The NG:DEV.TEAM are becoming well known for their bold efforts to keep our beloved consoles afloat. After releasing a handful of stand-out scrolling shooters, the homebrew developers have stepped out of their comfort zone to create an iconic run and gunner - with a certain retro gaming inspiration shining through.
GunLord is the latest release to hit the Sega Dreamcast, a title which has already been available on the Neo Geo AES and MVS for quite some time. Despite getting impressive review scores on SNK’s hardware, many gamers have had to hold back from enjoying NG:DEV.TEAM’s new release due to the staggering cost of the cartridge version. The Sega Dreamcast version which was released last month eliminates these worries by providing the same experience at a fraction of the cost. Available in a range of flavours from the regular edition to the limited edition (and the now sold out "Dragon Box" Collector's Edition), both collectors and gamers can enjoy the game on many different levels.
In GunLord our main protagonist Gordian Gaiden sets out upon an adventure in the hope of finding his missing partner who went AWOL during a battle against the Evil Empire. This heartfelt story opens up the game in style with a neo-retro homage to the Engrish cutscenes found in games such as Zero Wing, accompanied by stunning pixel art visuals. Whilst the plot isn’t integral to the game, it’s clear as day which angle NG:DEV.TEAM have taken here and it’s one of nostalgia, which works a treat. Even before we’ve taken control of GunLord, we’re itching to get going.
The Turrican Factor
Once the action begins you’re placed into the Holy Mountain which is the first of nine gruelling stages of carnage. Within seconds of moving around you’ll be in familiar territory if you’ve ever played the multi-platform shooter Turrican. To ignore the links GunLord has with Turrican would be preposterous. Not only does GunLord feature an updated graphical style and almost identical controls to the 1989 release, but it plays like a spiritual successor to Manfred Trenz’s action-packed title. This, however, is a good thing. Given that Turrican has remained dormant since his last outing on the Super Nintendo in 1995, fans have been screaming out for a new release in the series, which is where GunLord steps in.
The most striking aspect to GunLord is the detailed and smooth pixel art within. Instead of relying on the 3D animation capabilities of the Sega Dreamcast, each and every sprite within has been handcrafted with the utmost care - and it shows. The parallax scrolling landscapes combined with the heavily animated hero and the countless enemies positioned in his way display how much detail has been placed into this new release. Where the visuals really excel is in the screen filling end of level bosses, which too are pixel perfect representations of the talent behind NG:DEV.TEAM’s doors.
If you hadn’t already experienced the previously described Turrican-vibe by now, Rafael Dyll’s work on the accompanying soundtrack will no doubt make the connection for you. The composer who also provided the stunning soundtrack to NG:DEV.TEAM’s Last Hope has sculpted a wealth of atmospheric Eurostyle music of which even Chris Hülsbeck would be proud. Each level is brought to life with some catchy tunes that also feature a time-gone-by feel to them, complementing the visual style of the game’s abandoned-futuristic locations. The only downside to these fantastic arrangements, however, are the limitations with CD based audio. Where module based music on classic systems could loop seamlessly, there are noticeable gaps in GunLord’s music where the Dreamcast is preparing to repeat each level’s backing track.
Insert all your coins
While GunLord does flood your retro-loving audio visual senses with a modern feel, your patience and good temper is about to get a beating. Like many other original Neo Geo titles, GunLord has been crafted to test your ability with its limited supply of credits. End of level bosses will absorb your limited life supply similar to how the Sega Game Gear consumes batteries, that is of course if you can avoid losing them to the countless enemies in between each finale.
There is, however, a wealth of extra lives out there to prolong your quest. Dotted around each map beyond difficult jumps and hidden platforms, these bonuses actually pose a threat due to their elusive nature guarded by spike traps and minions. Should you even be able to scout out these extra lives, you’re going to need some extensive practice to make the most of them and the limited credits gifted to you.
Unfortunately the extended loss of lives in GunLord can be attributed to one aspect of the controls. The wheel ability which can be used by pressing the L button turns GunLord into a Metroid style ball which automatically rolls forward at a pace in the direction you’re facing. While this does allow access to several hidden chasms guarded by small entrances, it can be rather problematic. Often you find yourself wanting to fire the Snakebeam laser (the R button) to pick out targets above and around, only to find yourself accidentally pressing the other trigger and rolling into instant doom. GunLord’s inspiration, Turrican, which also featured this handy wheel ability carefully hid it behind a two button combination which made sure that it could only be activated when you really needed it. This, however, is something we can easily overlook as we found ourselves doing this less and less as we became more disciplined with the controls.
Over the course of a week the RetroCollect Squad has only managed to reach the halfway point of the fourth stage, the Techno Dungeon. While our feeble attempt might be laughable, every sight of the game over screen has left us with the promising feel of ‘one more turn’ in anticipation of reaching the next stage - something we’re enjoying doing over and over again.
GunLord Gameplay Video
Difficulty aside, GunLord is without a doubt a must-have for anyone who grew up in the era of Turrican. This modern homage to the classic run and gunner is anything but a rip off. This 2012 Sega Dreamcast outing provides one hell of an adventure, worth sticking with through every enjoyable minute of its skill-testing challenges.
The presentation of the game further enhances the experience to be had, proving yet again the high standards that NG:DEV.TEAM are capable of. As we continue our efforts to get a glimpse of the later stages in game, we’ll be keeping a close eye on what the homebrew developers conjure up next.