Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Spotlight: Gunstar Heroes

A couple games got added to the list of titles that are backwards compatible on the Xbox One: Outland and Gunstar Heroes. I’m going to tell you why you have to pick up Gunstar Heroes today, because it’s far and away one of my favorite games of all time. Let’s begin shall we.

Gunstar Heroes

Gunstar Heroes isn’t a recent title being added to the backwards compatible list – it’s actually a game that first appeared on the Sega Genesis way back in 1993, developed by Treasure. It’s since shown up on the Wii’s Virtual Console, as well as the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and the 3DS eShop over the last handful of years. That Xbox Live Arcade version is the one that, obviously, was just brought forward to the Xbox One. It was a game that I used to rent all the time when I was growing up for my Genesis, and have since bought the Wii version and Xbox one; as well as the Game Boy Advance pseudo-sequel/remake. So in that way, it’s a game that I have a pretty strong emotional connection with – it’s really hard for me to separate out the nostalgia on this game. It’s a lot like the NES Mega Man games in that way.

It’s also similar to the Mega Man games in that it’s a 2D shoot-em-up. You can also look at games like Contra for other comparisons. It’s hard, but not unfair. It demands you to have some precision in your platforming and shooting, while throwing huge numbers of enemies at you. Treasure knows that with those old school games like that, good boss fights are at the top of the list in terms of important factors in a game. And as such, Gunstar Heroes has some imaginative, challenging and fun boss fights – and lots of them. The four main bosses at the end of the first stages vary from a giant robot, a muscle bound grappler, a mech who uses dice to move and determine its attacks, and a rogue Gunstar using a mech with multiple different forms. Each fight has you using different tactics to beat them – Black and Pink are beatable just with standard run-and-gun moves, Green and Orange definitely require a bit more precision in how you handle them. Once those first stages are done, the game kicks up a couple notches, throwing everything you’ve seen so far all in one stage before you head to space for the final few stages. It all feels very much like an arcade game – it’s not a long game by any stretch. It almost feels like it’s trying to kill you to steal some quarters. That feeling really sets in during the last couple stages – boss rush screens, no weapon fights, a multi-stage penultimate boss followed right up by an incredibly tough final boss. Playing this game on hard is a legitimate challenge and beating it on hard is a real accomplishment.

Luckily, just because it’s a hard game, it isn’t unforgiving. You’ve got difficulty select, and while easy is easy for sure; the normal difficulty is just right. There’s co-op as well, which is seriously fun to play with a friend; especially in the same room on one console, how we used to do it. Where other hard games lose me usually is with the gameplay. Games like Dark Souls or Lords of the Fallen always have felt clunky or overly punishing to the player. I totally get that’s a subjective thing, and I get that it’s definitely just my personal preference with that. But that’s why I really have always liked Gunstar Heroes – it’s hard, and the gameplay feels just about perfect. The controls all feel super responsive, your mobility isn’t clunky, the gunplay is incredible and varied and repeat playthroughs just help you learn everything better and better. The action is exactly what this game needs to keep players coming back. Add in one of the best soundtracks on the Genesis, and I don’t think it’s hard to see why this is one of those classic old games people keep talking about.

Gunstar Heroes Green Battle

That action and gunplay I mentioned is a big part of why I really love this game. It takes the classic Contra/Mega Man sidescrolling gunplay, and adds a little twist to it. Instead of just having single weapon pickups to switch your gun out, you have two slots to fill. You pick one as you start the game, the other you fill pretty early on in the first mission. What makes it unique is that there are four options – Force, Laser, Fire, and Chaser – and each behaves quite differently. Then, when you fill that second slot, you combine the two into a new weapon. Double Force is a massive machine gun style weapon, while Force and Fire shoots out fireballs that explode on contact; take Laser and Fire and you’ve got a lightsaber, and Chaser and Laser is the “press shoot to kill everything” weapon. Add in to that the two different player choices – Free and Fixed Shot – and you see why the combat is surprisingly deep for a 23 year old game, as well as why I compared it to Mega Man.

I’m a big proponent of playing old classics, no matter how long ago they came out. We talk about old movies, music and TV with a sense of reverence and still consume that media. Why can’t we do the same with games? Part of that is technology that is obsolete or hard to find, the other part is that gaming has just changed so much in such a short time. So when these classic, touchstone games pop up on modern, current consoles, I think it’s important to point them out – especially to younger or new game players. Gunstar Heroes is a 23 year old game, but I think it absolutely still holds up to this day. If you’ve never played it, and you’ve got an Xbox One, go pick it up from the marketplace. You absolutely won’t be disappointed.


Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Thoughts

Xbox OneWith the new Xbox One Experience that launched last month, Microsoft has brought to the console a feature that we have been asking for since the original launch of the console. We can now play, in a limited capacity, Xbox 360 titles on the Xbox One. The really nice thing is that that isn’t limited to physical copies of games – Games on Demand titles can be brought forward as well.

While it’s not an exhaustive list – and really we shouldn’t expect to be at all, there were easily thousands of games on the 360 – Microsoft was smart with this first 100 or so titles. They feature a lot of the biggest games from the last console generation. From Microsoft exclusives like the Rare games and Gears of War; to big third party titles like Rainbow Six Vegas and Fallout 3 there’s a really good mix of games out there. One other nice thing here is that you don’t actually need to currently still own your 360 to get the digital games – you can purchase them right on For people who maybe sold their Xbox 360 to make room for the Xbox One, this is a really nice addition.

The actual execution of the backwards compatibility play is also pretty damn smart. Instead of having it behave vastly different, it works just like it already does on both consoles. The Xbox One requires games to be installed to the hard drive – including the 360 titles – so that’s the first step. And it’s a step that anyone with an Xbox One already takes with games. That keeps people from having to learn another way to move about their console. When you actually load up the 360 game, your Xbox One transforms right in front of you. It runs the 360 start-up noises, and acts just like an emulator. As someone who played the 360 for almost ten years, it’s a pretty welcoming feeling to see it come up. You still have access to the Xbox 360 Guide even – that’s fantastic.

It might be a little later than we would have liked, but now that it’s here, I think it’s a really good addition to the console. Sure the Xbox One has a couple quirks to it that I would like to see tweaked. Sometimes it’s in specific games – I’m looking at you Destiny and not having private in-game fireteams. But Microsoft has done a really good job, this year in particular, of looking at the console and the wants of the fanbase, and then applying what they can to the console. We’re still very early in this console generation, and while I do think that the PlayStation 4 got off to a much strong start, I think the Xbox One is starting to finally come into its own.

Early Thoughts on Xbox One Backward Compatibility

Xbox 360 Logo

I recently got into the Xbox Preview Program, and as such have been able to look into the new backwards compatibility feature on the Xbox One. Now, it’s far from complete, there’s still plenty of details that Microsoft is working out – that’s what the whole point of the Preview Program is about. That said, the list of games that are currently available does have a couple that I have on there, so I’ve been able to play around a little bit.

Battleblock Theater

To start with, I’ve put my time in with one of the downloadable games – Battleblock Theater. The game itself is an interesting game – puzzle based platformers are always fun, and this one is no different. If anything, because it’s from The Behemoth, it’s got that much more character to it. But that’s not the important part here. What is is how well the emulation works. And in my experience it’s been pretty close to flawless. It took a while to load up the 360 environment – at least the first time it did – but other than that, it’s been really smooth so far. No framerate issues, no sound issues, and the controller hasn’t had any sort of input delay – at least that I’ve noticed. If this stays true moving forward – and the list of digital/arcade titles grows more expansive, this could really be a big step towards moving 100% on to my Xbox One.

Now, I say that I’ve used the downloadable game option so far. That’s because I only have one on-disc game that currently available on the Backwards Compatibility list – Mass Effect. Now, I love that game, and I love that series. But playing that is a major time commitment – and I already have a number of games going right now. Between Destiny, Fallout: New VegasBattlefield: Hardline, finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition and really starting Witcher 3, my plate is pretty full – especially considering I want to get a chunk of these done before the fall season kicks up. Now, I expect the discs to work just as well as the digital games do – my only concern with them is whether or not an install is required. If it is, then storage is an even bigger issue than it already was. Early adapters with the 500Gb Xbox One will all but be forced to get some form of external storage moving forward. It’s either that, or some major curating of installed games is needed. But that’s a problem for another day – and not one that’s unique to the Xbox.