By Taito/Xing Sega Saturn 1997


Original Arcade flyer - click to enlarge!

GAME STORY: Gun Frontier's plot is little short of inspired.. Apparently on this Earth-alter-ego called Gloria, which happens to be stuck for some reason in a permanent 1880's Mid-West time-period, gold has been discovered, leading to an influx of nasty space-pirates called 'Wild-Lizards' attacking and attempting to wipe out the human inhabitants in a massive fleet Gun-ships in order to nab the booty for themsleves. Cue two heroic native pilots who nab the only available machines with which to strike back - a couple of flying Smith & Wessons... Well at least it beats the standard quasi-futuristic Earth Vs Aliens
plot in terms of originality eh?

GRAPHICS: A little dated and dull I suppose by todays standards - the Taito F2 system was the precursor
to the F3 board which would later run the likes of
Gekirindan, Kyukyoku Tiger II and Layer Section. Still if you (like me) are a fan of detailed and creatively designed bitmap graphics you will find much to enthuse about in the way that most of the friendly and enemy hardware and background designs in the game are inspired by Wild West movies. Not Wild Wild West (the movie) though I should hasten to add.. ;)

STAGES: There are 6 levels in the game, although the last is really an epilogue (see later). The last 2 stages proper are extremely tough to get through intact in one player mode.

Here's a solid home conversion of an obscure Taito F2 top-down Arcade
shooter from 1990, notable for an
unusual and surreal graphic style and
some tough hardcore gameplay..

Xing was a company responsible for releasing some classic arcade conversions (on its Arcade
label) licensed from the 'big' producers such as Capcom's Three Wonders, Irem's
Image Fight &
X-Multiply and this little gem.. an old F2 system arcade shooter which though dated still has some worthwhile features as I shall reveal..

Gun Frontier is the prequel to Metal Black,
another largely unknown shooter, this time a
Darius-like horizontal blaster, which was also released on Saturn by another company called Ving - nothing to do with the publishers of this game though. A lot of people prefer Metal Black to this game, but I like Gun Frontier better. It has an oddly unique atmosphere.. sort of Arthur C. Clarke meets High Noon, represents a good challenge and contains some rather nicely designed and detailed end-of-level bosses. In the Gun Frontier universe, your ships, along with many of the various enemies and bosses are quite literally winged six-shooters. Now that's got to be a first..

PLAYERS: 2P simultaneous.

GAMEPLAY: Pretty standard top-down vertical scrolling action, you start equipped with a pretty hopeless double-bullet-emitting weapon which can be quickly upgraded to a faster firing, multi-projectile spewer by picking up floating dimes (I kid you not..). Bombs can be upgraded in a similar style to
Battle Garegga, by collecting gold bars (?) which increase their destructive potential when unleashed from a stream of meagre explosive charges to a screen-wide boss-busting mega-blast (see screengrab below) when fully powered up. On launching a bomb all gold bars collected are lost and you must collect more again before the smart-bomb can be re-used. All very sensible really. All-in-all this game does actually have so many similarities to Raizing's later epic Battle Garegga (an absolute Saturn shooter masterpiece) that I'm almost led to believe that the same people may have worked on both the 1990 Gun Frontier as well as the 1996-released Garegga. Either that or Raizing plagiarised much of Gun Frontier for their game. (Has anyone else that has played both titles noticed similarities? Note that even the style of the explosions is exactly the same in both games..)

Also I ought to mention that the default Saturn screen mode of the game is rather truncated, with the game window on the left hand two-thirds of your telly, and the extremities of the playfield cut off. A great big score readout is plastered on the remaining third of the screen.. not good. Arcade Mode (Sideways TV) is really the only way to go if you want to play the game as it was intended and with any degree of seriousness.

CHALLENGE: This is definitely one of the hardest of Taito's vertical shooters, probably more-so than Layer Section, in the fact that the good old-fashioned restart-point system is employed, often in the midst of some very lengthy and tricky stage sequences. In my opinion this is a good thing. During most of the (often very nasty) boss fights however the game is a bit more lenient and lets you continue fighting at the same spot should you die. In two-player mode restarts are eradicated leaving you the option to 'cheat' in one player mode if you can't stand the heat.. Definitely one for the more hardcore shooter fans among you though, and in no way a 'blast-through-in-one night' kinda game.

SOUND: A fairly good, if ultimately unmemorable 'Japanese-Morricone' style soundtrack (those who have played Mediavision's Wild Arms RPG on Playstation will know what I mean). No special Saturn remix as far as I know but there is a Sound Test option for those who would like to listen to the Red Book Audio soundtrack outside of the game (then again you could just as easily stick it in your Hi-Fi..) There is no mention of Zuntata, Taito's in-house music outfit, providing the soundtrack here either in the game documention or credits, but I would presume some members would have probably been involved.

OVERALL: Good, solid if slightly dated stuff. If you like the look of the surreal graphics style and enjoy a challenging vertical shooter it might just be your cup of tea. Or if you are like me and collect Taito stuff then you will probably be wanting it for your collection regardless. Be warned though that this game may be a bit of an aquired taste to those weaned on more modern fare such as Raystorm, Soukyugurentai and Radiant Silvergun, or indeed the more recent traditional vertical shmups such as Battle Garegga, Do Don Pachi and Shienryu. Plus the fact that it is becoming increasingly hard to find since the Saturn hit 'collectors' status a couple of years back. Good luck with tracking it down!

Score Out of Five

(add an extra half if you
like Taito shooters)

Mike B



Some screenshots of Stage One

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