Gunbird Special Edition (PS2) review

There’s an unusual theme in the latest Very Very Gaming arrivals – two budget Playstation 2 titles, exclusive to the PAL territories and Japan. It’s not common, but neither Gunbird Special Edition nor Gregory Horror Show saw the light of day in the US while they did see release in Europe. Seems to be more commonplace these days but we’re still talking about a handful of titles, let alone the smaller still subset of desirable titles. Let’s review Gunbird Special Edition on PS2 then, and perhaps we shall see whether the cocky Europeans have reason to gloat, or are they just sanctimonious pricks?

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Gunbird Special Edition is really budget, let’s make no bones. The RRP in the UK was a mere £10 on release. I’d call that a pretty fair price – the compilation is comprised of Gunbird 1 and 2, arcade games developed by Psikyo which saw ports on the Saturn and Dreamcast respectively. As far as shooters go, the Saturn version of the original Gunbird sells for relatively little – anywhere from £8 to £30 on ebay as of writing. (The Saturn port I believe has some small bonus extras that the PS2 compilation lacks, in the way of character bios, however given the Saturn version was released exclusively in Japan this is meaningless for non-Japanese speakers.) The Dreamcast sequel sells for a similar amount to the original, and be nabbed for £15-£40.

Clearly, the PS2 compilation is a better value proposition than hunting down the originals. plus it’s translated which adds substantially to the enjoyment of both games, so it’s the recommended method if you are simply interested in playing the games – don’t get me started on collectors. Having said that, and I hate to spoil what follows, but while these games are fun for a quick blast, both titles are pretty forgettable.

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Do not mock but have pity for this poor ebayer, for he or she has paid dearly for their reckless bids.

Frankly the original game is a relatively short, mundane shooter with little to recommend it over other titles. The mechanics are simple and the game itself playable and relatively enjoyable, but there are no memorable enemy or environmental encounters. Indeed the main thing which stands out is the mildly entertaining story, which has different dialogue and endings depending on which of the five characters you play as. It is necessary to play with two players to see the personality of the characters, since interaction between the two protagonists provides the main humour – singleplayer offers instead rather monotonous scenes that contain some variant of “Good. X more levels to complete”.

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Meet Ash. He seems like fun but behind that smile he’s hiding a rather dodgy secret.

Gunbird 2 is more fully featured than the original, with inspired environments including medieval-esque castles and forests, and a Wild West themed level. There’s a lot, maybe too much variety in your arsenal – melee attacks, charge shots, bombs and rapid fire are all present, although with the exception of rapid fire all are limited use. As a result the game is a touch more strategic than Gunbird 1, however the only strategy to speak of is to try and dispatch with larger enemies as quickly as possible when they appear, before ludicrous numbers of bullets swamp the screen. The story is entertaining and varies depending on the characters you use, although I must note the absence of the pedophilic explorer, Ash (instead he is replaced by Alucard the vampire…vampires of course are entirely innocent of matters around sex as we all know).

The game feels more accomplished than the original, although that is offset somewhat by its punishing difficulty. Whereas the first game I find entirely manageable up to the medium difficulty levels, even the lowest difficulty in Gunbird 2, baby mode, is a significant challenge with plentiful bullet-hell moments. Feel free to dismiss this complaint as that of a wuss or beginner. Even so, the levels don’t offer enough variety or memorable encounters to incentivise me to return and improve. Perhaps a die-hard shmupper who has blasted through the gamut of shmup classics time and time again and needs a new fix will find something here. But for anyone else, Gunbird is best seen as a cheap, quick and dirty pleasure.

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The big yellow buggers are a serious pain.

So that’s Gunbird Special Edition on the Playstation 2, all wrapped up in the neat bindle known as a review. Expect a post or five in the coming weeks on Gregory Horror Show, another PAL-exclusive (almost!!) and a proclaimed PS2 “hidden gem”, whatever that means.

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