Gunbird is a two-game series of shooters from prolific developer Psikyo. They heavily resemble other games from the company, such as Sengoku Ace and Strikers 1945, but with a little more polish. They're of pretty average quality, and don't try anything spectacularly new, but never dip into outright bad territory either. The visuals don't have much of a consistent theme, ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to wild-west, the artwork itself is pretty medicore, and the music is largely forgettable.
What sets the game apart is its somewhat off-kilter sense of humor. It's certainly not a cute-em-up in the same way that Parodius is, nor is it as fundamentally bizarre as Cho Aniki. In fact, the in-game visuals are pretty standard fare. But instead the Gunbird games feature a strange set of characters, each with their own plotlines, along with brief story scenes that intersperse the levels. They both have similar stories, too. The first involves seeking out pieces of a magic wish-granted mirror and the second looking for God's secret hideout (!!) to obtain his medicine.
A witch girl that rides on a broom and uses her pet bunny, Pom-Pom, as a weapon. Her goal is to become an adult, because apparently witches are more powerful when they're adults. She is one of the most popular characters in the series, being somewhat of a mascot for Psikyo at one point. Marion typically shoots homing stars and tosses Pom-Pom as her charge/close range attacks. Her bomb is pretty boring in the first game, shooting crescents everywhere, but is hilarious in the second game, turning all enemies and bullets onscreen into candy. The best part is that you can pick up the candy for extra points.
Valnus / Valpiro
A robot that works for Communist Russia and is equipped with lasers and missiles that he fires constantly. He's called Valpiro in the second game, possibly to signify his upgrade. He's short and fat in the first game, but gets an upgrade in the second that makes him look much more fearsome. He's the only character besides Marion that carries over from Gunbird to Gunbird 2. In both games, he secretly wishes he were a human so that he would not have to follow orders from his communist overlords. In the first game, Valnus has strong lasers that can pierce through enemies and shoot at a wide angle. He also has a short range punch as his charge attack. The punch is pretty hard to hit with because you have to be right in an enemy's face to get it to hit, but it does a lot of damage. His bomb is a giant laser. In the second game, Valpiro gets a new charge shot where he detaches his hands and sprays bullets everywhere. His electric punch is now his close range attack.
A pulp sci-fi style adventurer that flies around on a jetpack and shoots a ray gun. He also happens to be a pedophile. Ash has the hots for Marion, but only when she's young. His niece, Tavia replaces him when Psikyo explicitly states that he is not going to be playable in Gunbird 2 in one of his endings. His actual weapon shoots ring shaped ripple lasers, a huge ball or energy that spreads out once it hits as his charge shot, and a very powerful delayed bomb. Ash is both the fastest character and he also hits the hardest, but the fact that his bomb is delayed means that you really have to memorize boss patterns for him to be effective.
An old martial arts master that drives a flying machine with flapping wings and bicycle pedals. He is also a homosexual, to the point where Ash calls him an "old faggot" when frustrated with him. Supposedly, he used to be romantically involved with Sabu, a student of his, until he died. Part of his motivation for seeking out the wishing mirror is to resurrect his dead lover. Tetsu shoots both bullets and fireworks from his flying machine, which looks as strange as it sounds. His charge shot is disappointing, firing around five fireworks at once. It does not take long to charge, though, so it can be useful if you know how to use it. His bomb shoots four streams of fire that move very slow and probably won't eat up every bullet on screen, making them very poor for defense. They do a lot of damage, though, so they do have some use against bosses.
A warrior monkey girl that uses a staff to fight, inspired by the old "Journey to the West" tale. Yuan Nang is not actually interested in making any wishes from the magic mirror. She just wants to beat up monsters and destroy things. Her sub shot shoots huge swords, which not only pierce through bosses and enemies, but also do a lot of damage. Her charge shot has her extending her staff, which also does a lot of damage and has better range than most charge shots. Finally, her bomb shoots a bunch of shadow clones everywhere that pierce right through enemies and bosses, just like the swords. Yuan Nang is a great character for beginners because of her raw power and easy to understand weapons.
Ash's niece. She is on a mission to ask God for medicine to make a cure for her sick mother. She may seem harmless and innocent enough, but at times, she can be just as much of an asshole as Ash, especially in some of her endings. She has largely the same weapons as Ash, but has a few different tricks too. Tavia has a huge pink sword as her close range weapon, which does amazing damage, but like all close range attacks, has bad range. She also has a vastly improved bomb where she calls in three giant robots to fly in and toss grenades everywhere.
A vampire that seems like he should be a pretty boy, but has a few problems. First, his hair isn't real. It's just a wig. Secondly, Alucard has stinky feet, so stinky in fact, that it can kill people. He is looking to cure his baldness and stinky feet with God's medicine. He shoots bats as his sub shot and his charge shot fires huge, screen clearing waves of bats. His bomb shoots lasers in the shape of a cross and lets you move while using it, making it very easy to use and very powerful. His close range attack is not worth it, though because it does terrible damage and just consists of him stabbing the enemy with his cape, which is about as effective as it sounds. He has nothing to do with the Castlevania character.
A fat Indian man who rides on a flying carpet and wears a turban. He takes pride in his weight and boasts it as his greatest strength, but secretly, he wishes he could be thin. People always ridicule him for his weight and no one likes him. Supposedly, God's medicine will cure him of his obesity or at least make everyone stop making fat jokes about him. Hei Cob moves very slow and shoots slow moving swords as his sub shot. His charge shot shoots a ghost option that fires independently from Hei Cob and moves in circles. His close range attack is tossing a large cartoon bomb that does a lot of damage, but has a delayed explosion. His real bomb calls in a giant dancer girl to smash everything.
A guest character from Sengoku Ace. While Aine was somewhat respectable and heroic in his own series, in Gunbird 2, he's a rude and uncontrollable sex addict. Supposedly, his sister Asuka has a cold. Aine is out to get God's Medicine to cure a simple common cold, which is just as stupid as it sounds. Aine's 2 player storylines all end with him raping another male character, though thankfully, you never see anything. Aine plays very similar to how he does in Sengoku Ace, shooting a flurry of arrows as his normal shot and flaming arrows as his sub shot. His close range attack has Aine swinging his sword and has much more range than any other close range attack. His charge shot also involves his sword, but instead he shoots a laser from it. Despite being fairly normal with all his other attacks, Aine's bomb is very weird. He grows huge, blows kisses everywhere, and turns all enemy bullets into flower petals.
Morrigan is another guest character, from Capcom's Darkstalkers, and is exclusive to the Dreamcast port of Gunbird 2. With all the wackiness and crude humor going on, she fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the cast. Morrigan's shot homes in on enemies, making her very good for beginners. Her charge shot is her Soul Fist attack, lifted straight from Darkstalkers. Her close range attack shoots a barrage of lights, which has surprisingly good range and hits wide. Her bomb is a little disappointing, though. Morrigan shoots copies of herself. It's exactly like Yaun Nang's bomb from the first Gunbird, but flashier.
The Pirates (Gunbird)
Both Gunbird games have a group of three pirates as recurring bosses. Both consist of a woman in a silly outfit as their leader, a strong guy that also happens to be an idiot, and a thin smart guy. They're always trying to stop the player with increasingly elaborate robot designs. Their wacky recurring boss crew dynamic is the same in both games, but with different characters. They're called The Trump in the first Gunbird, and consist of Ace, (short guy), Claude (big guy), and a woman known only as The Boss.
The Pirates (Gunbird 2)
In the second Gunbird, the recurring pirate enemies are called The Queen Pirates and consist of Blade (viking helmet), Gimmick (big nose), and Shark (lady pirate).
Mirror Sprite / Atler
The final boss of the first Gunbird. He is very strong, grants wishes, and calls forth very powerful attacks from a spellbook. Atler bears a very strong resemblance to the character Gizmo from the Gremlins movies. He also tends to shoot bullets when he roars. Alter also has a sense of humor, granting people's wishes quite literally, leading to some pretty funny endings.
The final boss of Gunbird 2. It turns out that God is an elephant with a trumpet and his "angels" are actually frogs. Like the Mirror Sprite's wishes in the first game, God's medicine has a way of backfiring in hilarious ways. He's also noticeably easier to defeat than most of the other bosses in Gunbird 2, having a health bar half the size of the sub boss in his stage, which is strange considering he's the final boss.
Gunbird was Psikyo's second shmup, their first being Sengoku Ace. While it certainly plays like a Psikyo game and has very straightforward, 90s-style sensibilities , it lacks the polish of some of their later games and can feel a little cheap near the end. It's still a very enjoyable game and offers some very hectic action, but it hardly impresses.
Gunbird's story involves a bunch of very strange and wacky characters fighting a pirate gang called The Trump for a magic mirror. Supposedly, if the mirror is assembled, a magic mirror sprite will come forth and grant one wish. The game never takes itself too seriously, showing silly dialogue between levels and the pirates acting like morons right before every boss fight.
Of note is how Gunbird handles endings. Each character gets a choice of two endings, some of them good and others bad (at least for the characters). Two player endings are always the same, though.
Levels are chosen in a random order, much like in the Aero Fighters series, which was made much of the same team. Most of them are pretty standard shooter levels such as jungles, factories, or forests. Things stop being randomized once you get all four pieces of the mirror and go to the mirror shrine. Once there, Gunbird stops pulling its punches. The enemies get faster, the bosses get tougher, and the levels get longer. This only lasts three levels, the third one mostly consisting of the final boss fight, making Gunbird one of Psikyo's easier shooters.
The scoring system is very simple. Land enemies and buildings can be blown up and will sometimes have gold underneath them. The gold will cycle from shiny to dull and you'll get more points if you pick it up when it's shiny. A similar system was used in the first Strikers 1945 game, but with gold bricks instead of coins.
Gunbird received ports to the PlayStation and Saturn in 1995, fairly early in both system's lives. Both ports were published by Atlus, and were done surprisingly well given each system's limitations. Both ports feature a fully animated opening movie, complete with a vocal song. The home versions also feature checkpoints if you choose to continue later on in the game, something that was completely absent in the arcade version. It hardly affects the game's difficulty, though. Weirdly, the PlayStation version cannot save high scores, and is missing a Tate mode, which is a dealbreaker if you like to tilt your TV sideways for a full view. The only option is a scroll/wobble mode, which pans the view up and down slightly as you move forward and backward. The Saturn version includes a Tate mode (dubbed "Arcade Mode" as well as the ability to save your game. From a gameplay standpoint, the PlayStation port is a bit sloppy, too, with bits of extra slowdown.
The Saturn port is pretty much arcade perfect. While both 32-bit versions feature character artwork gallery, the Saturn version also has a ton of fan art, collected from a contest, much like the one in Sengoku Blade / Tengai. There are over 400 illustrations, most of which are decidely amateurish (and focus predictably on Marion, the cute witch character), along with voice clips of the characters discussing hte artwork and a video of the characters of Gunbird picking which ones to put in the disc.
Later, in 2005, ten years after the original Gunbird, a compilation featuring Gunbird 1 and 2 was released on the PS2 by Empire Interactive, long after Psikyo had gone out of business. It was only released in Europe and Japan, much like other re-released Psikyo games. It does not feature any extras like in the Saturn version, though. It's also missing a true low-res display, like many PS2 shooter ports, and the sound is a bit off. In 2009, the PlayStation version of Gunbird was released on PSN.
Back in 2003, a company called XS Games decided to publish some of Psikyo's games on the dying PSOne, namely Gunbird and Sol Divide. None of these games were localized very well, as huge pieces of text either made no sense or were not even translated into English. GunBird had the honor of being renamed Mobile Light Force, and was released as a budget title. The box art was changed to a completely misleading picture of three Charlie's Angel style secret agents running through a battlefield with explosions everywhere. The art gallery was completely removed. XS also tore out the story, leaving any and all exposition in the manual. Even though it's technically the same game as GunBird, Mobile Light Force is generally seen as a mockery.
Besides gutting all the extra content and leaving out the story, XS Games also changed a few of the character names. Hilariously, Valnus was renamed to Milf 2000, Ash was renamed to Jason Last, and Tetsu was changed to John Saurez. Supposedly, Milf 2000's name was going to be MLF 2000, the MLF standing for Mobile Light Force. Why they changed it to a dirty acronym is anyone's guess. For those who don't know, Jason Last and John Saurez were XS employees who worked on the game's "localization", Jason Last being from Quality Assurance and John Saurez being the producer. The Mobile Light Force version of Gunbird was the version released on PSN, which is bit of a disappointment.
Strangely, at the same time, XS Games released Mobile Light Force 2 for the PlayStation 2, which is a similarly butchered version of Shikigami no Shiro, a shooter by Taito that is only similar because it has a very character driven storyline and that it features flying people instead of the usual planes or space ships. It uses nearly identical box art too, which comes off as really cheap on XS' part.
The first Gunbird game was adapted into a graphic novel by Gamest Comics in 1995. It was only released in Japanese, with both story and art by Masato Natsumoto, an artist that worked on many other video games such as King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Record of Lodoss War. It's around 125 pages long.
Gunbird 2 takes everything that Gunbird started and cranks it up several notches. It has a much more refined scoring system, modernized gameplay that adds in elements of danmaku, and replaces most of the cast with new characters. The same thing happened with another one of Psikyo's series, Strikers 1945 when Strikers 1999, the third game in the series, was released. The two games even share a few sprites!
Other things borrowed from Psikyo's Strikers 1945 series are the more elaborate bosses and the charge shot power bar. Like in Strikers 1945, bosses typically have more than one form and get progressively more powerful as the fight goes. Some of them even have the same attacks as a few of the bosses from the Strikers series, making the games very similar. While their mechanical designs are closely related, GunBird 2 has slightly more cartoonish enemies.
The charge shot power bar can also be used for close range attacks, something completely new to Gunbird 2 and appears nowhere else in any Psikyo game. You press a third button to activate it, and it eats up only one power bar level. These attacks typically do a lot of damage and are great for taking out bosses, but thy have very bad range, making them a little hard to use, but completely worth it when they do hit. Some of these attacks are clearly better than others, though.
In addition to the more refined gameplay, Gunbird 2 has an even more crude sense of humor than the first one. If you're easily offended, then you might want to skip this one, but if you don't mind that kind of humor, Gunbird 2 can be pretty hilarious. Aine from Sengoku Ace and Morrigan from Darkstalkers appear as guest characters. Aine seems to have lost his characterization from the Sengoku Ace series, though. Now the once noble samurai keeps bottles in his underwear to keep his butt cool and tells Marion that he wants to make a potion to turn people into homosexuals.
The scoring system has been refined, adding in flashing medals that replace the gold coins. When the medals are brightest, they are worth the most points. You can get extra points by medal chaining, which involves grabbing medals at their brightest many times in a row. It takes a lot of timing and precision to get medal chains right. This medal chaining system would be reused in Strikers 1999.
There's also a new feature called "Nice Bomb!" It's activated when you use a bomb to clear a bullet that's hitting your character's sprite but not its hitbox. Nice Bomb triggers a multiplier that depends on how many bullets you're grazing. It's very risky, but can boost your score immensely. You can also score "tech bonuses" by hitting bosses with close range or charge attacks when they show their weak spot. This feature was borrowed from the Strikers 1945 series.
Lastly, every so often, a huge wooden head will come out of nowhere and rain down green gems that are worth a lot of points when you shoot them. The heads can drop a blue gem as they disappear, which is worth more than the green ones. This feature gets reused in Dragon Blaze, Psikyo's final shooter, but with coins instead of gems. The sprites are identical too, which can be seen as either a fun little easter egg or a mark of laziness.
Another fun thing that not very many people notice is a reference to Aero Fighters, a game series made by Video System. Near the end of Gunbird 2, you fight a large, dark colored eye in a temple. Aero Fighters 2 had Lar, the gigantic eye that was a possible final boss that was fought in a temple. It's a fun little shout out that adds a bit to the game's personality.
While Gunbird 2 has a fairly simple scoring system compared to other shooters from other games at the time, it makes up for it by being Psikyo's hardest game. It's not actually bullet hell, as many of the bullets come out pretty fast, though not as fast as the first Gunbird, and the shots are aimed. There are some thick bullet patterns, but they aren't as elaborate as the ones seen in games by Cave or Shanghai Alice. It's a pretty daunting challenge, but a lot of the cheapness of the first game has been eliminated with the relatively slower bullet speed, giving bosses weak spots, and generally more powerful playable characters. It's a very solid game all around, and quite possibly Psikyo's best.
Gunbird 2 was ported to home consoles, thankfully with XS having nothing to do with them. Capcom published the Dreamcast port of Gunbird 2, adding in Morrigan as an exclusive character that does not appear in any other version. In addition to a tate ("Arcade") mode, there are two "Original" modes that will either keep the view static, or move up and down. There were also further Capcom/Psikyo crossovers. Psikyo produced Cannon Spike, an overhead shooter starring many of Capcom's classic characters such as Cammy, Mega Man, and Arthur. There was also a Capcom vs. Psikyo game, but it was produced and released in Japan, only on the Dreamcast, and it is not what you would expect. Instead of a fighting game, it's a mahjong game, featuring Capcom and Psikyo characters playing mahjong against each other. Psikyo did produce a pornographic mahjong series called Taisen Hot Gimmick, though Taisen Net Gimmick Capcom and Psikyo All Stars was for the most part clean.
The PS2 port, as mentioned before, includes both Gunbird games. Again, it has slightly wonky sound and it's missing a low res display mode, plus since it's based on the arcade version (and not published by Capcom), it's missing Morrigan. There are also slight loading times before boss encounters. There was also going to be a PSP port called Gunbird 2 Remix. Unfortunately, it was cancelled, though some screenshots and footage exist of what the game could have looked like.