GunHero from Olli-Samuli Lehmus
At first glance, GunHero – a one-man project from Finnish developer Olli-Samuli Lehmus – comes off as a bit of a knock-off of some other retro-inspired indie hits. That would not be a fair criticism. GunHero might be a bit of an homage, but Lehmus combines recent takes on the run-and-gun and platform genres and ends up with a game that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Sausage Fillings and Other Forcemeat
To get the obvious comparisons out of the way, yes, GunHero bears a certain resemblance to IGR favorite Broforce, especially the jungle levels and their pixelated renditions of square thatched roof huts and palm trees. GunHero shares a similar retro ‘80s movie aesthetic, with Rambo and Commando being obvious touch-points. And yes, you’ve got four-player co-op – local only in this case – hostages to rescue, guns to shoot, and loads of dangerous explosions.
Once you get to playing, though, it immediately becomes apparent that GunHero is less about constant gunfire and more about carefully maneuvering between obstacles. It brings to mind another comparison: modern “retro” platform nightmare Super Meat Boy. It’s got loads of ostensibly short levels, carefully timed jumps and – perhaps most important of all – a serious preoccupation with giant spinning saw blades.
It’s the Level Design, Stupid
The more I played and the deeper I went, the more it became obvious that it’s not the guns or the jumping that really make GunHero. It’s the level design. The worlds – and the levels that make up those worlds – are designed almost perfectly.
The game adds danger upon danger to the point that each new hostility, whether it be icicles or spinning blades or guided missiles or giant cannons that launch fireballs, seems impossible. Think you’ve got the missile traps handled? Now try to hurry through them before a time bomb explodes.
Die, Rinse, Repeat
Some of the most frustrating (and best) levels demand such precision that I’d have to replay them dozens of times, making it an inch or two further toward the exit with each attempt. Thankfully, there isn’t a long wait time or extended death animation to sit through before reloading a level.
The thing is – and this is admittedly a hoary cliché that people have been tossing around since Nethack or before – all of my many deaths felt like my fault. None of them were the game’s; they were mine, for missing a jump, even by a fraction of a second, or forgetting about a particular guard. There are some brutal levels, to be sure – one of my “favorites” is simply titled “Don’t Make Mistakes” – but they’re all beatable with some patience and persistence.
Jump and Gun Hero
GunHero is an impressive homage not only to its recent inspirations but also the classic era of 8-bit video games. It manages to nail that balance of “incredibly difficult” but also “capable of being beaten” that so often seems to elude developers making modern “old school” platformers.
Apart from a couple of obvious canned sound effects, it’s hard to believe this beast of a game was built entirely by one person. Simple in its mechanics but beautifully fiendish in the way it puts them all together, it’s an almost perfect blend of challenge vs. accomplishment.
GunHero is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for GunHero below: