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Gun Crazy Review: An Arcade Without Flavor

With a title as apt as Gun Crazy, the arcade scene has received another child. Built over the course of a year, this fast-paced (and almost chaotic) action side-scroller delivers on the explosiveness of its name. But is its bombast enough to blast the player away for the long-term?

Gun Crazy Review: An Arcade Without Flavor

At this point, I have reviewed a fair number of arcade-styled games like Gun Crazy; this is my fourth in three months! What all seem to have in common is the desire to appeal to the retro crowd. Sky Racket combined two classic formulas into one. River City Girls is essentially a genderbent reboot of the Kunio-kun franchise. Hamsterdam has the appeal of old-fashioned kung fu films as a hook. But what made these three titles more than ordinary was their understanding of current trends and technology. Even with the retro appeal, each listed game wanted to provide an experience that catered to the old while still providing fresh material. Gun Crazy foregoes this, instead creating a game from 1996 and porting it to 2019.

Video games have come quite far since their initial inception just a couple generations ago. It is because of this continued development that the quality of games today are far superior to those of the past. What some still argue is to what quality those games provide, as a measure of accessibility has suddenly become more suitable for larger companies. Is a game still good if you can beat it hardly without trying? Gun Crazy serves as the antithesis for this, destroying souls for the good of the hardcore arcade veterans. But even arcade games, which thrive on eating coins, require a standard of quality to earn their voracious appetite. How much tolerance one has for the age may make or break giving this title a chance.

Gun Crazy is available on Steam for your regional pricing.

Gun Crazy Steam Release trailer

Gameplay

Typically, these reviews begin with a “Story” section—however, Gun Crazy has no story. There is no hyperbole to that statement, either, as the Steam page doesn’t even provide any synopsis for context. Booting up the game will immediately take one to the title screen, where they can either start the game, browse settings, or quit. There are no cutscenes, no dialogue, and no motivation. It is among the most pure “gameplay” games I’ve ever played, as if story elements are wasted production time. For a game trying to emulate an arcade aesthetic, I don’t have too much of an issue with this. Still, knowing what other games even within the arcade aesthetic are capable of now, it’s almost a shame.

Before going over anything else, know that Gun Crazy is likely designed aloofly to harbor the feeling of arcade-like rigidness. Controls, mechanics, and player capabilities are a far-shot from what’s possible with current technology. If your expectations of this game include tight controls, idle diagonal aiming, and anything other than shoot, run, and jump, you won’t care for this. Part of the process of recapturing the essence of old is building a game that mirrors it almost to a fault. Various things will seem unfair, because it’s designed to be, like those coin-eaters way back when.

I guess she's with the police?

I guess she’s with the police?

What the game’s staunch difficulty and price tag also infer is its relatively short amount of content. It took me four attempts and just over an hour to beat the campaign. That fourth attempt itself took just about twenty minutes. Isolating that one run, this game is tied for the shortest game I’ve reviewed yet, with La Rana being the other. Consisting of four stages and a boss at the end of each (the first has three, randomly), “barren” may be too nice for it. The camera fixed so close to the action also hides how linear the stages are, with the second and third literally placed in a single, unmoving location. Content is integral to keeping these types of games invigorating, lest the player get bored and step away. Perhaps the very-short length alleviates this somewhat, though the quality of gameplay suffers in the foreground.

With lots of Mega Man and Metal Slug experience under my belt, the level design of Gun Crazy also becomes suspect. Unmoving locations aside, much of the settings that do venture forward feel very similar all throughout. The first stage is probably the most fun, though also the most chaotic and randomly bloated. The amount of slimes and bugs thrown at the player from the start is maddening, as the game promises starting off. From there, it only seems to lessen, like the developers weren’t sure of how else to make things fast-paced. “Neutered” could be a viable adjective, perhaps doing the bare minimum to keep things at a set-point. Nevertheless, there isn’t a great amount of variety to stages that require more than careful dodging and non-stop bullet-spamming.

Doesn't leave this screen the entire stage - Gun Crazy Arcade

Doesn’t leave this screen the entire stage

Yet these are the finer details. When it comes down to the base quality, is the gameplay fun? Yes and no. This title provides the opportunity to rush guns blazing into battle, with adequate weapons to take down all enemies. Power-ups exist, and a dash button that can null enemy attacks with correct timing can provide more benefit to the player. Shooting and dashing and blowing things up is absolute bliss; only issue is that it can’t always be so. With how much space the quantity of enemies take up, dashing away often risks running into something offscreen. Unless you have the green laser power-up, most things don’t die in a single shot from the player’s weapon. While I would like to dash and blast away to my heart’s content, the gameplay isn’t equipped for that. And that imbalance of intentions—fast-paced action as a hook, but careful planning to hide the lack of content—makes this a little stilted.

Graphics and Audio

I will give Gun Crazy this: it definitely looks arcade-retro. I personally adore the title card, which may have been the most worked-on piece in the game. As an overall, the pixel work here is fine, with a lot of distinguishable images that allow for trial and error. What isn’t great is the character model, which is by far the worst-looking thing in-game. While everything else has some level of detail and proper shading, our heroine looks more akin to a common Deviantart submission. And her design is a mess of color and absurdity that it almost becomes uncanny good, but not quite. Enemy variety, like the overall quantity count, is a tad low, but one knows immediately when a headache approaches. I never had any instance where I felt the game cheated me because of unreliable visual design, so it’s positive vibes mostly.

This stage's design is pretty neat

This stage’s design is pretty neat

The auditory sequences could also use some work. I actually quite like the track to the first stage in the game. High-octane, manic, and a promise for action, it again paints the debut level as the most developed. From that point, it gets fairly shaky. More than the taste in music, some of the sound designs feel cheap and undercooked, most notably the grunt the heroine makes when dashing. Not to mention, every time you push the dash button, she grunts. Every time. You can bathe yourself in the grunts of a warrior for the hell of it, which is especially irritating during large battles. Otherwise, the boss theme stands out somewhat, and I will likely remember it in my nightmares for the next week or so. Most else is forgettable.

Summary
I am a firm believer in revising the inadequacies of gaming past. If a game should be difficult, or within the genre of arcade titles, it should at least be fair in its execution to allow players to grow along with it. Gun Crazy does this to some degree, but what holds it back is a limited amount of content that almost jeopardizes the experience from the start. A blazing beginning gives way to a pedantic shooter that holds more importance to careful aiming than blood-bursting, erratic gameplay. A decent one-time fling that likely won't survive the test of time, especially when competing with other, more complete titles.
Good
  • Core gameplay is fun
  • Nails the arcade feeling
Bad
  • Feels incomplete in its design/Lacking content
  • Few innovations to set it apart
  • Overall presentation leaves much to be desired
4.5
Poor