First premiering on the Neo Geo and then the legendary Dreamcast, Gunlord was an honest return to old school sensibilities with its exploration-based run and gun mayhem. Re-released on the Nintendo Switch as Gunlord X, the core mechanics remain along with enough enhancements to make it feel like a new action-adventure.
Taking on the titular role as the Gunlord (the name of the suit he wears), players are thrust into an intergalactic tale of rescue and revenge. This is all delivered from the opening cinematics evoking the memories of the arcade games of our past. Chasing after the Master our hero is out to rescue his wife, Vanessa and destroy all of the master’s minions along the way. While not original, having a motive does at least establish a motive as you bring your special level of carnage to the galaxy.
A side-scrolling game that looks its age
While being a re-release of sorts, the patina on the graphics adds to the retro look and feel of the game. The developers, NGDEV, have cleverly included the ability to adjust the scan lines to help pull off the feeling of playing on an old CRT TV. In addition, they have also seen fit to include a bevvy of borders to slap on either side of the screen, so long as you do not turn on the stretch screen option. Graphics are bright and perfectly evoke the neo-futuristic environments which spread the gambit of industrial complexes to not so serene forested areas.
The handful of weapons each stand out filling the screen with various colours all culminating in the explosion of foes. Unfortunately, with all this colour and action the screen can get muddled. You will frequently take damage from enemies that were able to get off shots that blend into the carnage. Likewise, weapon picks of frequent and just as messy. Finding hidden weapons boxes that can produce multiple weapons slowly float with a few sharing the same colour. This can cause you to switch from a weapon you want to a weapon you do not want at that time. There are sections with destructible bridges that you need, if you are unfortunate enough to get the bounce shot here, you can easily destroy the bridge forcing you to lose a life to reset the bridge.
Sound-wise, GLX is a delight on the ears
While some of the weapons have the weak sounding stereotypical sci-fi peashooter sound, heavy, crunchy explosions more than fill the void. The OST fits snuggly here, filling the background with a very 90s german dance synth vibe. The android voice-over letting you know what you’ve picked up truly fits the feel and style of the game with its emotionless proclamations from what could easily be described as a female AI on the suit. Initially, the default OST felt a little overpowering compared to the SFX, but that was easily adjusted in the options.
On the subject of options, being a game from the past GLX allows the use of classic controls as well as the choice of a more modern twin-stick approach. Each has its advantages and ultimately come down to player choice. Controlling the Gunlord is a breath of fresh air. While initially feeling on the floaty side, jumping is fluid as is combat. You have the main: jump, Shoot, and screen-clearing sideflash, but cleverly you have a beam that can destroy enemies beyond barriers as well as destroy enemy projectiles.
To prevent this from being to OP an energy gauge at the bottom of the screen diminishes only to slowly refill when not in use. Finally, GL is able to reach hidden items in narrow passages by transforming them into a Samus-esque morph ball complete with bombs. This ability with the beam also helps find hidden areas to collect giant gems. These large gems when collected help you earn continues. In combination with the 100s of regular gems scattered throughout each level offering completionists a reason for return trips as well as a reason to explore the vast landscapes.
Gunlord X is a great reminder of how fun classic arcade action can be. While retaining all the components that made it a great run and gun classic, this updated version, with extended levels and enemy and weapon balancing, fits nicely in anyone’s collection. Rewarding players for exploring keeps each run slightly unique as you hunt for extra lives and hidden gems. Playing like Contra with just a touch of Metroid, Gunlord X is an easy recommendation for arcade action enthusiasts.