Originally released for the Sega Genesis in 1993, Gunstar Heroes is one of the most popular side-scrolling shooters of all time. And for good reason: The action is nonstop; it’s full of awesome set pieces, enemies, and weapons; the graphics are retro-gorgeous; the boss battles are epic… We could go on and on, but let’s leave it at this: It makes playing many other action games seem about as exciting as filling in a crossword puzzle.
Unfortunately, Sega used the same emulator to port this over as they used for Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe. This means that the game has not been optimized for the touchscreen at all. Basically, they put the original game on the iPhone, slapped a d-pad and three buttons onto the screen, and called it a day. Sure, it runs smoothly on newer devices, but it’s always very obvious that you’re playing a game made for a different platform.
Can you say outnumbered?
One problem is that there are two separate options menus: One for the game itself, and one for the emulator. This causes confusion that could have been avoided if Sega had put a little bit of effort into the port, like they did with ChuChu Rocket. Worse, you have to navigate both sets of menus differently. The emulator menus are easily tappable, like the menus on just about every other app on the iPhone. But navigating the in-game menus is done by using the d-pad and buttons, which feels awkward on a touchscreen device.
The biggest problem, though, is the game’s use of screen space. If you play using the full-screen mode– which it defaults to, by the way– your thumbs block most of the ground action, making the game virtually unplayable. If you choose to shrink the screen down so the controls aren’t in the way, the gameplay window becomes problematically small. There’s no good option here, but shrinking the screen is the only usable choice.
Dancing on the ceiling.
Doing a decent emulation job on the iPhone is possible, as shown in Capcom Arcade. But this version of Gunstar Heroes is clunky from the start. Luckily, the game is also available on the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Wii Virtual Console, so you probably have an alternate way to get into the action.
Don’t get us wrong: Gunstar Heroes is a terrific game, and you should definitely play it. If the iPhone version is your only option, it ain’t pretty but it will suffice. On the other hand, if you have a current generation console, download it there so you can play it on a TV screen. Your optometrist will thank you.