Gunlord / Gunlord X

A game by NG:Dev.Team for Neo Geo AES and MVS, Dreamcast, PS4, and Switch, originally released in 2012, with the X version released in 2019.
Gunlord is a sidescrolling shooter that is heavily influenced by the designs of the Turrican series, particularly the Amiga versions of Turrican and Turrican II: The Final Fight. The original game was developed for Neo Geo hardware and later ported to Dreamcast. Years later, the studio revisited the game with an enhanced edition entitled Gunlord X, which includes larger levels with more secrets, rebalanced difficulty, four new bosses, a new auto-scrolling jetpack stage, enhanced graphical effects, new music tracks, a widescreen presentation, twin stick controls (optional), a level select, an auto save feature, and a speedrun mode that unlocks once the player completes the game. (ed note: All screenshots are from the Gunlord X version of the game.)
The game kicks off with a pre-title cutscene showing the Gordian Gaiden (the eponymous Gunlord) shackled to a chair and sitting before a tribunal that – rather than accusing him of a crime – states: “You are captured!” In the game’s original release, the dialogue contained the somewhat more believable “You are guilty!” Gordian insists that he must rescue his wife, at which point he is reminded that he has no gun. He breaks out of his shackles and presses a button on his armor that teleports a gun into his hands, shouting: “You are cute. I am the Gunlord! Have a nice day!” as he murders everyone in the room and escapes. In the original release, this dialogue read: “Bitches! Die in Hell!” followed by a scene of one of Gordian’s captors being ripped apart by gunfire and his brains exploding out of the top of his head. This scene is severely toned down for the Gunlord X release, with the people diving out of the way of gunfire instead of being killed.
When the player starts the game, an introductory cutscene tells the backstory of Gunlord’s wife, Captain Vanessa Gaiden of the Z-42 Warpstar, who was pivotal in the battle against the evil empire… and these are the events that took place at the end of Last Hope, the developer’s previous game. But despite her success in battle, the captain never makes it home. While she remains MIA, a new evil arises in the form of a Planet Lord called The Master (reminiscent of the main villain in the Turrican series called The Machine). The Master creates mechanical creatures called Lords of Steel that enslave mankind by absorbing their souls. Gordian, still searching for his wife, dons the Gunlord armor to take down The Master and his machines in hopes of finding her. In the original release, this sequence was voiced and contained a couple of extra lines of monologue before the start of the game.
Gunlord is structurally very similar to the first two games in the Turrican series in terms of the player’s movement abilities, weapon selection, and level layout, even going so far as to include Turrican-esque invisible powerup-dispensing blocks that can also be used as platforms. As in the early Turrican games, the player begins the game on the surface of a planet before moving into caverns with flowing waterfalls, followed mechanical-themed enemy lairs, and ascent-based level toward the end of the game, and a couple of shmup sequences (only one in the game’s original release).
Gunlord offers a very responsive 2.5x variable jump, the ability to hop on some enemies to destroy them, a screen clearing line weapon called a side flash, and the ability to transform into a wheel that is immune to most damage and is capable of dropping mines to destroy enemies. In this wheel form, the player can enter small openings that usually lead to secret areas containing gems, smart bombs, special weapons, shields that grant temporary invincibility, health restoratives, or 1UPs. Unlike Turrican, the player can perform a small hop in wheel form, allowing him to mount low platforms and jump over gaps. Use of the wheel is limited by a meter (as in Mega Turrican and Super Turrican), and this meter recharges over time, or more quickly by grabbing metallic spheres occasionally dropped by enemies or powerup containers. The player can transform into the wheel form at any time, even when he is not standing on solid ground, and once in this form, he moves constantly and can only change directions to the left or right.
The player has the same basic weapon loadout that appeared in Turrican II: a wide shot, an arc-shaped projectile that is as tall as the player character, and a bounce shot; and all of these are set to auto-fire. Unlike the Turrican series, it is not necessary to grab multiple powerups to increase the power of these weapons, as they start at full strength. The player is free to aim in eight directions (down while jumping), instead of being limited to shooting to the left or right, making him quite versatile in combat. The game also features time-limited special weapons called “power shots”, and these include a missile launcher that also drops loads of bouncing grenades when fired, a wide-firing laser with angled bouncing projectiles (but this weapon can only be fired to the left or right), and homing projectiles that penetrate walls. These weapons let the player quickly destroy even the most powerful of enemies.
Another trademark of the Turrican series is the energy beam, which appears here as a beam that can be aimed in a full 360 degrees (as opposed to 8-way fire in Turrican). In the Turrican series, the energy beam was useful for attacking above and below, since the player could not aim in those directions, but the player had to be standing still on solid ground in order to use it. Now that the player can fire in eight directions, he is able to engage most enemies with his standard weapons, but changes have been made to the energy beam to make it more versatile.
The beam's 360 degree aim allows for a bit of extra precision, and the beam passes through solid objects, allowing the player to attack enemies on the other side of walls. Perhaps most important is the fact that the beam absorbs most enemy projectiles, allowing the player to use it defensively, which is especially handy when facing bullet-spewing bosses. The player is able to engage the beam while standing, jumping, or falling, but his movement is locked while using it, so engaging it during a jump will cause him to fall straight down. As before, the energy beam can be used against heavy enemies to quickly wear down their health, but this is balanced by the fact that the beam draws from an energy meter – the same meter as the wheel – so its use is not unlimited. Players must be mindful of the remaining energy level, particularly during boss encounters.
Spread throughout the game world are medium and large gems, and there is a counter in the lower left of the screen to show how many you have collected vs. the total in the level. This is useful for completionists looking to find everything, and it also gives the player an indicator of his overall progress in the level. Most levels are large and contain hundreds of regular gems and a handful of large gems (many more in Gunlord X than in the original release). These are mostly in place for bragging rights, but large gems serve a second very important purpose… For every level in which you are able to collect all of the large gems in a single run, you gain an additional continue. This continue is persistent across all future runs, and thorough players can eventually unlock nine additional continues beyond the three that they have at the start of the game.
Gunlord X also contains a level select option that allows the player to return to any previously-visited level and continue the game with a full stock of continues, making the collection of large gems less important to overall game completion… although it’s still possible to burn all continues in some of the more difficult levels if the player lacks the skill to make it through. In the original release of Gunlord, players had the option to select between Original and Arcade modes, with the Arcade mode adding a level timer and sending the player back to the start of a level when he used a continue. In Original mode, the player simply respawns at a nearby safe point just like does when he loses a life (if the player is killed during a boss fight, he must restart the fight from the beginning). The player has three units of health, with health restoratives replenishing one unit, and he has a short period of invincibility after taking damage.
In the early going, environments have only small alcoves to explore, but as you make your way into the later stages, they become more open with longer branches and some alternate paths. For those looking to simply reach the end of any given level, arrows occasionally point players in the right direction, but players looking to discover every secret within larger levels will have their work cut out for them, especially since players occasionally encounter situations where they cannot backtrack past a certain point within a level. Fortunately, both Gunlord X and Gunlord Original mode contain no level timer, so the player isn’t penalized for searching every corner.
The expanded levels in Gunlord X mean that there’s more to find. Most levels in Gunlord X offer dozens of additional regular gems and a handful of additional large gems. Stage 4 in particular is greatly expanded over the original, offering 770 regular gems compared to 59 in the original, and 19 large gems compared to eight in the original. Stage 4 also contains a pretty tough set of challenges at the end of the level, so players may find themselves losing everything they’ve collected if they are killed before reaching the end and defeating the level's two bosses.
Stages 5 and 6 are swapped in the Gunlord X release (and the PSN trophies are mislabeled as a result), which is a shame since Stage 6 is one of the shorter/easier levels that offered a break between Stages 4 and 5 in the original release. Stage 5 (Stage 6 in the original) is an auto-scrolling platforming area with insta-death toxic waste along the bottom, leading to lots of situations where the player can be killed instantly by missing a jump or getting knocked back by an enemy or projectile.
The platforming gameplay is broken up in Stage 2 with a very short and simple shmup sequence. Here, the player flies through a generic environment facing a small number of enemy types before facing an R-Type-inspired boss. There are no powerups or other items to collect – although getting all of the big gems is easy in this level because there are only two of them – and the player has a 3-way shot that clears out most enemies ahead of him with little effort. The entire sequence is under two minutes in length.
In Gunlord X, there is another shmup stage that did not appear in the original game. Instead of flying in a ship, the player instead controls the standard player character who is equipped with a jetpack. This sequence is more complex and challenging than the first shmup sequence, as the player can now fire in eight directions, must dodge obstacles while fighting enemies. The player can grab powerups to select between his three standard projectile types, and he can use the screen-clearing side flash weapon.
Like the Turrican games, the bounding box for scrolling is quite large, which puts you close to the edge of the screen before it scrolls, making it easier for you to be surprised until you’ve played the levels a few times and memorized enemy placements. By standing still and pressing UP or DOWN, the screen scrolls slightly in that direction to let you see farther ahead. There is one level where you are likely to be taken by surprise – which is a lava-themed area – primarily because there is so much going on that it’s hard to spot level hazards, especially when confronted with lots of enemies. Flame spouts in particular are tough to spot amidst the chaos, but even big crushers can surprise you since they don’t start animating until you get close to them.
Boss designs are visually interesting, although their movements are quite simple. Most bosses move slowly back and forth, cycling through a handful of projectile types. This makes their movements predictable, and most bosses can be defeated in one or two attempts by skilled players. Most encounters focus on dodging projectiles, and cancelling out the others with the energy beam or side flash, while keeping an auto-fire weapon or the energy beam locked on the boss’ body or weak point.
Visually and aurally, the game is very much in keeping with the aesthetics of the original Turrican releases on Amiga, with Gunlord X adding some graphical flourishes beyond what appeared in the original release (and the player can add various CRT effects). Otherwise, placed side-by-side, the influences are obvious to the point that this could easily be mistaken for a legitimate entry in the series. Even the sound design and level themes are on par with Chris Huelsbeck’s originals. Gunlord X adds some quality of life improvements that make the game a bit easier for modern players, but there’s nothing stopping players from diving in with the original control scheme and trying for a 1cc run.

NG:Dev.Team is a studio based in Germany, and founded in 2001 by brothers Timm and René Hellwig. The game’s credits include designer René Hellwig, programmer Timm Hellwig, and artists Andrew Bado (developer of Mystik Belle and Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge), Henk Nieborg (Xeno Crisis, Shakedown: Hawaii, Contra 4), Konstantin Karpenyuk, and Perry Sessions. Music for the game was composed by Rafael Dyll (Söldner-X series), with inspirations from Chris Huelsbeck’s iconic Turrican soundtrack. The studio previously released Last Hope, Fast Striker, and NEO XYX.