I’m going to admit: I wasn’t entirely sober when I played Gungrave: Overdose. I don’t think I would want to play it while sober, either. But with the aid of a few bottles of fine Sapporo, this game makes for a surprisingly entertaining few hours of button destruction.
Gungrave is a very strange case of a game that came before the anime, but it is that reverse order of production that has turned the game (series; Overdose is the second game, though you don’t need to have played the original) into something of a cult classic. Aided by character designs by Yasuhiro Nightow, the game does have the visual look and style of a classic anime based game.
The plot itself is contrived and often silly, but that’s nothing unusual for anime. It focuses around a drug war and silent protagonist Gungrave’s appetite for revenge. It’s enough to give the developers an excuse to throw Grave against hordes of enemies, so I guess from that perspective it works.
Unfortunately the genuinely cool cutscenes are all-too-brief, and the action doesn’t keep pace. The best way to think of Gungrave: Overdose is an attempt to emulate Devil May Cry. Grave has twin pistols, which fire a lot of bullets really fast, and the fellow has all the posing that made Dante cool. If enemies get close, Grave has a coffin strapped to his back which makes for a destructive melee attack.
As Grave kills swarms of enemies in a row, a meter will build up. Once filled, Grave gains access to a super attack that will clear out a room filled with enemies.
And then it’s just a matter of running through hyper-linear levels, slaughtering hordes of enemies, then running to the next objective. Levels are corridor based, and enemies can come from both in front and behind.
Which is where the game starts to fall down. The camera is terrible. It’s hard to make it face the way you want, and it’s slow to turn with Grave. The second main problem with the game is the autolock system is woefully inadequate at locking on to fast moving enemies. Boss battles especially become frustrating as a result, as they’re hard to lock on to, do a lot of damage, and at times hard to even find thanks to the camera.
Hordes of enemies can also become frustrating when explosive weapons such as rocket launchers come into play. Grave has the ability to use his coffin as a shield, but the animation sequence for putting up the shield is so slow that the rocket will hit home anyway. Similarly, enemies can hit from behind, and while Grave has the ability to do a 180 spin to face the sneaky ones, the camera takes far too long to swing around.
On the low difficulty levels this isn’t so painful; the game has a generous health and rechargeable shield system that means Grave can wear some damage and doesn’t need to block much. The high difficulty levels are far too frustrating to be worth wasting time with, though, and even on the low difficulty levels there is a spike in challenge about mid way that gives enemies far too much health and may prevent people from finishing the game.
With no puzzle elements whatsoever, this game shines best on easy or medium difficulty as an utterly mindless, somewhat visceral gunslinging Devil May Cry wannabe, with great character design. While that might sound negative overall, I did genuinely enjoy this game for what it was, and would recommend it to genre fans that want some B-grade fun.
It’s just not, in any sense of the word, a classic game.