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Gunlord X

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: May 22, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Gunlord X'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 30, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Gunlord X is a platformer action game with an emphasis on exploring huge worlds and blasting away enemies.

When you think of indie games that mimic the classics, you tend to believe that they were originally PC titles. That makes perfect sense, as the digital distribution prevalent on the platform and the ease with which developers can publish their games on small sites (before Steam and Epic) meant that it was fertile ground for people to trot out their new, retro-inspired titles. The original Gunlord, however, followed a path few would take. Instead of taking aim at the PC, the developers at NG.Dev made the game for the Neo Geo before porting it to the Dreamcast — in 2012. What's even more bizarre is that instead of landing on the PC and other platforms, the updated version known as Gunlord X was released on what can be considered one of the friendliest indie platforms to date: the Nintendo Switch.

The premise is both familiar and a bit over the top. Your wife, an ace spaceship pilot, had successfully defeated an evil empire that's threatening the life of the universe. On her way home, all communication with her ship has ceased. Coincidentally, a new threat to the universe has arrived just as you're captured by a small force. You use the powers of your suit to escape, and your goal is to find your wife and defeat the new alien force.

Gunlord X can be classified as a run-and-gun shooter, but unless you grew up in a certain area or explored what was popular outside of Japan and North America, this type of shooter might not look familiar. Instead of mimicking the likes of Gunstar Heroes or Contra, the inspiration for Gunlord X comes from titles like Turrican and similar shooters that were prevalent on the Amiga, and a few were eventually ported to the SNES and Sega Genesis. The basics are there, such as shooting in any direction with unlimited fire and battling tons of regular enemies and bosses, but the real hallmark of these shooters is its exploration aspect. Each level can be traversed both horizontally and vertically, forcing you to exert some platforming skills while trying to find the game's many secrets.

In that respect, the level design is very good. The levels are sprawling in all directions, but the game does a good job of giving you an indication of where to go, either with actual arrows pointing the way or with pick-ups that form arrows for the same purpose. Even without these in place, the levels have a natural flow that makes it quite easy to discover areas, and you won't get lost since each part of the level looks quite distinct from the others.

The gunplay is also as fantastic, as one would hope. The fact that your default weapon is a spread gun should give you an idea of how the game tries to avoid the standard from other shooters. With some massive rocket launchers and a gun that fires large, bouncing bullets, you'd agree that the firearms are far from ordinary. What likely stands out is a beam that can shoot in a complete 360 degrees, limited only by a rechargeable energy meter. The fact that you have it on you at all times means that you're never stuck with a useless weapon. If you've played the original, you'll note that the gun is even more powerful in Gunlord X, since you can run and shoot at the same time via the second analog stick.

As for difficulty, Gunlord X feels well balanced. You earn continues by collecting gems, giving you an impetus to grab them instead of ignoring them, but the game allows for saves to continue where you left off. Boss fights are tough, but you have a visible energy meter for them, so they don't feel like bullet sponges. Death comes by fairly easily here, but you have an energy meter to withstand most hits, and you respawn almost immediately on the spot where you died. Overall, it's tough but not to the point of being unfair.

Considering the game's origins as a Neo Geo title, it should come as no surprise that the campaign is the meat of the game. However, those looking for more than that will come away disappointed. Some of the things that people have come to expect as a normal part of shooters nowadays, like a boss rush mode or timed modes, are not here, and neither are online leaderboards. This really is as old-school as you can get.

The retro presentation is excellent. The color palette and animations for each creature look like they were ripped out of an Amiga title from the era, and Gunlord X has no problems handling a tremendous amount of on-screen sprites. The game has some good visual options, such as cycling through wallpaper borders and activating scanlines. Stretching the image to proper full-screen is also available. As for sound, the music features a rich range of instruments, and the effects hit hard. There are some voices for each power-up you get, but it takes some effort to hear what's being said. It's an annoyance, but it's also very authentic for the time period the game is trying to emulate.

Gunlord X shows everyone else what the hardcore fans already knew: the NG:DEV.TEAM is fully capable of delivering an authentic, white-knuckle, retro-shooting experience. The action is constant but not overwhelming, and your arsenal feels varied, with none of the weapons ever feeling useless. The boss fights are fun, while the level design mixes in a good deal of exploration. Really, the only complaint is that there's nothing to bring you back once you finally beat the game, but considering how enjoyable the journey is, that isn't a big deal. Shooting fans are going to have a really good time with Gunlord X.

Score: 8.0/10

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