Super GunWorld 2 opens with a message from M07 Games. It’s a thank you to those who support small indie developers. It makes a special mention that everything that you’re about to play was created by one person, Joe. He goes on to say:
“They aren’t the best [games] in the world, but they are made with a passion and a love for the community. Never settle. Strive to love what you do. Take a chance and follow your dreams. Thanks again for allowing me to follow mine.”
It’s hard to react to the honesty coming from this opening message. It’s also hard to look past the self-deprecating comments about M07 titles. While I played through GunWorld 2, I thought of Joe putting himself on the line making this strange retro-platformer.
I envisioned him putting in long nights on his computer, tinkering with the code to try and fix yet another physics problem. When he finished everything, he actually was grateful to be done and to have the opportunity to have other people play his games. He truly meant all the things in that opening message.
Of course, this is all just conjecture. It’s a narrative that I invented purely based on these words from the creator. Even it were true, I’m not here to review the man behind the game but the game itself. And here, I have to agree with Joe… it’s not the best game in the world.
But, it’s on the right track to becoming something great. It just needs to shed some of its indie trappings.
The story here is mostly filler that’s trying to be fun. The planet of GunWorld was attacked years ago by an alien invasion. The day was saved by the planet’s greatest hero, Dwayne, and afterwards he went into hiding as per action-movie cliches.
Now the Exaction Faction has come down to judge GunWorld, and by extension the President, too dangerous for the galaxy. It’s time for Dwayne to come out of retirement and save the day once again.\
The narrative and characters are all steeped in a parody of hyper-machismo, 80’s and 90’s video games, and (maybe?) American patriotism. I mean, the leader of GunWorld is President Eagle. All of this doesn’t really go anywhere and the humor often tries too hard.
There’s also an issue with so-called indie cameos. There’s a bunch of inconsequential characters that seem like their modeled after real people. I honestly thought these were high level backers for a Kickstarter but a simple Google search told me that the game wasn’t crowdfunded.
I was just left feeling like there were all these injokes that M07 had put in that I wasn’t allowed to be part of. A game like Shovel Knight made these parts much more compartmentalized and integrated, whereas GunWorld 2 throws them about haphazardly. I want to know more about the rapper in the arcade dammit. Why is he there?!
There’s also a lot of homages going on here that keep the game from finding its own groove. Collecting new weapons works a lot like Mega Man whereas encountering enemies in the overworld is right out of Zelda II.
There’s a underutilized leveling mechanic (you can’t even see how much experience you have) and stores where you can buy new equipment. Money is earned by defeating enemies and money is lost by dying. Not surprisingly, this does add an element of grinding to the game.
The most interesting element of the game is the one that doesn’t borrow from other games; you can throw seeds on the ground to grow ‘gunplants’. At first you only have the ability to grow and use a pistol but defeating bosses unlock new seeds at stores. Here’s where the Mega Man comparisons come into play as these new abilities unlock as you defeat the leaders of the Exaction Faction.
All weapons are limited by the amount of times you can fire them and the amount of seeds you carry (except the pistol). You can hold down the toss button to make turrets sprout up that are based on the type currently selected. Certain guns are also needed to unlock switches or traverse the world with their unique mechanics.
All these variables make gunplay a strategic affair that can get a little tricky in the later parts of the game. You can start off shooting things up with the pistol while throwing down a turret of the leaf blaster for some defense. However, you notice an airborne enemy so you quickly plant and pluck a dumbbell blaster to make use of its arcing properties.
These are the more memorable parts of GunWorld 2 that prove that there’s a really strong idea buried along with these gunseeds. The problem is that a few of the weapons aren’t interesting or practical to use (I’m looking at you remote control horseshoe) and the puzzle elements are lacking.
However, I liked how a good number of your new weapons were less offensive and had more of a strategic use. There’s a gun that lets you (only) shoot downwards for more verticality and a gun that lets you clone yourself. Again, these elements are used sparsely (except the multi-jump) and contain a lot of wasted potential.
The boss fights do have a bit of the Mega Man find-the-weakness, but they tend to be all over the map. There’s a few really easy fights and a few that are mainly exercises in patience. The only real memorable battle is with the final boss which contains a pretty large twist that I’m still trying to figure out if it’s smart or gimmicky.
You can also switch equipment from a limited selection of garb for your head, chest, and feet. Most of these will either increase your health or extend your ammo but it can be nice to mix and match later on when you’ve uncovered these items.
Speaking of secrets, while the game isn’t jam-packed with them, there are enough hidden paths to keep you busy. Some of the areas on the overworld map are seemingly useless, only existing to showcase one of those cameos I talked about earlier. Finding gems tucked away behind breakable blocks in the platforming sections is pretty fun and helps break up the combat.
Difficult platforming sections become more common about halfway in. They’re not overly taxing but there were times that where I watched in frustration as my hard earned dollars disappeared due to unfair jumps. There are also a number of ‘challenge areas’ that exist to push players in checkpoint-less runs. These are nicely implemented and do hold a very cool bonus for those that finish all of them.
Unfortunately, the game’s extra features suffer the indie trope of making normal games super hard. You can play a more linear version of the game with ‘old school mode’ and ‘level rush’.
GunWorld 2 was designed to be a psuedo open-world platformer with RPG elements; this is all stripped away in old school mode and replaced with a level by level progression and instant failure after you lose your one and only life. The game has not been rebalanced here and the whole ordeal feels unfair rather than smartly challenging.
The level rush mode puts 10 levels from the game in random order and tasks you with beating all of them with one life. Again, everything is the same as it was in the normal game with the difficulty spiking at unexpected spots due to your underpowered equipment.
You are given a limited number of seeds for all weapons in both these modes which does generally work. The issue is that since you don’t have any of your upgrades, some of them take a lot of ammo to take out a target or some last a pathetically short time. The invincibility power-up is almost useless here and is very key in some of the later levels.
Much like the gameplay, the visuals are hit and miss here. The character models are nicely detailed and have a lot of personality despite their limits on pixels. It is silly that a lot of the cameos/NPCs that appear only once got more attention than the backgrounds and stages. A lot of them are forgettable and contain similar looking screens throughout an entire level.
There isn’t a lot of variance with the music but the main theme will get in your head after listening to it a bunch of times. The SFX is nicely retro with crisp and minimalistic noises coming off Dwayne and his enemies.
In the end I’m left wishing Joe from M07 had developed certain aspects of the game more. The platforming and combat are good when they’re good but a lot of the time it feels lacklustre. With all these different, unique weapons it’s unfortunate that trickier puzzles or more diverse enemies (with specific weaknesses) weren’t thrown into the mix.
I can see the passion that was put behind GunWorld 2 and if you look back at the original, you can see how far the series has come. This matches up with that opening message from the dev at the beginning of the game but is it really enough? At the moment I’m going to have to just barely side with ‘no, it isn’t’.
There is a good game buried underneath all the usual tiny developer fodder: unfunny in-jokes, unneeded cameos, the ultra-hard mode(s), the obsession with 80s and 90s gaming and pop culture, the detailed sprites. More energy should’ve been put into making more memorable environments and bosses, a more well thought-out leveling system, and a stronger story that used NPCs more than once, and fleshing out the already engaging ‘gunseed’ mechanic.
Joe said ‘Never settle’ in his message and I hope he takes this advice to heart. For players, I can dispense the same advice. There’s more that can be offered in GunWorld and I do think that M07 Games is on the right track to create an even better version if they ever make a third installment.