Review: Is that a Gun and/or Bird in your pocket, or are you just happy to see this sequel?
Capcom and Psikyo, who are apparently under the mistaken impression that you didn't get shot at enough in Cannon Spike, have teamed back up to remedy that unfortunate situation. Like CS, Gunbird 2 is a shooter, but unlike CS, it's very much a throwback/homage to the one-hit-and-you're-dead, dodge-for-your-life, sheer-reflexes-and-skill shooters of yesteryear. Think about 1943, 1944, Xevious, Raiden, or the parts of Guardian Legend where you got to play as the jet, and you'll have a pretty good idea of where Gunbird 2 is coming from. Feel free to hide under the bed.
In Gunbird 2, you play the role of one of seven bizarre adventurers, including perennial Capcom turbo slut Morrigan Aensland, who are out to gather the ingredients for the legendary Almighty Potion. You're opposed not only by the mechanized armada of the lovably bumbling Queen Pirates, who I wish I could play as, but by the strange creatures defending the North Pole lair of the Sanrio-esque Medicine God, the only entity which can make the Almighty Potion.
Each of your seven adventurers is equipped with a standard shot, which can be upgraded by gathering power-up items, a screen-clearing bomb, and a slow, but powerful, charge shot. The properties of each vary slightly from character to character, particularly the charge shot, but not so much that it really affects the game. Some characters seem to have a slight advantage over others, such as Morrigan's multiple charge shots and Aine's fire arrows, but for the most part, the cast is well balanced.
Each character also has his or her own goals and two possible endings, encouraging you to play through the game at least twice with each character. Granted, Gunbird 2 has some of the strangest endings in video game history, but then again, when you're playing a game where a nine-year-old girl from England can not only fly, but could apparently win a shooting war with the 101st Airborne, you should be expecting things to reach that uniquely Japanese height of surreality plenty damn quick.
Graphically, this game is my friend, for it is 2D. (3D shooters are a plague and a waste, unless you're counting Gyruss as 3D. If you are, you're a tool, so...) I think it's well animated, and the hand-drawn sprites look good. I think. Whenever I play the game, I'm really way too busy with that whole "trying not to die" thing to notice the minor subtleties like the graphics. The backgrounds may very well be marvelous, but they're usually covered up by five hundred million bullets, both mine and the ones I'm dodging, so I can't really appreciate them. Thanks to the Dreamcast hardware (it's thinking, you know), the gameplay is smooth and solid; despite the ridiculous number of sprites flying around onscreen, there's no slowdown and no flicker at all.
As you should expect from a shooter, this game is unapologetically difficult. That's part and parcel of the arcade genre, after all; the damn thing is trying to get you to put more quarters in. Even when on the lowest difficulty level, the game seems to take a childlike delight in keeping you on your toes. You may wish to keep a pillow around to throw your controller against, or keep a younger sibling handy so you have someone to beat on.
Personally, I like this sort of thing. Games these days are far too easy, and I'd feel betrayed on a base level if a port of an arcade shooter was childishly simple to beat. More to the point, a good shooter is like a gaming purgative. After spending far too long with item management, dungeon crawls, tenstrings, okizemes, qcf+P cancelled into qcf x2 +P, cut scenes, FMV, polygon counts, frame rates, filrates, hit points, weapon shops, whiny protagonists, and other relatively recent features which have come to characterize gaming, a good arcade-style shooter, or, hell, any arcade-style game, period, is like breathing clean air after a year spent in the city. This is how the medium started, with endless hordes of machines being blown away by one dedicated gamer, and it's good to return to your roots once in a while.