Gundhara! No, I have no idea what it means either. Sure it's got "gun" in the title, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's about shooting things... What's that? The Japanese subtitle translates to "Bullet Storm"? Oh. I'll get my grenades and kevlar vest then, shall I?
Gundhara was a 1995 arcade release by Banpresto, and as you've probably guessed, it's about shooting things. Of course, you need two things before you can get down to becoming a rage-fuelled one-man army; a plot and some characters. What have you got for us on the story front, Gundhara?
Oh of course, it all makes sense now. The full intro text is a prime slab of poorly-translated English, which is what I like to see - if I'm going to kill a group of people roughly the same size as the population of Bulgaria, I like my motives to stay muddy and confusing. Here's the full text, because I'm sure it's all very important and we may be tested on it later.
"Suddenly children disappeared from town. Secret inrestigater Sarah entered secretly into the hideout. To find the reason. In the hideout, children were brainwashing. It was preperation for World War3, to rule the world. The goverment opened emergency meeting, and chose two soldiers. Then they started fighting."
So the children are evil, and are brainwashing people to fight for them in World War III? I can see why this would alarm the world's leaders into choosing two soldiers, who promptly started fighting each other, right there in the Child-Based WW3 Prevention Squad Interview Room. Still, in this case sending a solitary fighter in instead of a full army makes a little more sense than in, say, Gradius - after all, they're only kids. What are they going to do, chase me on their Heelys?
So that's the plot, but what of our heroes? What mighty champions were selected to battle the evil brainwashing youth army? Well, first of all there's Jerry. That's him pictured above. He's a 21-year-old American who enjoys French cinema, cleansing enemy foxholes with a flamethrower, and long walks on the beach. Actually, his bio lists his "taste" as piano performances, but given his status as an action hero I assume that means dropping pianos on people a la Tom & Jerry.
You other option is the Japanese commando, Jinn. Jinn enjoys nothing, because his soul is a howling black void. His "taste" is apparently "quarrel", so perhaps he's a refugee from Violence Fight. There's not much to choose between our two heroes other than their special attacks, but I'll get to that later. Now, onward to our mission!
No no no, don't give him attention! That's what he wants! His brutal murders are all a ploy to get people to notice him.
And here's the game proper. Gundhara is a top-down shooter, very similar to games such as Mercs and Shock Troopers. You run around the predominantly vertically-scrolling landscape blasting anything in your path, except the occasional child tied to an oil drum. You can face in any direction and fire, and whilst you're holding down the fire button your aim is locked at that position. At this point I'd usually harp on about how Gundhara could be vastly improved by incorporating the Smash T.V. / Robotron dual-stick control system, but honestly you're shooting straight forward 90% of the time so it'd be a little redundant.
You also have two special attacks; the first is a standard special with limited uses. Jerry fires a rapid barrage of high-powered shots, while Jinn causes an explosion in a circle around himself. Then there's the melee button, which allows you to kick bad guys to death for extra points. Oh, and you can use it to kick bullets out of the air. I imagine this was quite the trump card when volunteering for this mission. "Forget my many years of service in the military's most elite units! Never mind about my supreme physical fitness and mental toughness! Here, take this pistol and fire it at me. No, go on, I'll just deflect it harmlessly away with my foot!"
I'll admit that the excellent graphics were the first thing that caught my attention. Everything is very well animated, colourful and sharp without being overly fussy. Yes, Gundhara definitely enticed me with its looks, but fortunately it has the gameplay to back them up, so I don't feel too shallow.
Oh, you must be the killer robot I've heard so much about. Obviously, Gundhara has boss fights, but I think it's fair to say that they're the least interesting part of the game. While the gameplay is still fun when you're battling them, there's just not that much imagination behind them. This robot just doesn't strike me as that "killer", you know? They could at least given him a morningstar or the head of a bull or something.
Stage two is a change of pace, and that pace is fast. Jerry hops on a motorcycle and blasts down the highway in a Spy Hunter manner, shooting badguys in Ferraris with his missile-equipped deathcycle. While it's still fun, it's not quite as good as the rest of the (on-foot) stages. At least the graphics are still great - just look at that sports car! I'm going to pretend it's the guy from OutRun, and if he can outrun my missiles, his girlfriend is bound to be impressed. I'm doing him a favour, really.
You can also pass the time with a diversion I can only describe as "pig juggling". A truck laden with pigs appears and promptly drops them all over the road (with some help from my guns). These are no ordinary swine; they're some kind of magical armoured pig, immune to machine gun bullets and missiles alike. This allows you to juggle them up the screen for extra points as well as valuable testing data for some sort of pigskin-based body armour.
Oh, and the boss is a helicopter being ridden by a man wearing what appears to be a huge gold chain. My best guess? He's the Lord Mayor of whatever the hell town I'm in.
Back on foot, and it's time to desecrate an ancient temple for no discernable reason other than it's full of guys who want to kill me, along with cool mechs and evil statues.
A quick word on weapons; you can carry one main weapon at a time, which is powered up by collecting the various “charge" items that enemies drop. There's a machine gun, a spread shotgun, a bazooka, a flamethrower and a homing laser thing that reminds me of the proton pack from Ghostbusters. Normally that'd be more than enough to seal my loyalty to the laser, but it's just not powerful enough. In the end, I think the vulcan machine gun emerged as my favourite. You can also collect a separate missile launcher that fires homing rockets. Yes, you can carry a machine gun designed to be mounted on a helicopter, some surface-to-air missiles and still be agile enough to kick bullets out of your path. I'll be shocked if Jerry doesn't wise up at the end of the game and realise he could probably conquer the world on his own.
Stage three has the most interesting boss; it's a Buddhist-looking statue with a dragon inside, like a religious Kinder Egg. Come for the calming influence of Eastern philosophy, stay for the fire-breathing hellbeast!
The next stage is the "Labo", which I think is a new word that you can use if you really want to abbreviate "laboratory" but "lab" is just too short. You get to ride around in a mech! He's a little slow and clunky, but piloting a giant robot is always a pleasure. With the addition of a pilotable mech, Gundhara is showing more of a resemblance to a top-down version of Metal Slug than anything else, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Your faithful mech will have been long-since destroyed by the time you reach the boss, but that's okay because it's pretty dull anyway. Your robot didn't need to see this tank thing anyway.
The next stage is an airport, and it's also where Gundhara starts to get tricky. Mind you, I'm terrible at shooters like this, as well as shmups like Gradius - and I mean truly terrible - but Gundhara seems to be pitched at a nice level where it's a challenge but not so much that I want to hunt the designers down and feed them their own body in small pieces that I've fried on a portable stove.
And while we are at the airport, there's something else I should mention. You know how in some videogames, particularly arcade beat-em-ups, if you stand around for too long a little marker with flash up saying "GO!" or "HURRY!" or something? Well, you get those in Gundhara, but unlike Final Fight and its ilk ignoring them doesn't just lead to them blinking slowly. Nope, this game prosecutes loitering with extreme prejudice by sending a jet fighter to bomb your location if you don't get a fucking shift on. I'm sorry you're dead, Jerry, but you shouldn't have stopped to tie your shoelaces.
The boss is another tank, but this one is at least slightly more interesting. It is also purple: an unusual colour for tanks, but if they're that big then you're probably not going to be able to camouflage them anyway. You may as well go nuts with the paint job.
The final stage, and Jerry realises that he's been wasting his time fighting through temples and labos and just kicks down the front door of the villain's base. This is my favourite stage, mostly because there's a shift away from the somewhat standard "military" style enemies to a group of toughs who look like they belong in the Mafia.
There are lots of them, too. Lots and lots, all desperate to kill you and no doubt all baffled when you kick their bullets aside. Doesn't stop them trying, though. There are no fancy gimmicks here, no vehicles or pig-juggling, just swarms of low-level mafiosi waiting to get shot.
And here's the final boss. It's the Mayor from the helicopter, but this time he's got a battle desk. You know, a battle desk. A desk with guns. As you might have guessed, he's not the most mobile of opponents. As well as having a desk, the boss (real name, according to the ending: Richard M. Leonard) also bears a resemblance to Mr. Big from Art of Fighting.
Seems appropriate, given his position. Once Mr. Big is Mr. Dead, Gundhara is complete and Jerry can get on with the task of murdering those brainwashing children. What do you mean I'm supposed to be saving the kids?
Luckily, this was a time when a man with the blood of thousands on his hands was allowed to be unsupervised around children.
You also get little bios of all the enemies in the game, including their weight and height. I can only assume that this is in case you want to figure out the BMIs and warn them about possible complications related to chronic obesity.
Oh, and there's also a bit more to the ending. You can see this if you're the sort of bizarre specimen who can finish the game on one credit. It's just Sarah rambling on about a helicopter, though.
Gundhara is, in my lowly opinion, pretty damn good. I may not be the best person to judge, given my previously-mentioned lack of skill at the genre - die-hard shump fans may find it a little easy. Not me, though. I did have a lot of fun with it, though. The reasons are obvious enough, with solid, fun gameplay, excellent graphics, good (if a little forgettable outside the game) music and a nicely incomprehensible translation. In conclusion - recommended, especially if you like shooting things. There's a lot of that.
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