Version Reviewed: Super Famicom ROM w/English Language Patch
Year Published: 1997
Publisher: ASCII Entertainment
To call Gunman's Proof (aka Gunple or Gunpuru) a clone of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past would be a vast understatement. The developers literally copied graphics right from that game's overworld and dungeons, and even reproduced some design layouts. Lanterns, fence posts, and doorways look identical to their Zelda counterparts, right down to the spiral staircases and the floor emblems before the boss rooms.
While some textures have been edited, the plagiarism here is not at all subtle. One dungeon looks very similar to Turtle Rock and ends with a turtle boss that has one cold head, one hot head, and one neutral head in the middle, exactly like Trinexx. I am unsure how developer Lenar and publisher ASCII managed to get away with this.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that Nintendo just didn't care about a game released so late in the Super Famicom's lifespan - 1997, the same year as Final Fantasy VII and one year after Super Mario 64, for perspective. Or, it could be that even though the graphics were ripped off, there's a lot that is quite different about the story, setting, characters, and general play style.
Yes, like Zelda, you explore an overworld, battle through eight dungeons with a boss at the end, and find items that increase your life meter or upgrade your weapons. But unlike Zelda, the game takes place in the year 1880 in the "American West", on "Strange Island", which I guess is called that because it's really strange that there's an island in the American Old West.
Gunman's Proof's bizarre story is more reminiscent of EarthBound than Zelda. A meteor crash lands on Strange Island, bringing with it an evil alien with psychic powers named Demi. While the townspeople go about their business, Demi proceeds to hire (or possess) the local no-goodniks (ghosts, monsters, and outlaws) to help him build and take over various towers and dungeons on the island. It isn't long before his followers, aka "Demiseeds", are attacking the villagers whenever they leave town.
No one is willing or able to do anything about this until two alien sheriffs arrive in a flying saucer looking to find and arrest Demi. Your character (the "gunman") stumbles upon them in the woods, and they propose a rather unorthodox idea - since the aliens are ghost-like, one of them suggests possessing the gunman so he can blend in and use the gunman's knowledge of the island to track down Demi. The gunman agrees because he likes the idea of stopping the bad guys.
Here's the thing about the gunman - he's supposed to be a kid, even though he carries a gun, I guess because everyone in America does. And he's supposedly a "slacker" or "loser" of sorts if the townspeople can be believed. But he undergoes a change while possessed by the alien sheriff.
As he begins taking down the various Demiseed bosses and collecting their crests (as "proof" that he defeated them, per the title), people take notice of his sudden maturity and strength. But no one except his possible love interest, Sarah, thinks it could mean that something more unusual than puberty is amiss.
As the gunman, your pistol is your main method of attack, and it has infinite bullets, meaning that you always have a projectile. There are power-ups that change the gun into stronger forms (machine gun, flamethrower, bazooka, spread gun) with limited ammo, but enemies drop them frequently. This method of combat is unusual for an ARPG, and it would seem the developers chose it because the game has an arcade-like sensibility.
It's odd that a 1997 game styled after A Link to the Past would still be clinging to arcade roots, but that's exactly what we have here. The game has a scoring system and 1-Ups. I am not sure what the score even does except that it seems that if you have enough after beating a boss, you earn an extra life.
Despite the dungeons being overly inspired by A Link to the Past, they are more arcade-like in their simplicity. There aren't really any puzzles to solve and wandering into optional areas usually results in finding a treasure that only gives you bonus points, and more rarely a health meter or weapon upgrade. Even in dungeons where I failed to find every optional treasure, I still had enough points for a 1-Up at the end.
The bosses are also arcade-like in their difficulty - some spray the room with bullets. Your character is a huge target, and boss rooms are often tight on space to maneuver around. However, the fact that 1-Ups respawn you exactly where you are with full health greatly increases your chances of winning.
The game is generally easy, despite enemies scaling up in difficulty after you earn enough crests. The overworld is big and fun to explore, but not so big that you'll easily get lost (the map is sufficient). Some items and areas are very cleverly hidden - one in a way I've never seen before. Much like many games in this genre, some areas can only be accessed when you find the necessary items or upgrades, but in some cases the items are a one-off used to remove an obstacle and never again.
It is slightly annoying that the only way to save your progress (outside of using emulator save states) is to sleep in your bed in town, so you always have to walk back there. Some kind of fast travel would've been appreciated, but the closest thing you get to it is an alien-possessed horse that can be summoned with a carrot randomly dropped by enemies.
The horse runs faster, makes you invincible, and is (weirdly) needed to reach a particular area. He also seems to be a showoff - every time he's summoned, he assumes a different pose and/or costume, one of which (I kid you not) looks like Sailor Moon.
The result of Gunman's Proof's design is that it is fast-paced (I probably beat it in less than six hours), but doesn't feel as grandiose or epic as an actual Zelda title or many other RPGs of its style. The ending is rather brief and doesn't even show credits.
I suspect the weird decision to release a Super Famicom game in 1997, after the N64 and PlayStation were available, may explain its "cobbled-together" look and feel. Publisher ASCII folded shortly after - it might have been a last ditch effort to produce a financially successful hit, and that may even be why the Old West is the chosen setting - to appeal to both a Japanese and American audience (Wild Arms, released the same year, did the same thing). But despite the "US Strange World" logo on the title screen seeming to promise more adventures in this universe, ASCII's unfortunate demise meant the gunman never got to ride outside Japan or ever again in any sequels.
Fun for anyone who likes Zelda-style ARPG's, especially if you've ever wanted to play one with a projectile weapon.
Unusual setting and characters. Humor reminsicent of games like The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, EarthBound, and Robotrek.
The fan translation is good, though I cannot comment on its accuracy.
The graphics and fonts being so obviously ripped off of A Link to the Past is distracting. Music is mediocre.
The game is generally very easy. It's fun while it lasts, but it won't last long, even with 8 dungeons.
No official English language release means the only way you're likely to play it is with a ROM + fan translation patch.