Gunlord X Review: Arcade Is Not Dead

by David Sanchez December 17, 2019 @ 2:09 pm

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

One look at Gunlord X and you’d think it was released on Neo Geo in the early ’90s. Well, you’d only be half wrong, as the game was originally released for Neo Geo… back in 2012, though. The game also received an unofficial release on Dreamcast. Created by German developer NG:DEV.TEAM, the original Gunlord was a slick, action-packed 2D arcade-style shooter with an emphasis on exploration. Seven years later, the game’s received a number of improvements, making Gunlord X the definitive version of this modern arcade classic.

Not Your Average Arcade Shmup

In a lot of ways — in most ways, actually — Gunlord X plays just like you’d expect from a Neo Geo or arcade title. The game focuses on intense 2D shooting action across on-foot and flying stages. You’re almost always surrounded by enemies, to the point where it sometimes feels like a bullet hell shooter. And there are fun little secrets to discover if you go off the beaten path.

Gunlord X thrives on old school challenge. If you rush in, for example, an enemy can — and most likely will — attack you from above by surprise. This means you’ll either take damage or get tossed into some other peril or down a pit. If you’re the impatient type, this could potentially get frustrating. After a few initial brushes with unplanned death, I made it a point to be more aware of my surroundings. You can usually spot hidden enemies, and if you can’t spot them right away, careful observation will allow you to be ready if they pop out of nowhere.

The shooting in the game feels great, with tight controls that are very much on your side. Your standard gun has a usage meter, so you can’t just hold the button down and spam your way through the levels or when facing the game’s massive bosses. As the meter depletes, your shots begin to lose range. This means you’ll have to let the meter fill up, or you can shoot in bursts to allow the meter to refill little by little as you battle enemies.

There are plenty of upgrades for you to discover along the way, and finding the one that’s right for your may vary depending on your preference or the kinds of enemies you’re dealing with. Spread shots, bouncing projectiles, missiles, and larger shots are just a few of the gun upgrades you’ll find that will make your life just a little bit easier.

What makes Gunlord X a truly splendid experience is how it brilliantly introduces more modern mechanics into its retro foundations. Many games from classic generations encouraged you to explore, but there was only so much to discover. In Gunlord X, the stages are much bigger and nonlinear, so there’s more to see. You can play stages multiple times and discover secret paths you didn’t know were there, and like a true arcade game, sometimes finding these new paths can be insanely tricky and requires that you really dig deep.

The progression itself also blends retro and modern mechanics. If you lose all your continues in a stage, it’s back to the start of that stage. If you’ve unlocked multiple stages, though, you’ll be able to select which level you want to start from rather than having to go back to the very beginning. Obviously, if you want to go for one straight run through the entire game, the possibility is there. But for folks who are more interested in an approachable yet still challenging experience, the level select is a godsend.

Bigger and Better Running and Gunning

NG:DEV.TEAM made some meaningful additions to this enhanced version of Gunlord, including a new stage, a new weapon, and four new bosses. Fans who played the original 2012 release may also notice that a lot of the already-large stages have been expanded, inviting further exploration and teasing new secrets.

Speaking of the stages, the amount of detail that has gone into each level is impressive. The game’s pixel graphics very much look like something you’d see in an arcade cabinet. Character sprites are detailed and large, and the levels feature a really cool sci-fi aesthetic, making Gunlord X authentically sci-fi in a cool ’90s way.

Due to its arcade-inspired nature, Gunlord X is a different kind of difficult. This game isn’t tough like an NES or Genesis title. Instead, it feels like the kind of game you’d throw quarters at to get a few more tries. But because you won’t be getting continues in the traditional arcade sense, the limited amount you obtain as you play can make restarting after a failed boss fight very disheartening, even frustrating. Also, the way enemies can come out of nowhere sometimes feels a bit cheap, even if there is a retro charm to that design choice.

Of course, these are just minor gripes that I had with an otherwise really cool game. There’s a lot to love about Gunlord X that outshines any small issues you may have with it. That includes the great, open level designs, the fun boss battles, and the presentation.

Gunlord X is proof that arcade is not dead. Like the garage rock revival of the early 2000s, this game takes what made its genre so awesome years and years ago and mixes in some necessary modern concepts to create an experience that’s mostly retro in all the best possible ways. If you played the original Gunlord in 2012, you’ll find plenty more reasons to revisit the game in this updated deluxe package. If, on the other hand, you missed out on the game the first time, well, what are you waiting for? Go play Gunlord X. No quarters necessary.

Score: 8 out of 10

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