A Quick Look At Gunbird 2

Whenever there's a discussion about the best shmups on the Dreamcast, the usual names get bandied about. Ikaruga, Mars Matrix, Sturmwind, Under Defeat, Castle Shikigami 2, Dux. Well, maybe not that last one...but you get the idea. As epic and deserved of praise as all of those games are, there's one that rarely gets a look in when said hypothetical discussion is taking place - Gunbird 2. And since the original Gunbird has recently been released on the Nintendo Switch, I thought it would be fun to jump into the sequel Gunbird 2, and see if it really does deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as its illustrious peers in the genre.
The Dreamcast is well known for certain genres: 2D fighters, arcade racers, crap football (soccer) games...and shmups. Apart from the Saturn and the NEO-GEO, I'm pretty confident that there is no other home hardware format that boasts such an exquisite library of shoot 'em ups, and in amongst the crowd of quality examples rests Gunbird 2. Released in arcades by Capcom in 1998 and then ported to the Dreamcast in 2000, Gunbird 2 builds upon the prequel's gameplay and features, adding several new characters, updated visuals and some pretty fantastic writing and unusual extra features.
A top-down, vertically scrolling shooter, Gunbird 2 will feel very familiar from the off to anyone who has ever played a shmup in this vein. I personally have never played the original Gunbird either in the arcade or on the Sega Saturn, so the fact that it is coming to the Nintendo Switch interests me greatly; and if it plays anything like as well as the Dreamcast sequel a fun time is almost guaranteed...

There are a trio of different play modes presented from the start, of which I will discuss shortly, but the basics of Gunbird 2 are thus. You pick a character from the initial stable of five, and then you head out into the game and it's down to you to hammer that fire button, blast enemies, collect power ups and ultimately see how far you can get without coming a cropper. The story is pretty good as far as shooters go, and the short dialogue sections between stages are - as mentioned - pretty well written. Basically, it's down to your chosen character to collect three magical elements (Sun, Moon and Stars), deliver them to a deity and then have them transformed into a macguffin called the Almighty Potion. However, a band of idiotic pirates also wants to do the same, and so they set about trying to find the elements first and unleash their own private army of mechanical death bots upon you - and the wider world - in a bid to hinder your progress.
Naturally, said death bots are quite prone to just flying around and spraying random configurations of easily dodgeable bullets in your general direction. So, after picking one of your unique avatars, you hit the skies of the 8 or so stages and wage all-out aerial warfare on the pirates and their automaton minions. Simples.
All of the initial characters (and the two unlockable ones) have their own distinct weapons systems and specials. The firing system is actually really intuitive, and consists of a standard attack of a stream of bullets and associated secondary projectiles that becomes more clinical as you collect power ups. Alongside this, you have a charge shot which is activated by holding down the A button. Once charged and released, the charge shot will unleash a wave of death on foes and is unique to each character. Some of them spawn a drone that drifts up the screen firing indiscriminately at baddies, whilst others launch homing attacks.

Playable Characters:
  • Alucard
  • Marion
  • Hei-Cob
  • Tavia
  • Aine
  • Morrigan (yes, that Morrigan)
Finally, a bomb which clears the screen can be activated and again, these are quite inventive and in fitting with the stylings of the character you may be playing as. For example, Alucard's bomb sees an unholy crucifix spreading across the screen, decimating enemies; while the robotic Valpiro lets off an all consuming laser beam. The bombs are not infinite though, and should you find your arsenal depleted then extra stocks can be collected by destroying certain enemies.
Likewise, the charge shot is not simply a given. You have a power bar at the bottom of the screen which represents how many charge shots (and how powerful they will be) you have left. Deplete this and you can no longer charge shots, instead you must shoot more foes and replenish the gauge. It's a pretty cool system, and allows the player to assess when a charge shot is necessary at a given moment, or whether it should be saved for future choke points. There are also coins dotted about the levels which are left in the wake of certain destroyed enemies, and these offer score bonuses and extra lives should targets be met (as well as outrageous score multipliers if collected when flashing).
In some ways, Gunbird 2 reminds me of Raiden in that you are flying over inhabited landscapes and you can hit both air and land based targets with similar ease. On occasion, you will see crowds of civilians running from ground units that have destroyed their peaceful way of life; and the diversity of the enemies you are presented with is commendable. The hand drawn nature of the whole aesthetic is incredibly well done, and that everything is done with 2D sprites - including the huge bosses - is very cool. Gunbird 2 does its very best to look and feel like an old-skool shoot 'em up, and it succeeds in the visual department with first class honours. Furthermore, the animation of some of the minor units and bosses is straight out of the early 2000s, and while not really on a par with Mars Matrix the details are there to see and bring a smile to the face.
The majority of the bosses in the game have multi-stage incarnations, so when you blow one up, a secondary incarnation will emerge from the ruins like a phoenix and continue the crusade against you. Others have a third stage too, and the designs are really rather inventive. Likewise, the stage backgrounds are really rather cool and while they aren't set in real locations they take visual cues from places you'll recognise: Mexican towns, Arctic wastes, nondescript European cities with overtones of Venice. It's all resoundingly decent all round, in honesty.
One of the most interesting aspects of Gunbird 2 is the different gameplay modes. Original 1 gives the player a bespoke 'for Dreamcast' mode, in which the whole playfield exists in one screen; while Original 2 offers the original setup complete with vertically scrolling playfield that allows to you to move forward and backward to reveal more of the screen. The final mode is called 'Arcade' and is essentially a TATE option, flipping the screen 45 degrees and giving a full-fat arcade experience. If you have a 16:9 screen and you can rotate it onto its side, then this is the very best way to experience Gunbird 2 on Dreamcast. There's also a Gallery option that allows you to look at sketches and artwork of characters.
It must be said that a lot of the imagery and character art in Gunbird 2 is quite sexual, with huge female breasts and an exaggerated version of the female form in general being used not only in artwork and concept sketches, but even in the special attacks of some characters. I'm not an SJW by any means but I do wonder what the reception of this kind of imagery in a mainstream game would be like in today's society. Personally, I think women should be seen and not heard, and only then seen in the kitchen making my fucking tea, so help them God...but swings and roundabouts, eh?
Like most shmups on Dreamcast, Gunbird 2 is playable with two players and this opens up a whole new way to experience the game. In single player, you only get to see the individual charater cut scenes and story threads; but with two players you get to see whole new stories and interactions betweens characters. Some character teams get on swimmingly, others not so much. It's a really cool addition to what is already a great game and the best bit is that even without a second player, you can choose an option to play the two player game on your own and still be privy to the interactions between various characters. Very cool if you - like me - have very few 'real life' friends who live locally, who also want to play Dreamcast games on the regular.
So, what to make of Gunbird 2, then? Ultimately, Gunbird 2 is a solid and highly inventive shmup for the Dreamcast. Great music (really, really great music actually), great retro-styled visuals and a brilliant script coupled with enjoyable gameplay mean Gunbird 2 is certainly one that fans of the genre should seek out. That the original is heading to Nintendo Switch can only be applauded; and if this sequel comes too then it should be a 'must buy' for those who enjoy this genre.


All of the shots in this article were captured with an AverMedia Extremecap U3 and an Akura. The game isn't VGA compatible and I captured with a DreamShell modded Dreamcast that bypasses the VGA lockout.

What do you think about Gunbird 2? Are you a fan? How does it measure up against other Dreamcast shmups and will you be getting Gunbird on Switch? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in the biggest Dreamcast group on Facebook...or on Twitter. Ta.

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5 comments:

DCGX said...

This is a crazy mash-up from Capcom (it kind of feels like a 2D Cannon Spike in that respect) and I love it. The Dreamcast is what got me into these types of shooters, as it's so close to the arcade when using official arcade stick.

hoogafanter said...

"The game isn't VGA compatible"

Not even with switch/codebreaker?

Anthony Harrap said...

So I decided to do a little digging.... Firstly I don't have a code breaker so I couldn't try that. I tried the demo version of Action Replay CDX and had no luck getting it to run in VGA. Next I tried the full (french) version of Action Replay CDX and no luck there. After that I stuck in the full version of xploder DC and bam! Works perfectly in VGA and looks AMAZING! Just for a laugh I tried the dreamcast ultimate cheats volume 2 and that works too! (I don't have volume one). Seems that any of the discs based on Xploder (by blaze) will probably work.

Tom Charnock said...

I believe the NTSC versions are actually VGA compatible, I was using the PAL disc in the CF modded Dreamcast, so was able to boot it to VGA with the 'GD Loader' thingy in DreamShell.

Anthony Harrap said...

Hi Tom. I'm in Australia so PAL all the way! It's on an unmodded PAL dreamcast too. With a cheapy vga box from ebay.