Gunlord X

Year: 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Review Date: 2/10/20
Rating: ***

"Gunlord X" is an update to the original "Gunlord," which was developed for Neo Geo and Dreamcast back in 2012. It's a very loose sequel to "Last Hope" (2006) in that the heroine from that game, Vanessa Gaiden, has been kidnapped by an evil warlord known as "The Master," and it's up to her husband, Gordian Gaiden, to don the Gunlord suit and rescue her. The game is a blatant "Turrican" clone through and through, and by far the best one that I've seen in the last twenty years. For all intents and purposes, it should just be called "Turrican 4." The weapons are identical, including power lines (side flash), the omni-directional flamethrower (snake beam), and the ability to become an invincible rolling ball that can drop bombs. The levels and enemy designs are also very similar, as are the invisible power-up platforms. The only real difference is the appearance of the main character (for obvious IP reasons). It's a shame that they couldn't just license the Turrican brand and make it a proper sequel.

I played the original Dreamcast version when it came out and found it disappointing. The controls were sluggish and imprecise, and the movement was jerky. I also couldn't clear the second level, so I gave up after a couple of hours. "Gunlord X" improves on a lot of things and provides a much better experience. The controls are tighter and the graphics are a lot smoother, which gives it a more authentic "Turrican" feel. (Remember the days of silky smooth hardware scrolling?) The snake beam is now tied to the right analog stick, which improves the control layout dramatically. While the developer claims that the difficulty curve has been balanced, it's still a challenging game and I once again got stuck on the annoying second level. However, after a couple hours of persistence, I finally managed to break through that and play through another couple of levels before getting stuck again. To be fair, the original "Turrican" games were pretty demanding as well, but I was in my early 20's when those came out, so I had a lot more time, skill, and endurance on my side.

The music is good and catchy, but doesn't evoke the same sense of awe as Chris Hülsbeck's original "Turrican" scores. Despite the increasingly punishing difficulty, I enjoyed playing "Gunlord X" quite a bit, even though I'll never be able to finish it. The levels are large and full of secret pathways, so multiple runs are required to track down all of the hidden goodies. There's no time limit, so you can explore as long as you want, although you do so at your own peril. Is that hidden 1-up prize worth risking several lives to obtain? The biggest disappointment is actually in the narrative itself, which wraps the entire package in a sexist and unnecessary damsel-in-distress theme. However, that only bookends the gameplay, so it's easy to put aside Gordian's testosterone fuelled motivation when you're in the midst of the action.