How Sega almost rejected Genesis classic Gunstar Heroes

Gunstar Heroes is one of the great action games of the 16-bit era, a graphically rich side-scrolling shooter with tremendous boss battles and tons of dark humor. But bosses at Sega almost unanimously turned the project down when it was first pitched by new development team Treasure, according to a new interview.

Talking to Sega-16, Mac Senour, a producer with Sega of America 20 years ago, recalls an almost overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for the Genesis game. He said the game was rejected by "all the producers and all of the associate producers as well. 12 people looked at it and passed before it got to me."

Senour decided to give the game a go. After all, back in the early '90s much was expected of Treasure, because the company had been formed by well-regarded developers who had worked for Konami.

"If I didn't pick it up, it was going to be rejected," he said. "I played it for five minutes, maybe less, and threw the controller on the floor and said 'this is game of the year.' Every one in earshot laughed."

Senour recalls that the game's detractors deemed the sprites too small. "The reason was made very clear to me. Gunstar had small characters. We had just published, or were about to publish, World Series Baseball with a huge batter. All the games were showing off something the developers of Spider-man had discovered, a way to make double high sprites.Gunstar didn't use this and so the others passed. I saw it as something different."

The other producers were persuaded to back the game. Senour did have one issue with the design. "I made only one real change. There's a boss in a military uniform, and in the original version he was Hitler. I asked them to remove the mustache or change the character."

Gunstar Heroes released to high-scoring reviews and very strong sales, winning various awards. In 2009 it was released for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Since his time at Sega, Mac Senour has worked for a variety of game companies including Atari, Konami and Electronic Arts.

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