Ah, the doujin game. The Japanese indie games scene has brought me quite a bit of happiness. My favorites expand on the concepts and style that were in vogue when I was but a mere adolescent. (As opposed to a mere adolescent in a man’s body that I am now.) They tend to have the benefit of prebuilt nostalgia before I have even touched the game for the first time. It is with this attitude that I snagged Armored Hunter GUNHOUND EX. (For the rest of the review, why don’t I just call it Gunhound? I’m not that worried about my word count.) Seriously, a giant robot based side-scrolling shooter with a ridiculously overwrought plot is exactly the type of thing that causes me to shiver in ecstasy.
So, let’s check in on this new game: “Gunhound, I’m home. How is a little pup- Ah, man. What did you do? On the new rug, too. Bad Gunhound! Look, he knows what he did.”
Well, as abhorrent as I find the practice, it appears that I am forced to rub its well meaning nose in this. The review has to go up, after all.
Gunhound was released to Steam May 1st by Dracue. I do want to emphasize the “to Steam” part as this is a port of an older Japanese PSP game. It stars the player piloting a giant Gunhound mecha in a team with two wing mates in the midst of a losing war, The first mission tasks you with stealing fuel to prevent further attacks from the enemy’s super weapon and the issues snowball from there. When I describe the story as overwrought, I really mean it. Each stage is prefaced with a lengthy mission briefing from the stage select dossier, then again from your mission commander. The characters themselves fall in your standard anime tropes. This all didn’t bother me, however. While probably not the developer’s intention, it got so far over the point of “too much” that it landed in the humorously ridiculous end of the spectrum.
The graphics are interesting as well. This is definitely a 16-bit era shooter. While many games take this style and smooth the edges using modern techniques creating the impression of that era of technology while still remaining palatable, Dracue decided that they were going to go full-on with this aesthetic. The look is pixely and really wears the old-school style well. You would be forgiven for thinking that you pirated a late 80s/early 90s arcade game and ran it through MAME. Some might take issue with this, but I appreciate the decision to own up to the era.
The biggest issue I have with this game is the controls. First of all, while the store page advertises only partial controller support, don’t be fooled. It is nigh unplayable on the keyboard. Unfortunately, you will need to set up the controller before using it in game. This would have been a painless process, except the developers felt that navigating the menus should be an adventure itself. You can navigate the options with the arrow keys, which is fine and to be expected. However, pressing enter brings up a pointless submenu to allow you to jump to the online instructions or reset the game. Pressing enter again closes this menu. So, how do you actually select the option that you want? Press “Z.” There, I just saved you time digging through the forums to find this information as it was nowhere on the menu screen. Oh, and if you reflexively press escape to back out of a menu, don’t. It will close the game.
So, you have mapped the controller and got into the game proper. How does it play? To my regret, not well. It all comes down to controlling the mecha. The walking animation is, appropriately, very weighty and chunky, but you can use dash to navigate much faster. Combining this with jumps allows you to boost across the screen and cover quite a bit of ground. Just be sure that you know where to go and when to stop, or else you will find yourself making sweet, sweaty love with the edge of the screen. Trying to aim while doing this is another major issue. The designers decided that instead of aiming where you are pointing with your stick, you will instead need to circle the arm up and down. This causes numerous occasions where shots will go off the mark and the enemies will get to lob more hurt your way. This is really the biggest issue I have with the game. The challenge was more about fighting the controls than fighting the onscreen enemies. For a reflex based shooter like this, it is impossible to have a bigger issue than that.
And there is where the problems lie. If the controls were up to snuff, I could easily recommend this to genre fans and nostalgia freaks like myself. As it is, even the bells and whistles like the ability to customize your mecha with various color schemes and unlockable weapons, I cannot recommend this to anybody. That makes me sad, but at least the game is not rabid.
Armored Hunter GUNHOUND EX can be found here.