German developer NG:DEV.TEAM has just released their third Neo-Geo title for the MVS hardware, "Gunlord". Weighing in at a hefty 658 Megs, this self proclaimed "Eurostyle Platformer" combines huge, sprawling levels with run n' gun action and [once again] an incredible soundtrack. Check out some photos of the Shockbox Limited Edition below. [#16]
Some notes on the Gunlord MVS kit, and I use the word "kit" very loosely as there are simply too many elements missing from this package for my liking. No mini-marquee, no bezel sticker, no DIP-SHEET? Considering that their Fast Striker bundle included all of these items, plus cardboard box and the OST, it really bums me out. The manual is only a few pages, but of nice quality; however, it doesn't really contain much useful gameplay information. The posters are very cool though; and I appreciate them making the effort to contract various artists for some pretty slick concept and promotional art. The Shockbox insert looks fine, if not a little busy. If you are collecting english kits; you know by now that NG:DEV's spine layout will clash with any of your "official" releases; but at least they are staying consistent...
Now for the game itself; I love the vibe of Gunlord. The presentation overall is great. Most of the sprites are really well drawn; NG:DEV put a ton of detail [and frames] into the various enemies, levels, and playable character "Gordon Gaiden" himself. At any given time, I would say there are no less than five parallax layers being drawn at once in the background. Throughout the first several stages, trees, chains, and waterfalls are used as extreme foreground elements and really showcase the hardware's ability to push large scale sprites; they also add a lot of interest to the screen compositionally. The "technology" aesthetic of the bio-mechs, robots, and destructible hardware elements really remind me of the early Megadrive / Genesis days, which I am very nostalgic for; while the general mood of the environments, and multi-directional scrolling brings to mind Shadow of the Beast from Psygnosis.
NERD OUT!!! The "fiction" exists in the same world as NG:DEV's previous game Last Hope; therefore, Gunlord has some overlapping visual and narrative themes. Your mission is to rescue "Vanessa Gaiden" your wife, and pilot of the Z42-WARPSTAR, who has gone MIA. [protagonist of Last Hope] Additionally, Gunlord's nine stages take place on planet "Kairos II", which may be the backdrop for stage 2 in LH. [look for the statues]
Gameplay-wise, Gunlord is most comparable to Turrican... I could comfortably call this game "Neo Turrican". The power-ups, item collection, level design, even Gordon's running animation is a nod to Manfred Trenz's classic. Your gun is equipped with a standard "Spread-Shot", but can be quickly upgraded to some other options such as [but not limited to] "Bounce Blaster" [ricochet], "Power-Shot" [rockets], and my personal favorite "Phoenix", a flame projectile shaped liked wings. The weapon upgrades can be found in floating canisters [which double as a platforming elements], along with bombs ["Super Wave"], shields, and extra energy capsules to replenish your life gauge. [the player can suffer 3 hits before losing a life]. The "Snake Lazer" assigned to the "C" button, is a whip like energy weapon that can destroy most in-coming projectiles and even reach enemies through walls. Lastly, the player can transform into the "Bomb Wheel" by pressing DOWN + "B" [Metroid style], a technique that can be used both offensively and defensively to great effect.
There are two modes available from the start; "Original" and "Arcade". Both modes put an emphasis on exploration, and item collecting. Hidden throughout each world are pink diamonds; large ones are more rare, and found in hard to reach places; where small ones are thrown about everywhere and number in the hundreds. [per level] You will get a better score, and total completion percentage if you can 100% them. Definitely a necessity for high score runs. In Original mode you can find 1-Ups off the beaten path, adding to your rests, you may also continue from the exact place in which you die should you lose all your lives. Arcade mode is a little more intense, as you can only gain a 1-Up by collecting all of the large diamonds in a stage. You are also competing against the clock; about 3 minutes per life; 1-Up drops are replaced with "Time-Extends" in this mode. [so you really need to keep moving in order to stay alive]. In this mode continuing will bump you to the start of the level. Also, continuing in either Original or Arcade will reset your score, which is great.
NG:DEV did a great job on level variety, and they make an effort to mix-up gameplay too. I haven't finished the game yet. I'm up to stage 6 "Acid Pipe" [a linear, forced scrolling level] on a single credit, but I've seen as far as stage 7 "Waste Grounds" [more open world]. Stage 2 "Air Stride" sees you piloting a ship in standard horizontal shooter fashion [more of a bonus stage than anything else, but the boss is pretty sick looking]. Stage 1 "Holy Mountain" may still be my favorite though, about half way through the level the music fades out to ambient thunder claps as a storm rolls in; rain, lightning, and ground run-off kick in, while re-mixed BGM begins to play. If you look closely, some of the smaller robot enemies even deploy little umbrellas to keep from getting wet! Shit loads of character here.
My main complaints [which I hope are addressed in the inevitable 1.1 patch] are as follows:
- bosses die TOO QUICKLY [and lack interesting bullet patterns]
- need more enemies to shoot projectiles [to balance out all the "kamikaze" types]
- the Snake Lazer is way overpowered [cut it's length in half]
- one minor bug, and one pretty major bug [that i've encounter twice] still need to be ironed out.
- gun power-ups should be defined by larger sprites, possibly with an initial? [they look too similar]
- where is the "HOW TO PLAY" screen!??
In closing, a few recent pictures of "Goldie" and my english MVS collection; all complete kits w/ matching serials ;)...