroes was released in the US and Japan in September 1993, on the ninth and tenth respectively. The game's success on both sides of the Pacific established a name for the small company, who were called Treasure.

Seven Force Level
Freedom of Choice

Gunstar Heroes is hard to describe - to say it is similar to Contra doesn't do it justice. I usually play using the homing-laser, which makes it fairly easy to beat the game using only a few continues. I have a friend who told me that he found the game damn hard and used far more continues. We got together last month to play though the the Treasure Box release. I realized it was his choice of weapon--the double flamethrower--that made the game so difficult for him.

Gunstar Heroes was built on choices, and not just in weaponry--the main stage order is selectable. I tend to go left to right out of habit, and the game seemed foreign when my friend took a different route. The bosses (and there are many) can be taken down in many different ways. This game is the epitome of Treasure's early don't-leave-anything-out design process.

GOLD DUST!
Fan Fare

Even with all the variations, the many levels, and bosses, Gunstar Heroes still produces a tight package of action. There are so many extremely original ideas crammed into this game. Every boss fight is memorable, and even the music and sound effects are overachievers.

Treasure is almost synonymous with hardest-of-the-hardcore fans, and their fan-base was practically built on this game alone. For years, devotees despaired that there would never be a sequel (though they ultimately had mixed feelings when it finally arrived in the form of Gunstar Super Heroes). There is a reason why fans are so zealous; Gunstar Heroes is a masterpiece of the Genesis library.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first-person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]