Is Gunstar Heroes Possible on SNES?

Continuing with my idea for a series of articles looking at both old and new Sega Genesis games and analysing whether they could run on SNES or not–I’m here to prove they can by providing examples of similar feats being achieved in actual SNES games, both old and new titles, plus any modern demos and the like where necessary–the next game I want to look at is Gunstar Heroes.

First, let’s look at some actual gameplay of Gunstar Heroes in action:

It’s all very impressive, right. So, what can SNES do to even come close to this. . . .

Well, first let me just say right away that in terms of the backgrounds it’s actually all very standard affair, with typically two simple scrolling layers and little else. SNES would have no problem whatsoever not only matching the backgrounds in every single instance but usually surpassing them in terms of colours, layers, transparency, row/line/column scrolling, etc. But, I guess I’ll point out the few moments that are at least a little interesting, starting with the tilting helicopter and cloud background during the boss battle at 21:20, which looks quite visually striking but is really just two layers with some standard row/line scrolling combined with a bit of column scrolling to make it look like things are tilting slightly.

SNES can in fact do exactly the same fidelity of row/line scrolling as Genesis and is actually capable of higher fidelity column scrolling (every 8 horizontal pixels on SNES vs every 16 horizontal pixels on Genesis). For example, any tilting you see in the distant backgrounds in any of the levels in Star Fox on SNES is using the same column scrolling method as that boss battle on Genesis:

If you pay attention to the stepping effect on the wing of the helicopter in Gunstar Heroes vs the horizon line in the backgrounds in Star Fox, you’ll even see how it’s not quite as smooth on Genesis. SNES can also apply this kind of tilting to two backgrounds at the same time if desired, just like on Genesis, although, I can’t find an example of it in action. And, note, this effect has nothing to do with the FX chip used in Star Fox; it’s a standard [stock] SNES feature of background modes 2, 4 and 6.

Here’s an example of the row/line scrolling using in conjunction with the column scrolling on one of the backgrounds on SNES, while the other one uses just row/line scrolling:

And the helicopter below uses the same combination of row/line scrolling and column scrolling as the one in Gunstar Heroes:

The SNES examples aren’t quite as energetic and exciting as that boss in Gunstar Heroes (really though, it’s simply the fast-moving clouds achieving most of that effect here), but the technique is ultimately the same.

Next, I guess there’s a lot of asteroids flying around in Gunstar Heroes at 42:49, which even change direction when shot.

So, here’s a bunch of asteroids on SNES that change direction when they collide with other objects and also break into smaller pieces and fly off in different directions when shot:

At 48:52 in Gunstar Heroes, there’s a nice rotating background scene effect during the boss battle.

I honestly can’t think of a precisely similar example on SNES, but it’s really nothing more than a creative way to use some row/line scrolling and optical illusions to convey the impression of a rotating room. I guess this creates a sort of similar effect:

And, really, that’s about as exciting as the backgrounds get in Gunstar Heroes, even though they generally look nice because of the quality pixel art.

However, when it comes to sprites, I’m going to be honest and say that I think SNES would certainly have a more difficult time throwing around so many enemies and especially when it comes to replicating the multi-jointed enemies. But, I certainly don’t think it’s beyond the console’s capabilities, other than there almost certainly being more flicker in places due to how each system handles sprites per [scan]line limits. It would just take someone actually wanting to do this kind of thing and then making sure their code is truly optimized to avoid any slowdown and the like on SNES.

This indie/homebrew game throws around a lot of enemies and explosions for example:

There’s also some interesting moments of proper sprite rotation in this demo too, which isn’t built into either the SNES or Genesis by default, so that’s just cool to see.

Here’s another example from the same indie developer:

And someone even already tried a very quick test on SNES showing some Gunstar Heroes enemies running around and stuff too:

Add in the GUI and second background layer and it’s basically Gunstar Heroes normal level gameplay on SNES

I honestly wish they’d added in the second background layer in the example above, because seriously, there’s some people who’ve actually used the lack of that second background to try and dismiss what we’re seeing here, as if the second background couldn’t just be added in very easily and that it indicates some weakness of the SNES, which is obviously just plain rubbish.

In terms of the multi-jointed enemies in Gunstar Heroes, particularly all the stunning bosses, I think the best thing I can do here is simply link to one of my previous articles, Multi-jointed Enemies in SNES Games, because there are enough examples there to demonstrate that it’s certainly possible to do multi-jointed enemies/bosses on SNES. Although, it’s clear that not a lot of developers really tried to push this kind of thing to the limit on SNES in quite the same way a handful of developers obviously made that pretty much their primary mission on Genesis. I guess it is what it is, for now.

And that’s pretty much what I have for comparable examples in this case.

But, since there’s not a lot of great examples of as many sprites on-screen in run ‘n’ gun games on SNES, I’ll also just post footage of a few games below as a reminder of what the stock SNES can do even when running in SlowROM at 2.68 MHz and 75% of the system’s full CPU speed:

Really, just pick any moment in the game.

Now, there are obviously lots of cool moments in Gunstar Heroes, particularly the seriously impressive use of multi-jointed sprites for the bosses, and I think it’s those that would be the biggest challenge on SNES by far, but the rest of the game is mostly just lots of enemies and explosions on-screen for the most part. And, while I think there would be some times where it might be necessary to have a few less enemies and explosions on SNES, mostly just to avoid flicker more than anything else, and it would certainly be a task to do multi-jointed bosses that dynamic and fast-moving, I think not only could this game mostly run on SNES as is, but it could do so with far more colours throughout, more impressive transparency, more parallax layers in the background, more advanced audio including surround sound, and better mapped controls to boot.

The thing that stands out the most in Gunstar Heroes to me though, just like some of the other Genesis games I’ve looked at previously, is simply the fact the developer has consciously used multi-jointed sprites all over the place, especially on the bosses, and deliberately tried to create many impressive showcases of what the system is capable of when pushed to its limits. The achievement here can’t be denied, but it’s just as much of a showcase of the sheer determination and effort on the developer’s part as much as it is about the Genesis’ technical capabilities.

So, just imagine what could be achieved on SNES if some modern-day indie/homebrew developer actually tried to create a new graphical showcase game for it in current times and approached it similarly with the same level of sheer dedication, drive and goal of blowing people’s minds. . . .


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