Review – Gunlord X

In the retro gaming scene, NG:Dev.Team is known for doing one of the most theoretically impractical things a developer could do. They specialized in developing and releasing games for the Neo Geo AES, a console originally released in 1991 and discontinued in 2004. Mainly due to the fact it was known for being insanely expensive at the time, with some games being retailed at 300 dollars at launch. That sounds like a bizarre retro niche to focus on, but it has since paid off. The team is widely known in the retro revival scene due to their great releases, which have even been ported to more recent consoles. Gunlord X almost fits into that category.

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Look at this bullet mess. It’s beautiful.

Gunlord X is essentially an improved of Gunlord, a NG:Dev.Team game released for SNK’s big behemoth of a console back in 2012. The original game was essentially a run-and-gun platformer, in which you needed to reach the end of the stage by exploring huge maps, unveiling secrets, and destroying everything and everyone in sight. You’re an overpowered being whose weapons pack a tremendous amount of damage and you can even sustain a couple of hits before losing a life. It’s an arcade game, therefore it should be simple to pick up and play, with a clear objective. Thankfully, that is the case here.

New to the “X” version of Gunlord (aka the versions not released on the Neo Geo) are optional twin-stick controls which make life a LOT easier. There are also bigger levels, a few extra bosses, improved visuals and framerate, autosaving, and more. It makes the game a lot easier to play and complete, even though you will die a few times. Being able to start from whichever level you last died in makes for a smooth, but still challenging experience.

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There are a few shm’up levels in here and they are equally excellent.

Gunlord X is clearly something that, despite developed with the Neo Geo hardware in mind, features design choices that are clearly inspired by more modern 2D platformers. There is a huge emphasis on exploration in here. This isn’t a quarter muncher with a timer. Gunlord X wants you to take your time and explore the map, and it will reward you with gun upgrades and gigantic jewels that grants you a continue. The game is also very generous when it comes to healing items. They’re not that rare, allowing you to more often that not, arrive at the final boss at the end of the level with at least two thirds of your life bar.

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This is one of the first bosses…

With the exception of the clunky and poorly programmed “crouch roll” mechanic, the controls are great and the overall game feel is excellent. Every single weapon you can use is extremely powerful, allowing you to destroy anything in sight with just a few hits. There’s no limited ammo and your shots bounce off walls, turning the screen into a beautiful bullet mess. The fact that you can basically run and gun at the same time, with the aid of the optional twin-stick control setting, makes you feel even more overpowered. It’s delightful to play an arcade game in which you don’t feel at a disadvantage for a change.

For a game developed with the hardware limitations of the Neo Geo in mind, Gunlord X doesn’t look or sound bad at all. Granted, it does run on an annoying 4:3 aspect ratio, but it features beautiful 16-bit (or 24-bit, if you want to be Neo Geo legit) spritework, with a high framerate. The soundtrack is not bad either, being comprised of MIDI tracks that will more often than not stick to your head.

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Feels like I’m fighting Lava Beast Jawenko from Super Star Wars all over again.

Had Gunlord X been released back when the Neo Geo was still relevant, I wouldn’t hesitate on calling this the best Neo Geo game of all time. It looks and sounds fine enough, but it’s the gameplay that won me over. It’s a fun take on run and gun platformers from back in the day with a huge emphasis on exploration and blowing everything in sight with some overpowered weapons. NG:Dev.Team may not have changed the world with its previous game, Fast Striker, but Gunlord X is the real deal. A must for anyone who wants to enjoy some good old arcade action.

 

Graphics: 7.5

It uses the hardware limitations of the Neo Geo in order to craft a beautiful 16-bit world at a very high framerate. It gets repetitive after a while, but it’s still very good nonetheless.

Gameplay: 8.5

You can either play it with more traditional arcade controls or in a twin-stick setting. Both control methods are fast and responsive, but the “morph ball” ability is clunky and poorly programmed, which led to more than a few deaths.

Sound: 8.0

A synth-heavy MIDI soundtrack that, for the most part, is pretty good. Some tunes in here will quickly stick in your head. There are some brief voice clips in here, especially when you collect powerups, but they’re so poorly mixed that you can’t properly hear what they are supposed to say.

Fun Factor: 9.5

The level design is fantastic, the difficulty is challenging but very fair, and the overall feeling of destroying everything in sight with huge weapons is delightful. Had this been released back in the day, it would have become the single best Neo Geo game ever made.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Gunlord X is available now on PS4 and Switch.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Gunlord X was provided by the publisher.

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