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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: Armored Hunter Gunhound EX

In case you hadn't noticed, almost all of the non-40k games I've reviewed on this blog have been for indy games. That's mostly because many indy games these days feature a lot of the SNES/Genesis era qualities that I have only grown more fond of as I have gotten older. I like pixel art. I like side-scrolling. I like quick, engrossing action. I like gameplay that rewards experience and dexterity. I like brutally hard games, the ones that make you really, truly angry. And I love the glorious, rewarding feeling that washes over me when I finally beat that boss I've fought two dozen times.

I like old-school games.

Armored Hunter Gunhound EX is a proper old-school game in all of those respects and even improves on the conventions I would have expected in the mid-nineties. I haven't met the creative people behind it, but it seems clear to me that they grew up on the same games that I did. They played those games and learned a lot from them. When it came time to make their own game they did what they knew and what they were passionate about making. They infused an old genre with some genuinely funny humor, characters that are refreshingly round and a plot with turns so mature I found myself questioning whether events were really unfolding the way it seemed. All of this comes across smoothly in the translated English, but if you're inclined you can also switch the settings to Japanese to get the original Japanese subtitles and menus.

Yet for all that Dracure Software innovated on a tried-and-true formula, the game still keeps close enough to its roots that it doesn't overstep the boundaries that attracted me to it in the first place. If you have ever played Target Earth, Cybernator or Metal Warriors then you have an idea of what the game plays like. It's a side-scrolling, mech-based shooter. You have infinite boost on the ground and a gauge for your thrusters in the air. Once you get used to it, you can scoot around the stages with the boost on all the time, wreaking havoc on everyone around you with an arsenal of unlockable weapons. All of the weapons I have unlocked have been useful and I find that no matter what setup I have, I use all of weapons constantly. It's really gratifying to unleash volleys of missiles in between auto-cannon and machine gun fire, and then to zoom in with a power fist to smash enemies in the face.

I did find that I had to set up my controller well in order to get the most out of the controls. There are a lot of buttons and you really need to be comfortable using them all in order to beat levels without dying. I use the MotionInJoy drivers and found out that I had to set it to a normal UID and then assign the buttons in the menu using the keyboard (Z for OK, X for cancel!) in order to play. If you're using an XBox controller, I hear it works fine without any fuss.

Gunhound EX is an excellent game available through Steam. It can also be found through Playism, the direct distribution service of the guys who localized it. Their work bridges the gap between the English and Japanese indy game markets. I know many of their in-house translators and editors and I also know some of the freelancers who translate for them. Their work is fantastic across the board. They've localized other excellent titles such as One Way HeroicsPapers, Please, AstebreedShadowrun Returns, Machinarium, Inside a Star-filled Sky, Jamsouls and the Pixel Junk games, just to give you a (brief) glimpse of their tastes and portfolio.