The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

(PC Engine - 1992)

Hudson's Gunhead was one of the earlier PC Engine shoot-'em-ups, and while its not as complex or ambitious as some of the console's latter-era titles like Soldier Blade or Rayxamber, its still an entertaining and challening title that laid the groundwork for what came later. Discovering its many power-ups and engaging the enemy with an steady, satisfying pace is a key element of its appeal. Looking back, this surprisingly traditional entry into the genre brings a streamlined, accessible approach. Its fairly simple to understand Gunhed's play mechanics and struture. Its vertically-scrolling orientation doesn't make things overly complex. You'll face off against a varied array of enemies and foes is fairly standard and most of these can be dispatched quite easily. Their attack patterns aren't too terribly difficult to figure out, most swing at you in fairly predictable patterns, making it easy to avoid their lines of fire. Gunhed's level are relatively short and unfold at a steady pace, allowing you to get straight into its rhythm with a shallow learning curve that makes the gameplay structure accessible almost immediately.

However, there's a surprising amount of depth lurking beneath its flashy visuals and explosions. You should have no trouble using Gunhed's standard weapons fire that work as expectred. You can equip and power-up your ship with an impressive array of effective and fun weapon types. Its a fairly robust selection that offers an excellent balance of flash and power. Most weapons functions are fairly easty to use with fluid controls and intuitive systems that respond and work as you'd expect them to. You begin with a few standard guns that fire straight ahead, but you can add guided missiles, massive lasers and shields to your ship to enhance your fire-power.

Interesting enough, but these standard weapons won't get you very far once you encounter the stronger and more numerous enemies later on. Fortunately, your ship also comes equipped with a stock of bombs that you can unleash to clear timmediate area. There's only a few of these but you can collect more during each stage. You can hold onto them and save them until the end of each stage, where you can use them to more quickly dispatch a boss character, making quick work of them. Gunhed flows very nicely with a steady build of intensity and challenge on each stage, that leads right into the boss battles, allowing you to scale up your ship and weaponry to match the challenge.

Gunhed's power-up system is a bit simpler than many other titles, allowing you to quickly stack different weaponry and powers, making for a relatively robust system. Power-ups are generously scattered on each level, which allows your ship to cycle through many different systems without much effort. You can collect power-ups, which are easy to spot since they swing from side to side after being unlocked. This is a trademark that would recur in Hudson's subsequent shooters like Super Star Soldier and Soldier Blade. They're easy to collect but also effective and suprisingly numerous. They're scatterred throuhgout each stage and hard to miss. Collecting them sequentially allow you to build your powers quickly without much of an effort. They bring a varied set of abilities that inlude side-guns to increase your range and pods which can be used to that follow your ship around the screen.

After a few preliminary power-ups, eventually you can build up and implement screen-filling photon torpedoes.. These are immensely powerful and effortlessly allow you to clean out the surrounding area od the stage of any nearby foes without much effort. Your ship can also be upgraded with homing missiles and an array of other weapons that allow you to battle without being in the enemy's direct line of fire. These power-ups are numerous and prevalent on each stage, allowing you to quickly build an impressive machine. Gunhed's upgrade systems are also generous in another important area. Taking a single shot won't always cause immediate destruction, just downgrade your weaponry a level. This doesn't penalize the player for small mistakes excessively, and allows you to keep your game flowing without a frustrating setback.

With fairly decent production values evident in its decent animation and driving soundtrack, Gunhed is one of the more enjoyable shooters on the console. It runs smoothly with little slowdown. Most impressive about the game are its screen-filling, somewhat flashy weapons which seem to jump off the screen. Stages look fairly consistent, with a good overall design for the most part. These normal stages are cool and detailed. Beating these leads towards the inevitable, and usually impressive final boss encounters. These bosses can be menacing and somewhat difficult to defeat, especially later on, but not enough to throw the overall balance of the game off-kilter.

GunHed does a fairly good job in creating a conistent, coherent world for you to traverse. There's plenty of action that unfolds at an appropriately frenetic pace, bringing some intense and enjoyable action to the screen with occasional flair and flashes of style. Its levels and stages are intuitively designed with a straightforward structure that's accessible and easy to play. Its engine and interface doesn't isn't elaborate, but this approach doesn't get in the way of the action. Relative to other titles of the same type on PC Eninge, Gunhed doesn't really diverge from your expectations. The game is somewhat short and not terribly difficult, but the enjoyable gameplay adds some replay value. There aren't any extra modes such as time attack or carnival modes, but this doesn't really detract from the overall experience. Gunhed's solid mechanics and controls are nicely balanced, delivering a responsive, satisfying experience. Its not the most elaborate or challenging shooter on the console, but its lack of complexity makes for an appealing and challeenging shooter nicely balanced that lets you jump right in while offering challenge and depth.

- Michael Palisano