Giving certain games the review treatment feels pointless. For instance, listen to this:
It’s almost as if developers NG:DEV TEAM knew this musical piece alone would bring back fond memories of the Amiga 500. Going one step further, if you’re aware of Gunlord X’s existence you’ve probably handed over your hard-earned eShop credit already.
For everyone else the question is thus: is Gunlord X more than a simple nostalgia trip?
Gunlord X, originally released on NeoGeo and Dreamcast in 2012 as plain old Gunlord, is a faithful Turrican-alike. You play as the eponymous Gunlord, running and gunning through eights levels of robotic enemies and Cronenbergian bosses. Also: one level of R-Type-style shooting.
The first thing that hits you is how much effort the developers have gone to in order to mimic the look of Amiga games of yore. The colour palette is spot on, with queasy greens and fleshy pinks, and the optional CRT filter is one of the best we’ve seen. The sprites are big and blocky and ugly in the right way, with the game looking swish on both the Switch’s screen and blown up on TV.
The sound is also great, with the soundtrack mimicking the German techno of the ‘90s, with lasers, bullets and a robotic announcer filling out the mix.
These individual elements come together nicely, elevating the gunplay. By default, you have an eight-directional spread shot with unlimited ammo, which can be switched out for a bouncing shot or a more powerful blast shot. The bouncing shot is the more useful of the two, taking out enemies from afar while also filling up the screen with bullets.
There’s also a rechargeable ‘sideflash’ which wipes out most things in its path, along with a whip with full 360-degree movement, and the ability to turn into a ball and lay bombs a-la Metroid. And if all else fails, and you can jump on some enemies to kill them.
If this all sounds a bit much, that’s because it is. It’s easy to forget about or entirely overlook the lesser-used tools and abilities in Gunlord’s arsenal. We can even imagine some players going from start to finish without knowing the whip exists.
However, working out which tool is best to overcome certain situations still plays a big part. This is a vastly challenging experience, and while there are items (giant gems) that can grant extra continues, we found ourselves seeing the ‘Game Over’ screen a lot. So much is going on at once that it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Being overwhelmed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The best score-attack games, like Metal Slug and Ikaruga, seem impossible at first. It’s only by constantly retrying and learning patterns that you slowly start to chip away at the thing. The problem with Gunlord is that its levels are too big and sprawling for this process to work. The sprawling levels do at least allow for exploration but breaking them up into smaller chunks would have allowed for a tighter, more-focused game where attacking the leaderboard or improving a high score would seem like a far more viable option. As it is, Gunlord X isn’t that inviting to revisit.
This is a shame, as it gets a lot right. Neat animations and the visual feedback from shooting means it’s satisfying to blow stuff up, and the developers have done a great job adding some modern quality-of-life improvements. You can remap the controls (we preferred a twin-stick setup) and there’s a good array of graphics options, including borders.
We really enjoyed our time with Gunlord X – we’re just not sure if we’ll be returning to it. That should end our review. It’s a nice line to end a review on. We should give it a 7, edging to an 8, and move on. Except…well…there is a massive elephant in the room.
Gunlord X is really similar Turrican. As in, it practically is Turrican.
I’ve talked before about the fine line many indie games walk between homage and copycat. Gunlord walks a finer line than most. That spread shot changing to a bounce or fireball I talked about? It’s in Turrican. That R-Type side-scrolling shooting level? It’s in Turrican. The platforming? The ball and bomb dropping? All in Turrican.
Turrican isn’t available for modern platforms, and the developers clearly love that fact. They’ve lavished attention on this modern cover version. But that’s what this is – a cover version. Gunlord sticks rigidly to the formula and offers little in the way of its own twists or ideas.
We’d still recommend it if you’re looking for a run ‘n’ gunner. But its best ideas aren’t its own, and at a time where the indie scene is a hotbed of innovation and originality, that feels odd.