There's only one thing in this world with more piercing power than a high velocity console controller, and that's the dirty looks I got playing Gunstar Future Heroes on the tube this morning. Granted, they weren't quite up to the caliber of the death-stares hurled my way when I was shouting at my Nintendog earlier this month, but that's a different review entirely.
I can't help it if the rest of the carriage can hear my unabashed curses - this classic run-and-jump shooter skips hand in hand with the f-word, joyfully prancing through a field of defiant expletives. If my fellow commuters knew the tension of a heated Gunstar boss battle they'd soon forgive me of my sinful language.
It turns out that the Gameboy Advance is the ultimate stress toy: one of the many advantages of having a handheld Gunstar sequel is that when "game over" fills the screen, it's now possible to throw the game, console and controller at the wall in one swift stroke. But fear not - we only hurt the ones we love. This kind of 16-bit era blaster has been sorely missed since the white pants of gaming were soiled by the yellow polygons of change. There will always be a special place in the hearts of seasoned gamers for a little hardcore 2D action, which Gunstar Future Heroes so gratifyingly supplies.
Snuggled inside this handsome GBA package is a rich side-scrolling action experience, with a hint of a top-down shooter sandwiched in the middle. Whilst I'm aware of the lore surrounding the original 16-bit Gunstar Heroes, I'm unfortunate enough to not have sampled the Mega Drive classic. The GBA sequel that lies before me certainly garners a little desire to rummage through the retro shops and find out what I missed.
Gunstar Future Heroes picks up where the first game ended; joining the fight as either of the creatively named Red or Blue - who, you guessed it, are dressed in red and blue - players are tasked with shooting through scores of enemies using the unique weaponry on hand.
The relentless side-scrolling worlds on offer will rekindle loving memories of Metal Slug, Ninja Turtles, Contra and any other childhood favourites your parents had to forcibly remove you from so that they could watch Eastenders. Even if, like us, you've played this kind of shooter to death in the past, there's a special kind of fun to be had from the reunion of gamer and old electronic friend.
The first level can only be described as a roller-coaster with laser guns. Tearing through the futuristic city capping every soldier foolish enough to cross your path is intense enough, but things bump up a notch with the appearance of enemy drop-ships, x-ray screen set-pieces and the token 'big-and-tough' enemies thrown in for good measure. This isn't a man with rose-tinted glasses speaking - this game is so well designed that it easily stands up with the big boys from ten years ago, not to mention today.
The variety on offer is a true blessing. The run-and-gun action rarely gets tired because, before you know it, you're flying a spaceship through a war-torn city in either a top-down or side-scrolling setup. In the vein of various arcade classics, the ship has basic laser guns as well as bombs which can be dropped onto land troops and tanks. We found these sections rather difficult, which might be because we're not as uber as we once were, but there were many occasions when we ran into trouble which was almost impossible to escape from alive. Unfortunately there are no co-op modes included in the game, which we thought would have been an obvious inclusion. Maybe next time, eh?