I love IntiCreates! With 25 years of history in the gaming industry, they’ve established themselves as masters of 2D action platformers! From classics like the Mega Man Zero series, modern reimaginings like Azure Striker Gunvolt and Blaster Master Zero, or love-letters to gaming’s history like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon and much, much more! But what happens when you take this studio out of their comfort zone and have them develop a 3D game? Sounds intriguing, right? Now, what if I told you that game was a pervy shooting game themed around a romance? …That’s Gal*Gun Returns in a nutshell!
Gal*Gun Returns celebrates the 10th anniversary of IntiCreates’ Gal*Gun series. It initially launched back in 2011 exclusively on the Xbox 360. After realizing how much of a mistake releasing a 360 exclusive in Japan was, they pushed out a PS3 version a year later. Unfortunately, this original title was never released in the west, but now it’s finally available in this spiffy remaster on modern systems! Was it worth the wait? Well, let’s take a look, but be sure not to stare; it’s not polite.
On what could have been an ordinary school day for Tenzou, he inadvertently gets shot by a barrage of cupid arrows. The blame lies with a ditzy cupid named Patako. Thanks to this blunder, Tenzou is now bombarded by women eager to confess their love to him. Much to their dismay, he only has feelings for one girl in particular. With assistance from Patako, it’s up to Tenzou to ward off an onslaught of horny women to win the heart of the girl he loves. If he fails, no man, woman, or animal will ever love him for the rest of his life!
I’ll be upfront: this premise is absurd, but the thing is, it’s aware that it’s absurd! It has fun with this concept and goes all the way with some wacky situations. Some notables examples include saving a girl from a tentacle demon or fighting a girl who’s lost her pants on a windy rooftop.
Good thing too, because the story these events are set around is quite lackluster. You’re given the choice of focusing your attention on one of four girls. Despite this, no matter which one you choose, their stories are all constructed in a very similar way. They all have two unique scenarios, two battles with spirits guarding them, one flashback sequence, and end with a boss fight. This limited design template means that you aren’t given enough time to deepen your relationship with each girl, but even if the stories were well constructed, that wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Every single character is as shallow as a puddle. They boil down to only one or two personality traits that you can sum up in a few words. You have an innocent shrine maiden, a fiery tsundere, a passionate musician, and so on. Our protagonist, Tenzou isn’t much better. He’s supposed to come off as the straight man to the insanity he’s objected to, but he’s blander than plain rice cakes. Patako is a little better by comparison. I did like the back-and-forth conversations she had with Tenzou.
Out of the four main girls, my favorite was easily the aforementioned tsundere, Akira. It might have to do with my interest in the tsundere archetype, but seeing her rough exterior slowly weaken over time is undeniably adorable! It also helps that her design is the most visually striking, helping add to her character. Even so, I found it incredibly hard to care about the events that transpired in Gal*Gun Returns. Considering how character-driven the whole game is, that’s a huge problem!
Gal*Gun Returns is a rail shooter, similar to games like House of the Dead and Time Crisis. The difference is those were designed to be arcade games; Gal*Gun Returns is a release exclusively for consoles and the PC. Immediately hearing this, you may notice two puzzling omissions that other rail shooters have. The first is that Gal*Gun Returns has no motion controls or light gun accessory – see Gal*Gun VR or Gal*Gun 2: Doki Doki VR Mode for that! The second is a complete lack of multiplayer. This is a one-person rodeo, but once you see the main mechanics of the game in action, that decision was probably for the best.
The story mode has four girls to woo, with each of them having five stages to complete. Every single stage is filled to the brim with girls charging at you professing their love. Your goal is to use a pheromone gun given to you by Patako to shoot the girls. This incapacitates them into a state of utter euphoria. That by itself is one of the strangest mechanics I’ve seen in a game, but there’s more depth to this than you’d expect.
When you hover the reticle over a target, you’ll see words pop out when you hover over certain parts of the body. These are Ecstasy Zones. If you happen to hit one, you’ll instantly down an enemy and get a bonus to your score. There are four you can target: the head, chest, stomach, and legs. I really liked this system, since it rewards you for accuracy, and downing an enemy in one shot is quite gratifying! The reticle’s default sensitivity is too high though, making accurate aiming a tricky task with a controller. You’re thankfully able to adjust them in the options menu. I found the lowest setting to be the most comfortable option.
At times, you’ll have over four girls gunning for your affection at the same time. You may find yourself quickly overwhelmed! In times like this, you can activate what’s called Doki Doki Mode. After filling a portion of the heart gauge next to your health bar, shooting a girl by pressing Y (triangle) will bring that girl to the Doki Doki Field. Here, you’ll need to target parts of the girl you shot earlier. This fills the gauge next to her. You can do this by zooming into certain parts of her body and shooting when the words are at their largest to fill the gauge up faster.
But why would you do such a pervy act? After completing this mini-game, you’ll get a small portion of your health back. It also wipes out every enemy on screen. The problem is that finishing Doki Doki Mode can often take more than a minute to do so. Once you activate it, there’s no way to quickly finish it. Conversely, you can just shoot that enemy you were planning to use Doki Doki Mode on and take her down in a few seconds. I’m glad there’s a way to get more health back, but other than that, using Doki Doki Mode slows the game’s pacing to a crawl, and led me to avoid using it.
At the end of each stage, the game will test your shooting skills in some interesting scenarios. These include warding off guardian spirits to raise the affection of a girl you’re aiming for, a boss fight at the end of each campaign, and the best out of all of them, unique challenges in outlandish situations! Each girl has two unique challenges, making for eight to play through and they’re the highlight of Gal*Gun Returns! They all change up the formula in substantial ways, such as warding off sheep to avoid drifting to sleep or deflecting cannonballs as a part of a bizarre training program. While they go on for a bit too long, I always looked forward to what kind of scenario the game would present me with.
By performing well, you’ll get more points at the end of a stage. If you achieve a certain score, you increase your grade. The grades go from F to SSS but I’m not sure what getting higher grades reward you with. I assume it’s more of the game’s currency called feathers, which are used to purchase art in the gallery, but I kept getting SS rank during my time with the game, so I’m not sure.
On that note, unlike many other rail shooters, Gal*Gun Returns is not a hard game. Even if you don’t plan to use the mechanics the game gives you, you can just mash the fire button to easily ward off every girl who’s after you. Sure, you won’t get many points, but adding some kind of ammunition system forcing you to reload would prevent strategies like this. The game does offer a harder difficulty option, so I ended up playing on this setting almost exclusively. I found the unique challenges in each campaign to be a bit challenging at times, mostly down to how they played with the mechanics. Other than that though, this is quite an easy game when all is said and done.
As you might expect, there are dating sim elements included as well. Throughout each campaign, you’ll be given the option to pick a line of dialogue and by picking the right ones, you’ll get closer to that girl. There’s also your own personal stats to keep track of; intelligence, athleticism, style, and lewdness respectively. Depending on which girl you’re focusing on, they’ll have a preferred stat and a less desirable one. By having the right stats and picking a majority of the correct dialogue options, you have the chance of unlocking that girl’s true ending. This may require you to play through a campaign more than once. It can take around an hour to an hour-and-a-half to finish one girl’s campaign.
If you have to replay a character’s story or if you’re just going through them for the first time, you may find that the game becomes repetitive. Several stages are reused across all four campaigns, which doesn’t help because all of them are dull affairs no matter where you end up traversing. There are no alternate paths to take or hidden items to collect, so they become stale very quickly. Don’t be surprised if you end up bored when you’re trudging through each stage.
But that’s not all! There’s a whole new mode you can unlock called Doki Doki Carnival. Once you unlock the true ending for one of the four girls, this mode becomes available to you from the main menu. It acts as the game’s epilogue and introduces a character fans of Gal*Gun Double Peace are sure to recognize: an angel clad in blue named Ekoro. Turns out that even though Tenzou now has a girlfriend, every other woman now hates him. It’s up to you to rectify the issue! How do you do this? By using the previously established Doki Doki Mode.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not a fan of Doki Doki mechanic, but now we have an entire mode set using that mode exclusively. Even though I still don’t like its inclusion, there is a new twist that improves it. You are now tasked with using Doki Doki Mode with two or more women and require you to switch between them. The goal is to try and give them all euphoria at the same time for the best possible score. This helps add some depth to the mechanic. You need to be aware of each of the girl’s gauges and this helps add some much-needed strategy. I won’t deny that getting a perfect clear in this mode was surprisingly gratifying, so good on you IntiCreates for improving a questionable mechanic!
There’s no other way to put it: Gal*Gun Returns looks like a game that came out ten years ago. I could see this game running on a Playstation Vita let alone on the Switch and PC; it’s that visually lackluster by modern standards. Environments are dull and empty, which makes replaying them ad nauseam all the more tiring. On the flipside, animations are pulled off quite well; every single character has a wide range of expressions and helps convey what kind of character they are. Thanks to the game clearly not being cutting-edge, it runs very smoothly.
As for the art design, character models aren’t that detailed and feel as if they’re running of some kind of design template. The main characters are the only exceptions to this. The art style is quite fitting for the tone though; colorful, fantastical, and expressive. It helps that there are a plentiful amount of event images for key moments in each character’s stories, along with tons of unlockable images in the gallery!
The music is quite bouncy and energetic. Some vocal tracks stand out here and are easily the best tracks in the game. My issue is that there isn’t much variety with the soundtrack. For a majority of the stages, you’ll be hearing the same backing track constantly. This doesn’t help the already repetitive nature of the stages.
There’s only a Japanese dub in Gal*Gun Returns, which worried me because of the game’s action focus. Thankfully, the important dialogue is only seen in cutscenes between stages, so any comments made during stages or unique situations aren’t pivotal to the story. What I didn’t like was Tezou’s lack of vocal dialogue – all of his speech is done through text. I get that they were trying to go for a situation where you felt like you were in his shoes, but it only helped him come across as a bland lead character.
I wanted to like Gal*Gun Returns, especially because of my love for IntiCreates and their games, but for the first time, they’ve let me down. That’s not to say the game is bad; it’s serviceable, but it’s not what I’ve come to expect from the studio. Despite it being called a remake, the game as a whole is quite shallow and certainly doesn’t look like much touching up was done in regards to its visuals. The formula was dramatically improved in future games, so why they couldn’t include any of those improvements in this remaster is beyond me. I know our editor highly recommends Gal*Gun 2, so that might be a better choice.
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If you would like to read about Dating Sims or Visual Novels, you might be interested to read this review of Aokana, also on the PC and soon Nintendo Switch. Or why not take a look at our review for Gal*Gun 2?
Many thanks go to PQube for providing a PC review copy of this game.
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