Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: October 26, 2002
There are certain ways to construct a product that make it scream anime - and GunGrave is a prime example. Generally, you take two objects that are common, like "Bubblegum" and "Crisis" or perhaps "Cowboy" and "Bebop," and then ram them together to form a game that's cool despite making very little sense. In more than title, GunGrave represents all things anime, and it's loaded with enough obscure dialog and over-the-top action to impress anyone who owns a copy of "Akira." This kind of genre specific conversion is always tricky, as it runs the risk of alienating those less familiar with the source material's conventions, but we'll see how GunGrave stands up to scrutiny.
True to anime conventions, our hero's full name is Death: Beyond the Grave, though we'll borrow the merciful custom of shortening it to Grave for most purposes. As our story begins, a young girl bleeding from the temple makes her way down a snow-covered street to a lab tucked in the back streets of a metropolis. Making her way inside, she meets the scholarly Doctor T, and the dark and brooding figure of Grave. The girl, Mika, makes an appeal to Grave for help and asks him to be her guardian; in return, she has brought him a gift in a large heavy case. Cracking it, Grave sees a huge pair of twin handguns that he identifies as Cerberos and wields with an uncommon familiarity.
Without giving too much away, GunGrave is a story of revenge for wrongs stretching back over a decade, to the time when Grave was killed and became an undead warrior. He sets out to exact his revenge on the city's crime lord, who also happens to be in charge of its largest corporation. One man against an army of thugs and worse, but a man who happens to be near unstoppable.
Grave stalks his way through the game's levels in a third person shooting gallery. The ad campaigns around GunGrave noted that there wasn't time for reloads in this frantic shooter, and they weren't kidding. Instead, you'll be actively encouraged to pound frantically on the fire button, building up a "beat counter" that measures the number of subsequent hits you've managed to land with minimal interruption and no large damage from enemies. As the beat counter fills, a blue flame that seems to represent your destructive potential flies over to be absorbed by the skull, which serves as an ammo counter. Build up enough beat and you'll be rewarded with ammo for Grave's skills, which can easily flatten an entire room.
Through the majority of the levels, you'll be assaulted from all sides by various henchmen. Grave's natural resilience is exhibited in a blue bar on the screen, which recharges whenever he takes a few moments without receiving damage. Should the blue bar ever be wiped out, Grave starts taking physical damage, and the wise player will dive for cover should this happen. To give an idea of scale, a single missile will erode about three-quarters of Grave's shield, and he can stand unharmed under a hail of bullets for a short while without being hurt.